Financial executive Bill Grayson is interviewed by his daughter Katherine about the study of humanities and professional success
By Katherine Grayson
Thirty years after my father Bill Grayson graduated from UC Santa Barbara with a History and Political Science double major, I enrolled at his alma mater to pursue a humanities degree of my own- in Film and Media Studies.
Bill Grayson, national director of family offices at Bernstein Global Wealth Management, was recently elected Vice Chair of the Board of the Presidio Trust, a federal agency that operates The Presidio, a national park in San Francisco. Over the past two decades, the Trust has partnered with the National Park Service to convert the former military base into a green space in the urban area of San Francisco, without taxpayer support.
I sat down with him to find out how he went from a surfing college student to a senior financial executive and public policy leader, and to serving in four different presidential administrations.
Q. We are so proud of your Presidential appointment to the Board of the Presidio Trust. Can you talk about how that came to be and why it’s important to you as a San Francisco native?
A. I was born and raised on or next to the Presidio so it has been apart of my life since the beginning. My dad, your grandfather, was in the Naval Reserve so every Sunday we would go to brunch at the Officer’s Club in the Presidio when it was still a big army base. Fast forward to when I was serving in the first Bush administration, for George H. W., as the Deputy General Counsel of the Army. The Presidio as an army base was no longer militarily necessary so they transferred the Presidio from the Department of Defense to the Department of the Interior, and I worked very closely with all the Generals and the leadership to make that happen. So when I got the opportunity, through the Trump administration, to serve on a board or a committee or department, I quickly asked to be appointed to the Presidio Trust Board.
Q. Have you enjoyed the experience so far?
A. It’s been great. I love my fellow board members. I am the first Republican to be appointed to the board in probably ten years, so it’s been all Democrats. But, my fellow Democratic board members elected me the vice chairman of the board because they know my term will last longer than theirs and that I have a huge passion for, and history with, the Presidio. The passion that everybody has for the Presidio is based 100 percent on its beauty as the finest, urban, national park, unrelated to anything political.
Q. When you were a student at UCSB, did you pick your majors out of passion or practicality?
A. I don't know if I’d call any of them passions. At 18, going to college, my passions were surfing and hanging out on Del Playa. I was not exactly a model student but I was probably a typical student. It just kind of evolves. The whole point of having the undergrad education and having it be in liberal arts is that it’s that ideal time in your life to explore every possible thing that seems interesting and then at some point you may find it [your passion]. I always liked politics. I was always attracted to the news. History is just stories, just people’s stories over a long period of time. So those were all interests, and I will say they were helpful for law school as well.
Q. What are your thoughts on pursuing a Humanities degree and the ability to get a job and be successful after graduation?
A. You’ll never be successful it you don't like what you’re doing. If you can love what you’re doing, you’re bound to be really successful. Success can be defined in a million ways. If you love what you do, you will have no problem finding meaning in your work and getting a job. I work for a big, global research and investment company and we’ve taken lots of students who graduated with English degrees and philosophy degrees. They come in here and whatever their diversified background was is perfect. It creates an interesting, well-rounded person. Wherever you go, you’re going to get trained on the job. That’s just the way it works. I think a liberal arts background is wonderful and that’s what most employers are really looking for.
Q. What do you consider to be your greatest professional achievement?
A. Raising three really smart girls. That’s what I’ll be judged by. Their future success and happiness will be my crowning achievement. I’m very proud that you are thriving at UCSB as this experience will be very important to your ongoing success. UCSB has played an important part in my life and career so I’m thrilled that you too have this wonderful opportunity.
Katherine Grayson is a third-year student at UC Santa Barbara, majoring in Film and Media Studies.