Donald Conway Graham is an industrialist and philanthropist. He founded his first company, Graham Engineering, in a farmhouse basement in Central Pennsylvania in 1960 with one employee. Today, The Graham Group consists of several investment firms and industrial companies.
Don was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1933, and raised in a University of Michigan faculty family. After graduating from the University of Michigan with two degrees, Don worked in a series of engineering and engineering management roles, both in industry and in the U.S. Army. At age 27, he founded Graham Engineering. The company’s activities grew from design engineering services to contract manufacturing to building integrated manufacturing systems and developing industrial technologies. Don ultimately established leadership positions domestically and internationally in three core industrial businesses which today employ thousands of people and generate several billion dollars in annual sales: plastic bottles and containers, commercial windows and window wall systems, and packaging machinery. Each of the Graham businesses exemplifies Don’s vision of creating a sustainable competitive advantage in a market through industrial innovation and advanced manufacturing know-how, leveraging product substitution trends and raw materials conversion trends in the market segments Don pursued. This strategic focus on industrial innovation and advanced manufacturing know-how persists today in all of The Graham Group’s investment platforms and throughout its industrial portfolio.
Don was born on January 25, 1933 in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he grew up as part of the University of Michigan community. His father, Samuel A. Graham, was a scientist and professor in what is now the University’s School of Natural Resources and Environment. Don’s mother, Sybil F. Graham, co-authored “American Problems: A Textbook in Social Progress,” which was used to develop unified curricula for social sciences in high schools around the United States. Don was the youngest of four children. As a youth, he worked multiple jobs and participated extensively in competitive athletics.
Early in college, Don played American football and hockey. He also worked as a machinist at a local manufacturer. After injuries ended his goal of playing professional sports, Don focused on engineering. While at the University of Michigan, Don was inducted into Tau Beta Pi, the national engineering honor society. He was a member of the University of Michigan’s chapter of the American Society of Tool Engineers. Don was also a member of the Engineering Honor Council. Don graduated from the University of Michigan in 1955, earning a BS degree in Mechanical Engineering, followed with an MS degree in Industrial Engineering and Business Management in 1956. He was a member of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity.
Following graduation, Don worked in the engineering department at Baker Perkins in Saginaw, Michigan. A stint in the U.S. Army brought Don to the Edgewood Arsenal in Maryland, where he earned a critical skills accreditation in the chemical weapons group. He moved on to Read Machinery Corp. in York, PA (later Read Standard Corp.) as Chief Engineer for Specialty Products, and then went to Read’s parent company, Capitol Products, as Vice President of Technology.
Don left Capitol Products in 1960 to start Graham Engineering in the basement of a rented farmhouse in Dover, Pennsylvania with no capital and one employee. Graham Engineering grew from a design services firm into a diversified group of advanced manufacturing companies with leading international positions in packaging machinery, plastics packaging and architectural window systems, which subsequently led to the formation of The Graham Group.
The Graham Group has since grown to include Graham Capital Company, Graham Partners, Inverness Graham Investments, Striker Partners and Graham Software Development. The investment companies have in turn invested in over fifty companies in industrial technologies, packaging, water management, medical instruments and medical equipment, aerospace, electronics, food technologies, building products, communications, business services and information technologies.
Don continues to be actively involved on portfolio company boards and works closely with management teams of portfolio companies, particularly when significant strategic changes or product development programs are involved for a company. At age 83 he is fully engaged on almost a daily basis. He also remains an avid golfer and skier.
For decades, Don has provided significant leadership and financial support to the University of Michigan. He serves on the current President’s Advisory Group, as he had served for the University’s prior two presidents. Don founded the University’s Graham Sustainability Institute and the Graham Graduate Entrepreneurial Studies Program. Don has actively supported numerous programs in the University’s School of Natural Resources over the years, including funding the Dean’s Chair, which is named in honor of Don’s father. He has also actively supported the College of Engineering, including serving on a National Advisory Board and funding the Nanotechnology Labs. Moreover, Don has actively supported the Athletic Department, including funding several football and hockey scholarships as well as the Academic Success Program.
Committed supporters of educational, community, cultural and environmental projects, Don and his wife Ingrid have funded programs at many other institutions, including Dartmouth College, Williams College, York College of Pennsylvania (including the Graham Business School and the Graham Innovation Scholars Program), Penn State York (including the Graham Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership Studies), the University of Pennsylvania (including the Penn Museum), the York YMCA’s Graham Aquatic Center, and Burke Mountain Academy (including the Graham Family Endowment).
Don has been active in many professional groups, including the Young Presidents’ Organization, Chief Executives Organization, World Business Council, American Business Council and the Recycling Advisory Council, as well as serving on numerous corporate and philanthropic boards. He received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society of Plastics Engineers (SPE). Internationally, Don served as Chairman of the Trustees of the Mpala Wildlife Foundation for over 15 years and currently serves as Chairman Emeritus.
Don and Ingrid Graham have been married for over 58 years. They have five children: Steve, Kristi, Ken, Richie and Erik, as well as 17 grandchildren ages 6 to 27. Despite the demands of building a growing group of companies, Don has consistently made his family his first priority.