Industrial Engineering and Operations Research
Class of 1951, BS
John Grado was born in Bristol, Virginia, the son of an Army recruiting officer. He skipped second grade, graduated at the top of his high school class, and entered Virginia Tech at 16 in 1944. During his first quarter on campus, he earned all “As,” but left the university at 17, enlisting in the U.S. Navy in 1945 during World War II.
“When I returned to VPI two years later, I was not the same. I was more interested in a social life after being in such a structured military environment. I earned all the grades I needed to graduate in industrial engineering (IE), but the straight As were a thing of the past,” he recalls.
After graduation, he moved to Longport, Pennsylvania, to work with U.S. Steel for a few months. But a job offer from Monroe Calculating Company back in his hometown of Bristol lured him away, and he spent the next three years in the Commonwealth. When the West Virginia Pulp and Paper Company offered him the challenge of creating automated lines to increase finishing-room productivity at its Luke, Maryland, facility, the young Grado jumped at the chance. He developed a new technique for the paper mill, designing production lines that used his IE skills.
In 1956, Mr. Grado met the person he refers to as his role model in the business world, George Wallace of the Fitchburg Paper Company. When he was offered a job as the company’s first Chief Industrial Engineer, Mr. Grado accepted and moved his family to Fitcthburg, Massachusetts. He soon became the President of its Decotone Division, and as he says, “found it to be an industrial engineer’s paradise ... because everything was done wrong.” Within six months, he had turned the unprofitable division into a moneymaking operation. By the end of the year, Mr. Grado’s group was turning a six-digit profit, and he was named an executive vice-president of the company in 1964.
The productivity enhancements at the Fitchburg Paper Company, due to Mr. Grado’s innovations, became so
dramatic that people started running out of work. But these people were doing their jobs so well that Mr. Grado did not want the streamlining to be the cause of downsizing the company. The company decided to cut numbers through retirements, voluntary relocations, or attrition.
Five years later, Mr. Grado was named Executive Vice-President of the parent corporation. In 1967, Mr. Wallace determined he was ready to sell the company, and Mr. Grado located the new buyer, Litton Industries. Litton selected Mr. Grado, then only 35 years old, as the new Corporate Vice-President of Litton. He built the group into a $300 milllion operation under Litton.
After almost two decades, Mr. Grado recognized the chance to own his own company. Litton had decided to focus on high technology, and especially electronics; manufacturing paper did not fit neatly into this category. Soon, Mr. Grado became an entrepreneur on a grand scale, and named his new company Technographics in 1983.
Mr. Grado was dubbed “a local hero” by the Greater Fitchburg Chamber of Commerce for bringing the world headquarters of Technographics to the small Massachusetts town, and for returning the company to local ownership. In 1984, he was chosen Businessman of the Year for the county.
During his career, Mr. Grado has served on the Board of Directors of a number of organizations including: the Fitchburg Gas and Electric Company, the First Safety Fund National Bank, Fitchburg State College, North Worcester County United Fund, American Red Cross, Applewild School, Secondary Materials Association, George Wallace Foundation, Charitable Trust of Boston, American Paper Institute, and the Oak Hill Country Club.
Mr. Grado retired in 1999. He is a member of Virginia Tech’s Ut Prosim Society, the College of Engineering’s Committee of 100, the Industrial and Systems Engineering’s Advisory Board, and a member of its Academy of Distinguished Alumni.
He and his wife Corrie reside in Marco Island, Florida.
Class of: 1951
Year Inducted into Academy: 2000