Remembering George L. Graziadio

2002 Volume 5 Issue 3

George L. Graziadio, for whom the Graziadio School of Business and Management – and thus the Graziadio Business Review – is named, passed away on June 6, 2002, after a battle with cancer.




George L. Graziadio

George L. Graziadio




George came to California during World War II and became a co-pilot and gunnery tester at a local B-25 bomber plant. Years after meeting his wife, Reva, and raising their three children, George met a builder/contractor named George Eltinge. The “Two Georges,” as they became known, created a formidable business alliance, establishing Eltinge and Graziadio Development Company and eventually developing more than 100 shopping centers in 21 states. In 1962, frustrated with the bank with which they had been doing business, they opened their own financial institution with $1.25 million in private investment and a belief that they could offer the Los Angeles business community a better “business bank.” This bank, which became Imperial Bank in 1968, grew to $8 billion in assets, solely through internal growth and without acquisitions, with $600 million in capital and reserves. Imperial Bank’s entertainment division was the largest financer of independent motion pictures in the world. After achieving sustained growth for decades, Imperial merged with Comerica, the country’s largest business bank.

A tireless entrepreneur, banker, and community sponsor who lived his motto: “TNT – Today, Not Tomorrow,” Mr. Graziadio was also a generous benefactor to many worthy endeavors, including the School of Business and Management at Pepperdine University. Over the past five decades, he supported dozens of non-profit organizations.

In April 2002, he received the prestigious Horatio Alger Award in Washington, D.C., joining other great Americans such as President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Senator Robert Dole, and Oprah Winfrey. His many other honors include: The Ellis Island Medal of Freedom; the Grande Ufficiale Award in the Order of Merit of the Republic of Italy; Americanism Award and the Good Scout Award from the Boy Scouts of America; the Eddy Award from the Los Angeles Economic Development Agency; the President’s “E” Award from the U.S. Department of Commerce; the Albert Schweitzer Leadership Award from the Hugh O’Brian Youth Foundation; and honors from the Provence of Puglia, Italy, Newcomen Society, Pepperdine University, B’nai B’rith Foundation, National Italian American Foundation, the Center for the Partially Sighted, the Sons of Italy of America, the Muscular Dystrophy Association, the House Ear Institute, and a Doctor of Humane Letters from Chapman University.

Mr. Graziadio was much more than a businessman and a philanthropist, however. He loved his family and his many friends and was loved by them in return. He loved life. The following remarks are taken from the tribute given to Mr. Graziadio by Dr. Otis Baskin, former Dean of the Graziadio School, at Mr. Graziadio’s memorial service.

Tribute from Dr. Otis Baskin

George Graziadio was a devoted husband, father, grandfather, a visionary business leader, tireless promoter of the welfare of others.

He was born in Vernon, Connecticut, the grandson of Italian and Irish immigrants who taught him the value of the “American Dream” he lived. He often credited his father with giving him the business drive and skill to succeed and his mother with giving him the appreciation for service to others that made success worthwhile.

As a young man George moved west, and along the way he met his life partner. Together George and Reva built a legacy of good works in their adopted Southern California that will continue to make a difference for generations to come. For 59 years George and Reva shared their love, values, and lives with their three children, nine grandchildren, six great grandchildren and numerous others who love them and to whom love was returned.

George was a great business leader — a visionary entrepreneur who, together with his late partner George Eltinge, built a commercial real estate empire and then, almost as an afterthought, created a unique business bank that has fueled one of the world’s largest economies. These accomplishments, particularly in emerging growth industries, helped to create the phenomenon of Silicon Valley and the global dominance of the American film industry.

George had an ability to put his accomplishments into perspective. He said, “You earn your living by working – you earn your life by giving.” And he gave generously. Because of the generosity of George and Reva, many institutions that benefit the greater good of our society are better able to do their work.

It was their generosity, along with George’s tireless leadership, that took a well-regarded local business school for working adults and transformed it into a center for MBA education that is recognized internationally and ranked as one of the leading schools for executives in the world. All of this in only six years. (His motto was TNT – Today Not Tomorrow!)

The Graziadio Executive Center, now under construction, on our campus, will stand as a testimony to the remarkable life he led, not only because it will bear his name, but most typically because he requested that recognition be given to Reva and their family along with his long-time business partner George Eltinge throughout the building.

But George gave much more than the many millions of dollars that continue to support education, healthcare and an improved quality of life for people he will never meet. He gave his time, the benefit of his insight, and his enormous heart to help others. It was really George’s capacity to care about others that distinguished this great life and made it a force for good. He could work a room of hundreds and still give individual attention to each person he met. His legendary ability to stand before a great audience and recall names and details about almost everyone in attendance came from a deep respect for people not a trick of memory. I have been approached by people all over the country who recognized the name of our school and wanted to tell me personal stories about how George had influenced their lives for good.

The New Testament tells us in Galatians 6:9 – “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” George never gave up.

But work and even good works were always second to family. You didn’t know George long before you knew his family. He made it clear that they were a part of all he was. George and Reva shared their love of travel with their family, often on cruises to dramatic locations. All of us who were the privileged recipients of those famous newsletters understood the close bonds of this family and what they meant to George.

For example, George always enjoyed being present for major events in the development of our business school. We worked and planned together for five years for the day when our accreditation would be announced. We planned a dinner that evening in San Diego to celebrate (George was buying) but when it happened, he couldn’t attend – Gina, his opera singer granddaughter, was in a concert that night. We understood and appreciated the example of his priorities.

I was privileged to work closely with George as dean of The Graziadio School for six years and to know he was my friend. I have many priceless memories including a completely unexpected phone call early one January 1st when he called just to say, “Happy New Year” to Maryann and me.

I first met George when he was considering his transforming gift to our school. I received a call requesting that I come to his office for a meeting. Two things impressed me. First, he had asked that I send copies of my publications in advance of the meeting and I was surprised to find that he had read them (something it is difficult to get students to do even under threat of examination.)

The next surprise was his question to me: “What can I do to help your school?” I knew he wasn’t talking about the endowment. We discussed the need for the story of this business school to be understood at the highest levels of leadership and almost immediately he began to make calls to his many friends. The result was a 100 member Board of Visitors with President Gerald Ford serving as its honorary chair. This group of national and global leaders has helped to guide the development of our school.

While he committed himself to the progress of our business school with great enthusiasm, the traditionally deliberate pace of progress in higher education was not always comfortable for Mr. TNT. Convinced of the need for a permanent facility for our school on the Malibu campus, George became anxious about the pace of progress toward the start of construction. President Benton (President of Pepperdine University) and I remember a luncheon meeting in his boardroom where George had assembled experts in both regulatory process and construction technology. When lunch (complete with plenty of garlic!) was finished, an eight-to-ten year time frame had been shortened to four years. We all left with a better understanding of “TNT.”

In the academic world, we have been trained to rigorously examine the things around us and ask, “Why?” George had the gift of seeing things as they could be and asking, “Why not?”

An interview with Mr. Graziadio appeared in the inaugural issue of the Graziadio Business Review.

About the Author(s)

Graziadio Business Review, is an online journal that delivers relevant business information and analysis for business, government, and non-profit managers. From accounting and finance to ethics and work/life balance, the Graziadio Business Review extends current business debates in new directions that you can use to advance your business and professional career.

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