Houston-based philanthropist Bob Graham has been a driving force in the success of PCA-Houston and now has committed funds to PCA's Growth Capital Campaign. In this interview with PCA Founder Jim Thompson, Bob explains his enthusiasm for the PCA Movement.
Jim Thompson: What was the key to your success as a businessperson?
Bob Graham: Luck! Actually good fortune had a lot to do with it. We got into the mutual fund business with AIM Investments at the right time, right place. We also were good friends working together, lifelong friends with a similar philosophy. We never had the split that a lot of partnerships did. We wanted to create a culture that would attract good people. People are always the key and people wanted to join our company. We had very little turnover; our senior management stayed with us a long time.
JT: Reminds me of PCA’s good fortune in having a talented management team (and other key staff) who have stayed with us for a long time.
BG: That makes a difference, no question, and it made a difference for us.
JT: Were sports important to you as a youth?
BG: I really enjoyed playing sports, all kinds of sports—Little League, church league basketball, football, our high school didn’t have a baseball team so I ran track in high school also. Sports were very important to me.
My children played soccer and my grandson is now loving lacrosse but we didn’t have those sports when I was young.
JT: Did you coach?
BG: Yes, I coached soccer without knowing much about the sport but I knew the kind of atmosphere I wanted to create for the players: fun, learning, not a culture of pressure to do well.
JT: Speaking of pressure, you must have had pressure in your business?
BG: Yes, when we started AIM Investments, there were times when it didn’t look particularly good. It took us 4 years to get profitable—a lot of pressures in those days. But when you worry too much it detracts from your best performance, so we worked to not focus on the potential bad things, but keep our focus on positive thoughts. That’s what I tried to do with my soccer teams also.
JT: How did you learn about PCA?
BG: It was at a Philanthropy Roundtable in Houston, I don’t even remember how many years ago. When you spoke I was immediately struck by the message. I’ve always thought that team athletics was especially important for character development. I thought right away, “I wish PCA has been around when I was coaching.” I could have used PCA’s help.
The importance of the message really made an impression on me. I saw a lot with my kids, parents and coaches with the wrong attitude who really could have benefited from this. The result was a not-positive experience for the players.
JT: It’s been said that people don’t remember much of what happened in their 4th grade classroom, but they have clear memories of their youth sports experience.
BG: I agree. One of the most influential people in my life was my high school football coach, Skip Lee. I was taken by the way he conducted himself. He expected a lot from us (and told us that) but not in a win-at-all-cost way. He wanted to win but he recognized the importance of other things. He was extremely fair with the players. I admired his character.
JT: I know in my life there have been people who I probably subconsciously modeled myself after.
BG: Yes! I thought, “Gosh, I hope I can do as well as Coach Lee.” He went on to become Dean of Students at St. John’s School here in Houston and the football field is now the “Skip Lee Field.”
JT: What excites you in a potential donation?
BG: The chance to have an impact! The Partnership that PCA has with the Houston Independent School District that I support is very gratifying. HISD has embraced the program so completely and have made PCA training mandatory for all coaches. If athletes get ejected from a game, they have to go through PCA training before they can play again. That’s a great signal to send.
Whenever I’m around someone from HISD, they talk about how much they love the program. There are a lot of athletes in that school system, so a lot of kids are being impacted. That is very gratifying to me.
JT: Most philanthropy is local. You started out supporting PCA in Houston but you now support our Growth Capital Plan to expand into other areas.
BG: Yes, my natural inclination is local. In PCA’s case, I saw what my investment in Houston was doing—the good it was doing for kids in my hometown, and I thought, “Why shouldn’t kids in other areas of the country also benefit from it?”
JT: Were you nervous about your first investment in PCA in Houston?
BG: Oh, yes. I wasn’t sure what was going to come of it. But it was great to see the results of the initial investment.
JT: What do you hope PCA’s impact can be?
BG: I want it to continue to expand, to get more local chapters. There is a huge number of youth sports organizations and athletes across the country. I want PCA to reach more and more of them. When I see the growth and the impact, for example with UIL (University Interscholastic League, the public school governing body for high school sports in Texas) getting involved, makes me feel like it was a good investment.
JT: Thank you for your support of the PCA Movement in Houston and across the U.S. In addition to your financial support, you’ve connected PCA with many people who can help the Movement grow. And the Executive Director of your foundation has even joined the PCA-Houston Board and is already having an impact.
BG: Margaret (Worden) is a dynamic person so I’m not surprised. Being involved with PCA has been fun for me. I have a lot of enthusiasm for what you are doing!