Stuart Graff has been preparing for his current job since childhood.
“I have been a passionate aficionado of Frank Lloyd Wright’s work since I first encountered it on a school field trip as an 8-year-old boy in Chicago,” says the CEO of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. “Not only did I find the work visually interesting, but I found his whole life story to be very inspiring.”
Graff had spent his life working as a corporate attorney and in business leadership roles, but was at a point that he was ready for a change when he heard the foundation was looking for a new CEO.
“I thought, ‘That would be my dream job,’” Graff recalls.
Now, two years into his role as CEO, Graff has already impacted the foundation, which has seen its ups and downs over 77 years. A highlight was Graff’s 2017 campaign to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Wright’s birth. The campaign garnered more than 1.5 billion impressions in six weeks, strengthening the Wright brand like never before.
Az Business spoke with Graff about where he hopes to take the foundation from here.
Az Business: What strengths make you the ideal CEO for the foundation?
Stuart Graff: The foundation really needed someone who could set it on sound financial footing and create a strategy that would keep it on a sound financial footing. Turnarounds were something I had done throughout my career as a corporate lawyer. So my primary goal is to establish a sound financial footing to protect Wright’s legacy.
AB: How does Frank Lloyd Wright fit into Arizona’s history?
SG: Wright’s first foray into Arizona comes with the Biltmore. The architect — Albert Chase McArthur — was one of his apprentices. He wanted to use a type of building system called Textile Block that Wright had pioneered. So he hired Wright to come in as a consultant. Wright saw this raw, open space and said it was like, “looking at the world at the moment of creation.” Wright grew up in the Midwest, so this radically different landscape inspired him to think differently and fall in love with Arizona.
AB: What were your goals for the campaign that attracted 1.5 billion impressions?
SG: We wanted to accomplish three things: raise the awareness of this great American and his wonderful story of self-invention; give people the opportunity to realize that the legacy of ideas that Wright left us didn’t end with his death because many are things we are able to just finally realize today — things like sustainability and the use of natural light; and help all the other 73 Frank Llloyd Wright organizations earn more income and increase visitation at the museums around the country.
AB: What are some of the things you’re working on now?
SG: We are are teaming up with Paradise Valley to develop an educational initiative to bring Wright’s teachings into K-12 schools in order to teach children STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art/ architecture and math) curriculum. We are also creating new programming at Taliesin West to create a gathering place for the community. Debuting this year is “Taliesin Next,” a speaker series examining Wright’s legacy in today’s world.