November 1, 2013
“A highlight each year for the Hankamer School of Business and our Institute for Family Business is the Texas Family Business of the Year Banquet hosted on the Baylor campus”, says Terry Maness, Dean of the Baylor Hankamer School of Business. “This year we are delighted to recognize Graham International as the Small Family Business of the Year. We are proud to recognize not only their business accomplishments but also the family values they represent in how their conduct their business. Of course, the icing on the cake is the fact that both Brett and Debbie got business degrees from Baylor, which makes this recognition especially meaningful for our faculty in the Hankamer School of Business.”
The company was nominated based on being a multi-generational business, and won based on criteria including family values, community commitment and overall operational success, the school says.
Graham International is a franchised dealer for International Truck and Engine Corporation, and started operations in Sherman in March of 1965 by Jim Graham. Brett Graham, Jim’s son, took over in 1993 after Jim’s death.
The company has two locations in Sherman and Paris, Texas and has 46 employees.
The Texas Family Business of the Year awards program recognizes outstanding firms whose families demonstrate a commitment to each other and to business continuity, and who are responsive to the needs of their employees, communities and industries, says Bill Worthington, director of the Institute for Family Business.
“It is quite an honor to be recognized by Baylor for this award, especially in light of both my wife and I being Baylor alumni,” says Brett Graham. “This recognition speaks volumes about the quality employees that exist in our organization, as well as a loyal customer base, many of which have stayed with us for almost 50 years. The fact is this great state has so many incredible small businesses that reflect the values Baylor is recognizing. We have always strived to make sure our businesses are good community stewards.”
Brett’s place in the family business was far from certain as he was growing up, and after graduating from Baylor, it even looked unlikely.
With a degree in-hand, he took a job in commercial real estate appraisal for two years, largely on the advice of his father.
“My dad was in the truck business his whole life. He know how tough it was,” Brett recalls. “He never wanted me to be in the business. He wanted us to go be bankers or something in finance. Like all good fathers would, he aspired for us to do bigger and better things.”
After the passing of his father, the Grahams explored selling the business. When that didn’t appear to be a viable option, a group of employees approached the family matriarch company president, Nell, and requested that she ask her son to take over.
“It was kind of unusual,” he says, “but they wanted me to come here.”
In addition to owning and operating Graham International, Brett and Debbie also operate Graham Truck Centers, a franchised truck tire dealership with four locations in Texas and Oklahoma.
Debbie serves as COO of Graham Truck Centers.
The couple has three children, all still of school-age and, in a slight break from family tradition, there is hope they will join the family business.
“We’re still a long ways off from that,” Brett says, “but it would be my hope that they have the opportunity to continue this in some form.”