Inspire Bold Leadership
One executive's unlikely path to JPMorgan Chase
Bob Graziano went from accounting to the Olympics and the L.A. Dodgers
This following article is part of Chase Talks, a series that introduces JPMorgan Chase executives and the impact they are making in various areas of business and society.
Bob Graziano was a burgeoning biologist who caught the business bug, then excelled through several roles—at a major accounting firm, a global freight company, the 1984 Olympics and the Los Angeles Dodgers. Today, Graziano, 59, continues to pursue ambitious goals, including the expansion of the private banking business of JPMorgan, driving its client strategy and working on some of its most important relationships. And as the chair of the Los Angeles Sports & Entertainment Commission (LASEC), he led L.A.'s successful bid for the 2022 Super Bowl, and is helping to attract the 2024 Summer Olympics.
Learning the basics of business
Graziano's own L.A. story winds through several unpredictable twists. After switching majors from biology to business at the University of Southern California, a professor hired him to proof accounting textbooks and help manage several rental properties.
"It really was kind of a turning point for me," he says. "It was my first exposure to the actual business world. He really taught me a lot about the common sense within business, in addition to the technical aspects of accounting. I think about that constantly with our employees: everybody needs somebody to take them under their wing —a mentor."
After graduation, Graziano started at the accounting firm Arthur Young (now EY) with a seemingly conventional career path. Work for a young accountant could be a grind. One client was based in an underground suburban mall; punishing hours kept Graziano and his teammates from seeing daylight.
Graziano's strong performance and positive attitude earned a placement with a client with a bit more cachet: the Los Angeles Dodgers. He helped the team develop an automated ticketing system, then played a similar role with the Los Angeles Olympics Organizing Committee for the 1984 Summer Games.
"After working in an operating role and having responsibilities to make decisions and build an organization, I decided it would have been too difficult for me to go back into the auditing role or the consulting role," he says.
He took a job running the accounting and finance operations for WTC Air Freight. When his old friends at the Dodgers called with a job offer, he turned them down. Or tried to. Then-Dodgers owner Peter O'Malley convinced him otherwise, and, as the team's CFO, his financial and operational background proved critical during a tumultuous decade that included a players strike and the cancellation of the 1994 World Series.
When O'Malley sold the team, Graziano was ready to move on, too. Instead, the new owners—Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.—named him the team president.
"All of a sudden, I'm trying to transition this small, really efficient operation into a large entertainment conglomerate," he says. "It was an interesting challenge in my career."
In 2004, Graziano and the Dodgers finally parted ways. A year later, he again took his career in a new direction, becoming Managing Partner for Northern Trust, where he'd built relationships during his time in baseball.
Building a career at JPMorgan Chase
Eventually, Graziano was approached with an opportunity with JPMorgan Chase. He recalls having initial doubts. "I was reticent about joining JPMorgan, in part because I didn't want to be one of those people that went from one financial institution to another," he says. "I like the ability to build businesses, but I viewed working in the private bank at JPMorgan as being a smaller operation within a company that has incredible capabilities along various lines of business. It's been the best of both worlds for me."
One of his biggest challenges was waiting for him on day one. "Competitors were trying to take advantage of the disruption by hiring some of our talent." At the same time, increased regulation added new complexities to the business. Graziano, per usual, was not one to overreact to the day's headlines.
"All organizations go through challenging times," he says. "If you believe in the brand and the people behind the brand, taking a long-term view will always serve both the clients and the employees well."
Along with keeping a steady hand amidst temporary tumult, Graziano's management philosophy centers around empathy and relationship-building. He spends a good amount of his days checking in with clients and prospects, and staying on top of the news that affects them, as well as looking for new ways for JPMorgan Chase to not just build its business but help build its communities. "Relationships are really, really important," he says. "It's important to work hard and not put yourself first all the time. And you don't develop relationships because you expect something immediately. You have no idea what that's going to evolve into."
Making an impact in the community
While he's years removed from running a sports franchise, Graziano says his appreciation for sports and its impact on communities is greater than ever. With his work on the LASEC, he remains a key figure in sports and entertainment. With the Super Bowl 2022 and 2023 U.S. Open secured, the next prize looming is one of the biggest possible: the 2024 Olympics. The winning city—either L.A. or Paris—will be announced in September.
"We have an unbelievably talented group of people working on the bid," he says. "Clearly, they cannot control everything that's going on in this country… I'm confident we've done all the right things and should get it. I think there's a recognition that L.A. knows how to put on a Games."
The city netted approximately $90 million in profit from the '84 Olympics, which Graziano and the LA84 Foundation continue to use as a means of funding local youth sports programs.
Graziano and his wife, Wendy Wachtell, remain involved in a variety of other philanthropic pursuits, driven by a lifelong interest in ensuring access to quality education, and by an abiding love of their blooming, ever-evolving city.
"I love L.A.," he says. "It's obviously a beautiful place to have grown up and to live, and there's such diversity of cultures and ethnicities. In my opinion, that diversity builds a strong community. The city has been great for me, and I want to do as much as I can to give back to it. I don't think we've begun to reach our potential."
Adam McKibbin is a Chase News contributor. His work has been featured in Adweek, the Chicago Tribune, LA Weekly and The Nation.