Karla-GrazierKarla Grazier has served as president and CEO of Discover Goodwill of Southern and Western Colorado since April 2010.

Hers has been a diverse and interesting career. Starting as a banker in San Francisco, Grazier moved on to head the middle market leveraged buyout group at Wells Fargo in New York City. She subsequently worked in the corporate finance group of Touche Ross, while concurrently serving as a guest lecturer in corporate finance at Yale and New York University.

In 1987, Grazier began a second career as an entrepreneur, steering a start-up company in the snack food industry to a public offering in 1992. She moved to Colorado Springs in 1996, where she purchased and co-managed two catalog companies that she later sold.

In a recent interview with the Business Journal, Grazier talked about the path that led her to Goodwill.

“Part of the affinity for the role I have now came from a long time ago as an entrepreneur,” Grazier said. “A partner and I started a snack-food company, and we employed a lot of people who were disadvantaged. What I gained from that is people really want to work. They want the opportunity and to learn skills — and they don’t want things handed to them.

“And at Discover Goodwill, we help people become independent. In my banking career and as a serial entrepreneur of three companies, I gained a lot of skills and was able to hone my financial and operational skills. That has helped me tremendously here, with [running] 20 programs and nine retail centers, and we have programs or services in 38 of the 64 counties in Colorado.

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“Now that I have the job and look back, I had a job in high school working with individuals with Down Syndrome — and understood what God hasn’t given people cognitively, he makes up for by giving them a huge heart. Now, to walk over to Possibilities (a first-of-its-kind program in the nation), seeing and feeling all that love — brings it all full circle for me.

“After being fortunate in my career as an entrepreneur, I feel like this is my way to give back. Some people give back directly by serving soup to the homeless, but my skill set is in financial and operational areas — so that’s my best way to give back to the community.”

Grazier has one speed – fast forward.

[pullquote]…combine business with heart.[/pullquote]“When I started with Goodwill, everyone told me to take it easy, to slow down, get to know the job and the people, and then start making incremental changes. So in the first year we raised $10 million, moved to a new building, started a really ambitious new program and it was only possible because of the spectacular leadership team I inherited.’

So what’s next?

“We have more big plans,” she said. “To grow our mission impact, to create jobs, we have to increase retail and increase funding. I believe that nothing great is ever accomplished by being realistic, and I’ve sort of lived my life not being realistic. If I have a mantra, it’s to combine business with heart.”

[youtube width=”640″ height=”360″]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_VXSOjxX24w[/youtube]

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