APQC Mourns Death of Founder, Dr. C. Jackson 'Jack' Grayson, U.S. Quality, Productivity, and Economic Growth Pioneer

Lauded for his work as a creator of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award; chairman of U.S. Price Commission; co-founder of The Houstonian Hotel, Club & Spa; dean for business schools at both Tulane and Southern Methodist University; and as a World War II Veteran

(Houston, Texas – May 5, 2017)APQC, the benchmarking and best practices research firm, mourns the death of founder and executive chairman, Dr. C. Jackson “Jack” Grayson. He passed away peacefully on May 4th at his home in Houston, Texas, at the age of 93. Grayson spent his entire professional career applying quality thinking and methods to help improve organizations and society.

With a zeal for life and quest for adventure, “Mr. Charisma” always kept his family and colleagues on their toes. He started setting the bar high in high school when he danced with Vivien Leigh at the gala premiere of Gone with the Wind in Atlanta while a student at Georgia Military Academy. Keen on exploring the world and all its wonder, Grayson completed his seven-continent quest in 2003 at age 80, with an Antarctica trip, and celebrated his birthday with skydives at age 75 and 90.

“APQC has lost a tireless champion, a visionary genius, and an inspiring mentor. Jack’s early and sustained efforts to help companies in business, government, and education improve productivity and quality have enhanced the competitiveness of countless organizations for almost five decades,” said Lisa Higgins, APQC president and chief operating officer.  “We’ll especially miss his passion, wit, and enthusiasm for both work and life.”

An Improvement Mission & Mindset

Grayson rose to public prominence in 1971 when he served as chairman of the U.S. Price Commission under President Nixon. Though the price controls were widely unpopular, he earned national recognition from the press, business leaders, and labor for his transparent and fair administration and later for his work to remove the controls. During this period Grayson came to understand that productivity growth in America was falling and sounded the alarm about our sagging productivity, quality, and competiveness. 

In 1977 he made an unprecedented commitment to halting that decline when he founded the American Productivity & Quality Center (APQC), originally known as the American Productivity Center. Based in Houston, the organization initially offered productivity improvement training courses, established common performance measures, and conducted the first White House Conference on Productivity. At the same time, he sought to create a physical venue to connect mind, body, and spirit and co-founded The Houstonian Hotel, Club & Spa in Houston, Texas.

“I vowed when I left government, I would do something to wake up the nation to the importance of productivity, but more importantly, to help improve it,” said Grayson in an interview. APQC was his answer to a dangerous economy—it was an initiative that would help improve American competitiveness.

In the mid-1980s he recommended the creation of a national quality medal, which subsequently became the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award.  APQC and the American Society for Quality (ASQ) jointly administered the award in its first three years. In 1991 he and staff at APQC launched the International Benchmarking Clearinghouse to help organizations identify and learn from best practices and in 1993, the Process Classification Framework® (PCF), a business taxonomy now regarded as the most widely-used worldwide for process improvement. Later he and his team helped launch and usher in the concept of knowledge management in the mid-90s.

“Few, if any, individual Americans have done more during the last 20 years to shape the country’s economic future for the better,” stated BusinessWeek of Grayson in 1990. For Grayson, it was simple: the words “can’t” and “no” simply did not exist.

In 1997, at the age of 74, Grayson launched and dedicated the rest of his career to the APQC Education Initiative to help schools benchmark and adopt best practices. Grayson believed many of the same productivity and quality principles and process management approaches that apply to the business world could be transferred to the academic arena, specifically the K-12 education system. He retired from APQC in September 2015, just shy of his 92nd birthday.

An Avid Educator, Learner, Explorer & Veteran

Grayson earned his bachelor's degree from Tulane University, an MBA from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, and a doctorate in business from the Harvard Business School.  His academic career included professorships at Harvard, Stanford, Tulane, and Southern Methodist University (SMU) as well as business schools in France and Switzerland.  He served as dean for the business schools at Tulane and at SMU, where he became known for instituting innovations in business education at both institutions.

During World War II, he served four years in the U.S. Navy and fought in the South Pacific. In addition to his academic and public work, his career included being a newspaper reporter in New Orleans, an FBI special agent, a manager of a cotton farm in North Louisiana, and a member of an import-export firm. A lifelong proponent of constant learning, experimentation, and having fun, he was a single-engine airplane pilot, a racehorse owner, and world traveler, even setting foot on all seven continents. He authored many magazine and newspaper articles as well as four business books, including American Business: A Two-Minute Warning about the productivity slide against global competitors and If Only We Knew What We Know, co-authored with his wife, Dr. Carla O'Dell, about knowledge management and the internal transfer of best practices.

A Sought-Out & Awarded Leader

Grayson was a CPA and a retired board member for eight major U.S. corporations. In addition to his work with President Nixon, Grayson served on two additional presidential commissions for President Carter’s Commission for a National Agenda and President Reagan’s National Productivity Advisory Committee.

In 1973 he was honored as Wharton’s Man of the Year by the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. In 2000 English research firm Teleos named him one of the 10 “Most Admired Knowledge Leaders” in North America.  In 2003 the American Society for Quality (ASQ) named him as one of nine Distinguished Service Medalists.  In 2006 the Cox School of Business at SMU created the C. Jackson Grayson Endowed Faculty Innovation Award for excellence and creativity in teaching and an endowed MBA scholarship in entrepreneurial studies, gifted by Bobby Lyle. In 2008 APQC and ASQ established the C. Jackson Grayson Distinguished Quality Pioneer Medal to honor individuals who have demonstrated leadership in quality areas in education, health care, public sector, and not-for-profit organizations. In 2016 he was inducted into the Hall of Fame by the Association for Manufacturing Excellence (AME).

According to Grayson, of the honors bestowed on him over the years, he was most moved by the APQC-driven tributes. In 2015 APQC launched Founder’s Day, an annual celebration to honor Jack Grayson and the work of APQC. During the inaugural event, APQC renamed its amphitheater to be Grayson Hall—“dedicated to all those who come to APQC to learn, adapt, and improve their organizations and named in honor of our Founder Jack Grayson, who inspires and challenges every individual to reinvent their future every day.” In 2016 APQC introduced the Grayson Guarantee™, a defining guide for APQC and its team on how to live, work, and act with Grayson’s values at the forefront of every decision.

For Grayson the benefits of productivity growth extend beyond business strategy and enhancements to the bottom line. “If you look at highly productive companies, you notice that people are happier,” he said. “They are more empowered and responsible and take pride in their work. This adds to the productivity and the well being of the people in the organization.”

What worked for the individual also worked for the company and country, he believed. “Any life that is not productive is wasted. If you are not striving to continuously learn and grow, you are not leading a productive life. This is true for an individual, and it is true for a country.” 

A Celebrated Life

A biography of Grayson's life, Freedom to Dream, Courage to Act: The First Nine Decades of C. Jackson Grayson, was released in 2014 to celebrate his 91st birthday.                    

Grayson was born on October 8, 1923 in Fort Necessity, Louisiana. Grayson is survived by his wife Dr. Carla O’Dell, and his children, Christopher Jackson Grayson and wife Kelly; Michael Wiley Grayson and wife Siew Leng Toh; Randall Charles Grayson and wife Kerry O’Regan; and four grandchildren, Mckenna Nicole Grayson, Andrew Jackson Grayson, Clove Regan Grayson, and Annika Regan Grayson. He was preceded in death by his parents, Charles Jackson Grayson, Sr. and Daphne de Graffenreid Grayson; and his son, Daniel Jackson Grayson.

A celebration of life service will be held at 11:00 AM on Friday, May 12th at Chapelwood United Methodist Church in Houston; a reception will follow in the Fellowship Hall. In lieu of flowers the family asks that contributions be made in Grayson's memory to Camp Augusta, located at 17530 Lake Vera Purdon Road, Nevada City, California 95959.

For more details about Grayson’s life and his contributions to the growth of the American economy, please read his biography or share your comments about Grayson at www.apqc.org or @APQC.

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