Lots of companies mount ambitious programs to hire college graduates, but the Graham Co., an insurance and risk-management company, takes a different approach.

"As a rule, we don't hire right out of college," said Kenneth L. Ewell, 57, Graham's president and chief operating officer.

Question: Why did Graham adopt that philosophy?

Answer: You just have a higher degree of success [if] they've worked someplace else, and they have a little bit of context and they have some basis to judge Graham against. Sometimes they come out of school and they think that every place is like this and they are more apt to leave because someone will pay $5,000 more.

Q: Temple, La Salle, St. Joe's, all have big risk-management programs. Wouldn't it make sense to tap into that talent?

A: We love what St. Joe's and Temple and La Salle do in that area. Our feeling is that what we want to hire is what you can't teach.

Q: You like to hire a "SWAN." Not a birdbrain, right?

A: You hire someone who is  Smart,  Works hard, and is Ambitious for team goals - no lone wolves. And the "n" is they're Nice.

Q: So you look for more seasoned employees and then put them through your six-month training program.

A: Someone who works for someone else will say, 'You know what, I remember what my job was like somewhere else. Now I come to Graham and I have a greater appreciation.' They develop more loyalty. We learn something from them: 'Graham does five things great, but in that job, we did one thing better, and this is what it was.'

Q: So you don't hire insurance types?

A: We don't specifically look for that background. We look for someone who has had success in a professional environment. It could be in accounting; it could be in law. A law degree used in business is very valuable. My clients really like the fact that their account manager, or [sales representative], or claims consultant has a legal background, especially in insurance, because all these policies are contracts.

Q: Chairman William A. Graham 4th is the face of the company, but you and Michael J. Mitchell, the vice chairman, run the company day to day as equals. How's that working out?

A: It works out probably better than we could have expected. We thought it would be good. We've known each other for 25 years. We bring different personalities and different perspectives. One thing we never have is a disagreement on why we are doing what we are doing or what we want to get done. How we get there, it's creative disagreement. It's really fun to disagree with someone you have a lot of respect for. You get a better solution.

Q: Also, Bill Graham can resolve any serious dispute.

A: Yes, and yet we've never had the scenario. Bill is very comfortable with delegating. If he wasn't, we'd be a 20-man shop, not 160. We'd be successful as a 20-man shop, but you can't lead without building strong teams who know how to build strong teams.

Q: You take a team approach to sales.

A: Usually a senior [person] and a young [person] work together.

Q: What's your thinking?

A: You have two heads in front of the client. If you and I went out on a sales call, some clients would gravitate to you, some would gravitate to me. Our competitors are like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The lead person is great and then there's a drop-off. We're more like the Three Musketeers.

KEN EWELL

Title: President, chief operating officer.

Homes: Medford and Philadelphia.

Diplomas: Temple University, mechanical engineering; master's in business administration.

Resumé: Sales rep at Xerox Corp. Joined Graham in 1989.

Saturday mornings: In the gym.

Family news: Son Andrew is becoming a priest. "We never expected that, and a Franciscan on top of it. It's like the Navy SEALS of the priesthood. I'm proud of him. I'm happy for him."

Happiness: Smoking a cigar while golfing.

Drink: Jameson. EndText

THE GRAHAM CO.

Where: Center City.

Business: Property, surety, casualty, employee benefits insurance, consulting.

Industries: Energy, construction, chemicals, manufacturing, marine, financial services, law, real estate, technology, entertainment, media.

Revenues: $45M.

Employees: 160.

History: Chairman Bill Graham 4th joined dad's firm in sales, took over company in 1972. EndText

MORE ONLINE

Ken Ewell on knowing when to walk away from business. www.philly.com/jobbing

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