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Mike Graverson began his career in the 1970s as a machine operator in a paper mill, and an investment in education led to a rewarding career. Today, he is president of National Tissue Company, overseeing 90 employees.
In those early years, he worked at night and took classes during the day at Fox Valley Technical College, earning two associates degrees, one in accounting and one in data processing. Graverson soon realized he needed a four-year college degree, but the prospect of starting from the beginning in a bachelor's degree program was overwhelming. He learned about Lakeland from a colleague, and discovered it was the perfect solution.
"Choosing Lakeland was really what made it work," states Graverson. "I had already taken many of the classes that I needed, so I was able to apply most of those credits to my degree and just continue the process. At age 30, this was a very attractive arrangement. Even so, it still took me seven years to finish. If not for Lakeland, I might not have finished a four-year degree."
When Wisconsin Tissue Mills opened a new converting plant in Flagstaff, Ariz., Graverson was named plant manager. There was nothing there when he arrived, and he led the start-up team and then managed the plan after it was built. "That is a high risk thing, when you go to a new place and start from square one. But I thoroughly enjoyed my eight years in Flagstaff. It was a great experience for my entire family."
For 30 years, Graverson has worked with his wife, Julie, more or less right by his side. They met as machine operators at the mill, and now she is the head of purchasing and customer service at National Tissue Company. They have three children, ages 30, 26 and 12. They returned to Wisconsin in 2003 to bring their children into closer proximity with their family.
Graverson enjoys working with his employees, but since he's an accountant at heart, he's always "straying back to the comfort of accounting." As company president he has an opportunity to do many different things on a daily basis, and he thrives on that variety. He's also a community-minded person who serves on the board of directors of the Milwaukee Downtown Rotary and is a member of the Cudahy Chamber of Commerce. He brought a "sheltered workshop" into the paper company, a program run through the Milwaukee Center for Independence (MCFI) that gives people with disabilities the opportunity to come to a job every day and be productive members of a working team. Individuals in the program work alongside the rest of the staff, building cardboard display cases sent to stores all over the country.
Graverson fondly remembers how well his Lakeland education prepared him for his current work. He notes, "For me, it was not the course content, necessarily, but in so many cases, it was the methodologies we learned." He remembers doing surveys, working work in teams and depending on his classmates. He recalls feeling it unfair that a grade would be based on the whole group, but he knows now that is exactly what happens in the workplace.
"You have to learn how to work together with other people. When you are doing it as a student, you can sometimes dislike the complexity of trying to coordinate schedules and working styles. As far as preparing you for the real world, it really is where the best learning takes place."
You can reach Mike Graverson at email@example.com.