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Grano to Grano: A Generation's Lessons

They aren’t your average Joes.

Joe Grano’s career is the stuff of Wall Street legends. He put in 16 years at Merrill Lynch, before becoming President of Paine Webber and then CEO of UBS Paine Webber. He left in 2004 to start his own firm, Centurion Holdings.

Grano is a proud member of the Boomer generation, crediting that in large part for giving him the discipline to catapult through the ranks of finance, during prosperous times and those more tenuous.

“My generation, is the product of grandparents and parents sweat equity. It was about a good work ethic, good values, and good family values,” Grano says. “That’s something I tried to maintain and cascade to the “Echo Boomer” generation.”

Grano’s son, also named Joseph, is a member of that so-called “Echo Boomer” generation, as the children of Baby Boomers are affectionately known.

Joseph, 25, is the marketing director of Ecological, a firm started by Grano and former Governor George Pataki that provides green services for commercial real estate portfolios.

Aside from being best friends and having the same name, both generations of Joes have life and business lessons to share with the other.

G.I. Joe

Before joining Merrill, Grano moved quickly up the ranks of the army as one of the youngest officers. He served in Vietnam as a member of the U.S. Special forces.

“There is no equal stress. In a room, when everyone is frantic and going crazy, I’m in the center, saying, ‘Calm down, it’s not ‘nam,” Grano says of his military experience.

“There is nothing uglier than war. I would want that to be avoided by any young person,” Grano says. But, he wants his son to remember what he learned from war.

He wrote about the most difficult crisis in his personal life- recovering from the war with 60% of his body disabled after an explosion in Vietnam- in his book, “You Can’t Predict a Hero: From War to Wall Street, Leading in Times of Crisis.”

Grano’s book started as a diary to his son, as a present for graduating high school.

“If the younger generation can live by the words, ‘can’ versus ‘can’t’ and ‘seek solutions’ rather than ‘post mortems, everything is surmountable. I think barriers are a testament to man’s fragility.”

His father’s sobering story puts life in perspective for Joseph, “it makes me think twice before I complain about a headache from drinking the night before, that’s for sure.”

Joe Cool

You can follow the early success and rise of Joseph on Twitter.

“It’s the way we can interact and communicate on a global basis,” Joseph says of technology and business.

Still email-phobic

Generational experts say that a major difference between Boomers and their children is their penchant for immediate feedback online and otherwise, which can add a boost to a cross-generational business dynamic.

“While the family-owned business is exploring new worlds such as online marketing and overseas expansion due to their children's involvement, the parents are able to equalize this fast-paced change by ensuring that the business focuses on the traditional approaches that got them to where they are today," says Paul Blake, Vice President, Generational Equity.

So, forget about following Grano on Twitter.

“I think that form of communication is depersonalizing society. There’s an intuitive side, there’s a body side, there’s a face time that’s very important,” Grano says of proliferation of online tools. “I have executives that will text each other or e-mail each other when their offices are eight feet apart. I go insane. I say, ‘Get up, get off your butt, and go talk to your partner.”

Joseph tries to get his father more involved in e-mail and social networking, but to no avail. Instead, he plugs his father’s company news for him online.

Grano a Grano

The Grano father-son-duo rejects the idea of “keeping up with the Joneses.”

“I don’t agree with it at all. And I think it gets manifested in different ways,” Grano says. “Your earnings, from one firm to another, ‘Well they’re taking a lot of risk, I better take a lot of risk.’ That’s what created this financial crisis we’re in.”

Joseph agrees, uncharacteristic for a generation stereotyped as being more “selfish” than the Boomers known for their “selflessness.”

“My father taught me that attitude really is everything,” Joseph says. “No matter what your lot in life, there is no reason to have a negative attitude. If you have a positive attitude, you’ll come out okay. Good things happen.”

Good things have happened to both Granos, as they continue to learn from and teach each other.

“I’m very proud of my generation,” Joseph tells his dad. “If that’s true, the future is safe,” Grano replies, smiling at his son.

Watch "Tom Brokaw Reports: Boomer$!", Thursday, March 4 at 9pm ET on CNBC. The program will also air Saturday, March 6 at 7pm ET; Sunday, March 7th at 9pm ET; and Monday, March 8th at 8pm ET.