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Veteran of War and Wall Street Speaks at Fordham


“Reach, lift and embrace.”

This is the advice Joseph J. Grano Jr. shared with Fordham students during his lecture on crisis leadership on April 27 at the Rose Hill campus.

“Reach for the stars, because in our country the stars are reachable,” said Grano, a Wall Street leader and decorated military veteran.

“With your other arm, reach down and help lift those who are less fortunate, because they need your help. Then, with both arms, embrace the United States of America and make it even better through positive reinforcement and constructive criticism,” he told them. “It’s all right to be a patriot.”

A former chairman of UBS Financial Services (formerly UBS PaineWebber), Grano presented six precepts for becoming a successful leader, as outlined in his book You Can’t Predict a Hero: From War to Wall Street, Leading in Times of Crisis (Jossey-Bass, 2009).

Each was coupled with an anecdote drawn from his experiences leading during crises—steering PaineWebber through an $11 billion merger with Swiss Banking giant UBS, leading disheartened troops in Vietnam and guiding Wall Street executives after 9/11.

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The book began as a personal journal he wrote for his son as a high school graduation gift. Moved by its contents, his son convinced Grano that other young people would benefit from his practical advice and real-world experiences.

The first precept of leadership, according to Grano, is that problems require solutions. Rather than assigning blame and proliferating negativity, Grano said he believes sound leaders focus on addressing issues to move to a more positive place.

He also suggested that good leaders are eternal optimists and must reconcile themselves to selfishness. “You can’t put in the long hours necessary to become a successful leader,” he said, “without stealing something from your loved ones: time.”

As the title of his book indicates, “you can’t predict a hero” because people can never predict how an individual will respond during a crisis.

Finally, Grano explained the last two precepts: the truth is never wrong, and humanity is more important than hierarchy.

To illustrate these tenets, Grano relayed a story of how—as a captain in the Green Berets—he was appointed to an infantry of draftees who lost 27 comrades in Vietnam. When the troops’ former commander was relieved of duty, the men on the ground were left with no leader and morale suffered.

In short order, Grano restored confidence in the infantry, which went on to become one of the strongest, with no additional casualties.

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He applied his positive attitude and stunned doctors by rehabilitating himself back to full physical function. Proving the point that life crises can be significant opportunities to learn and grow, Grano said, “I might have been physically devastated, but I was psychologically more powerful than ever.”Grano himself, however, was discharged from the Army with 60 percent permanent disability, and a grim prognosis that he may never lift anything heavier than a milk bottle or walk without braces on both of his legs.

His leadership skills shone brightly through other crises, including the aftermath of 9/11 when he met with key executives from Wall Street to determine when to re-open the markets.

Grano held to his minority position that attempting to get back to business the next day would be a recipe for disaster because they simply could not pull everything together in time. Ultimately, he won consensus to wait until the following Monday when the market re-opened uneventfully.

Are leaders born or made? “The answer is both,” Grano said. “Not everyone is destined to be a leader. But if you care about people and like people, and have the adequate skill sets, you can be an effective leader.”

Raised in Hartford, Conn., Grano rose to become a captain of the Green Berets at 22, and later enjoyed a successful career at Merrill Lynch. Today, he is chairman and CEO of Centurion Holdings LLC, a company that advises private and public firms.

He was chosen by the White House to be chairman of the President’s Homeland Security Advisory Council after 9/11, a position he held for three years. In addition to philanthropic and educational endeavors, he is a producer of the Tony Award-winning Broadway show Jersey Boys.

– Claire Curry


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