University of Southern California

The Answer is: Yes.
January 13, 2012 • by Lloyd Greif

The age-old question is: Are entrepreneurs born or can you make them? My answer is: Yes.

Yes, they're born and yes, you can help mold them. That's what the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at USC has now been doing for 40 years: inspiring students to become entrepreneurs or intrapreneurs and preparing them to succeed. Entrepreneurs are the lifeblood of this country's economy, and indeed, of the world. They are the engines that create new jobs, new products, and new markets. They are alchemists, turning lead into gold and enhancing the world through their strength, endurance, confidence and intellects.

Perhaps I believe so passionately about the value of entrepreneurs because I grew up with parents who were entrepreneurs in both business and life. My Polish father Emile, and Austrian mother Herta, married in 1938. They were a young couple in Vienna, celebrating their wedding just before Kristallnacht marked a turning point in Jewish lives across Europe. They fled Austria to France, where my father joined the French Army. When Hitler invaded, my dad was captured and held as a POW. Because he had been a traveling salesman, he spoke fluent German and was unusually persuasive. His first night in captivity he engaged in a conversation with one of the guards who let slip that all the prisoners were being moved to a fenced-in compound the next day. Holding his life in his hands and trusting his instincts that the guard was telling the truth, my father made a run for it and escaped.

Reunited, my parents moved to Vichy, France, where they lived in hiding until 1944 when the Nazis found and arrested my father. My mom evaded capture and fled into the countryside; my dad was shipped to Auschwitz. He survived there, was transferred to another concentration camp, Dora-Nordhausen, and was there when the camp was liberated by the U.S. Army in April 1945. Ninety one percent of the camp perished from their ordeal; he was one of the nine percent that survived. Then, after months of searching through post-war Europe, my parents were again reunited. They moved to America, this great country of opportunity.

As immigrants in a strange land, they needed to forge a living. They launched Paris Handbag Manufacturing Co., a women's leather fashion accessories firm in downtown Los Angeles. My father oversaw marketing and sales, design and production of the bags, belts and purses, and my mother handled administration and accounting. My father died when I was six, his health having been compromised from years in the camps. The business could not survive without him, and my mother devoted her life to raising my older brother Mark, a fellow Trojan, and me. She never faltered. Remember those words "strength, endurance, and confidence"? That was my mother. She passed away at age 97 in September 2011, although her spirit will never be gone, for it lives on in the lives that she touched.

In the same way, the lives we touch at the Greif Entrepreneurship Center live through generations to come. The entrepreneurs we inspire and prepare create companies, divisions, products and jobs, fueling our economy and sustaining families on into our shared futures. Please join me in supporting the Center as it celebrates 40 years of inspiring strength, endurance, and confidence.

Yours truly,

Lloyd Greif
President and CEO, Greif & Co.