John Grady, ’89, is a Philadelphia native. He grew up in the city’s Olney and East Oak Lane section, not far from La Salle University’s campus. He has spent most of his professional career improving Philadelphia with an ambitious strategy built around business growth, investment, and development throughout the city.
So why would he ever leave?
“The short answer is I’m not,” Grady said with a chuckle. “That’s the question I’ve been getting a lot of lately.”
In January, Grady stepped away from his role as President and Chief Executive Officer of the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC) after 22 years—including the last nine as its top executive. The move allowed Grady to serve in a leadership capacity with Wexford Science & Technology, a development group based in Baltimore. At Wexford, Grady will continue the firm’s work to establish mixed-use knowledge communities around leading universities, and medical and research centers in Philadelphia and beyond.
“My passion and my relationships are right here in Philadelphia, and that’s where my office will be, too,” said Grady, Wexford’s Senior Vice President and Northeast Region Executive.
While with PIDC, Grady oversaw the reimagining of commercial districts in Center City and throughout the city’s neighborhoods. Most notably, he and PIDC took the blank canvas at South Philadelphia’s Navy Yard and converted it into a destination that since has been branded by Politico magazine as “the coolest shipyard in America.” It’s become a business hub for the likes of Tasty Baking Company, Urban Outfitters, and GlaxoSmithKline, and a place where visitors can enjoy public parks, engage with art installations, and grab a meal at one of a half-dozen restaurants.
Humbly, Grady does not accept singular credit for any of these development initiatives.
“Whether it’s around redeveloping a place like the Navy Yard or whether it’s supporting development in a neighborhood or the downtown or helping businesses grow, it takes a lot of partnership,” said Grady, who serves on the University’s Board of Trustees.
That partnership, he said, occurs at what Grady calls “the intersection of government and development.” Populous East Coast cities like Philadelphia, more than a half-century ago, had experienced significant declines in work—particularly around manufacturing. At the time, Philadelphia’s workforce identity crisis got Grady thinking about ways in which he could contribute toward improving the city in which he was raised—and apply the educational foundation he had built at La Salle.
His La Salle roots took hold quite early in life.
Grady’s father, John “Jack” Grady, taught economics at the University for nearly 50 years and helped develop the Honors Program. With Grady and all four of his siblings (along with his wife, three in-laws and a niece) graduating from La Salle, “the Christian Brothers’ ethic and ethos was present in my house from a very early age,” he said, crediting his La Salle experience with the development of his academic and civic interests.
Those interests immeasurably impacted his professional career.
His work at PIDC produced a number of pride points: 13 consecutive years of population growth in Philadelphia, the addition of 90,000 net jobs over the last eight years, more than $800 million of neighborhood development, and $60 million in small business loans to businesses in 98 percent of the city’s zip codes—and particularly to minority- and women-owned businesses “who don’t always have access to these types of resources,” he said.
Grady said he hopes to build upon those successes in the next chapter of his career, at Wexford Science & Technology.
“This move (to Wexford),” he said, “will give me perspective on other cities while I continue to focus on Philadelphia and what we can do to make sure this city remains a great place to live, work, and raise families.”