Susan Morris Graf

Who are you, and what do you do?

My name is Susan Morris Graf – I am a community connector and advisor. Most recently, I worked as an impact-focused banker. I encourage companies to become a force for good and, if they are, help them access the capital needed to sustain their growth.

I currently serve on the boards of:

  • Boulder Community Health; an independent, non-profit health
  • Naturally Boulder; an organization of 1300 members of the natural
    and organic products industry
  • The Colorado Enterprise Fund; a Community Development Finance Institution that helps people access capital not available through regular bank channels

Previously, I worked as Vice President of Finance and Administration for a natural food company, CEO of the Boulder Chamber of Commerce and Vice President of Operations for a greeting card manufacturer. I have always been interested in how business works and love solving problems and constraints they might have.

What has been one insight or lesson that has been most helpful in your career?

  • Say ‘yes’.
  • Be willing to take on what needs to be done and do your best.
  • Attend programs and events that interest you or will have interesting
  • Volunteer for organizations you are passionate about.
  • Pay it forward. Help people with no expectation for ‘repayment’.
  • Follow-up if someone offers you assistance or introductions. You
    never know where those connections might lead.

What has been your favorite mistake? A mistake that in retrospect led to a great lesson and progress.

That would be like picking a favorite child – they are all important. I don’t stress or obsess over mistakes – they are what led me to where I am today and I wouldn’t change a thing.

Project forward ten years. How will your industry or field be fundamentally different then? What opportunities do you see?

I look forward to a day soon when ‘impact finance’ will just be sustainable ‘finance’. In order to do well, you will need to be good to people and the planet as well.

What are some bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?

“Businesses should grow as fast as they can.” There is nothing wrong with a small business that fits into a balanced lifestyle, as long as it is sustainable. Bigger does not always mean better. Sometimes, as businesses grow, they lose control over their vision or mission, especially as they add investors that may not have the same goals.

In the last two years, what have you become better at saying no to?

I politely decline things that take up my time that I am not passionate about. Just about every non-profit is worthwhile and they all ask for help and for money. I have come to realize that I cannot spread myself too thinly or I will not have energy and resources for the ones that I am most excited about.

What is the one book you recommend most often and why?

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. It is a poignant look at how important it is to find purpose in your life.

What advice would you give a smart and ambitious recent college graduate? What advice should they ignore?

I love Jim Collin’s advice that you should identify what you are good at, what you are most interested in and what someone would pay you to do and find the overlap between those three lists. Ignore the advice on how to
make the most money in your life. It won’t make you happy or feel fulfilled without the other components.

What is your favorite quote, one you aim to live by?

“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” Winston Churchill