Joel Peterson and Diana Peterson: How they navigate having seven children and twenty-two grandchildren
“Success is the legacy you leave. It’s the traces that you leave for good, and in the lives of others.” —Joel Peterson
BY PAT BURNS
Joel Peterson is the Chairman of JetBlue Airways and the founding partner of Peterson Partners, a Salt Lake City-based investment firm, which has invested in over 150 companies. Joel has also been on the faculty of Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business since 1992, and serves as Director of the Stanford GSB Center for Leadership Development and Research. Joel and Diana Peterson have been married for forty-four years and have seven children and twenty-two grandchildren.
GRAND: However do you find time to enjoy your family?
JOEL: “Diana and I both have a strong commitment to our grandchildren, which means putting them at the top of our list. We start with birthdays and school events and put them on our calendars and, when possible, we schedule around those. We have grandchildren involved in basketball, ice-skating, piano recitals, and those kinds of things, and there’s a wonderful “Grandparents’ Day” at their schools, which allows us to attend, and that seems to make a big difference to them. I just regularly ask their moms to send any information about events we can attend, and we also do a lot of proactive things like hosting them for a week in the summer, or some various events at Christmas.”
GRAND: What technology do you use to stay in touch with your family?
DIANA: “One app we love is “Group Me” that allows people to create their own little group where they can post pictures and comments and ask questions and get answers, and we stay in touch better than I would have ever have imagined. We can instantaneously know what everyone in our family is doing and send back comments and make little videos. We also have a subgroup that just the moms use to plan things when we know the dads aren’t that interested. It just keeps us in contact in a great way. We also have texting groups and email groups and they all seem to play a role.
JOEL: “Going to the old technology, one thing that is helpful to me is that we print a family calendar each year that has photos of everyone and birthdays and wedding anniversaries listed, so you can flip the page each month and see what’s going on that month. It’s kind of clunky, but it helps a clunky old man like me know what’s going on.”
“Being a grandparent is an opportunity to have a powerful influence on people who are like little sunflowers, turning wherever the sun is.” —Diana Peterson
GRAND: Did becoming a grandfather and a grandmother transform you?
JOEL: “I love potential and I did as a new father and the whole time I was raising my children, I just loved watching them unfold; but with grandchildren it’s a little more ‘hands off’ and a little more focused on the positive. With your own children, you have to set boundaries and employ discipline, but you don’t do much of that with grandchildren. From my own perspective, watching potential unfold has been the same throughout. I think being present and being a cheerleader is important.”
DIANA: “It’s been constant adaption to the changing situation, as I think all mothers and grandmothers do. We have five of the seven who live near us and I really work at attending to everyone’s special dates, and making myself available to the parents for the things that make the things in their life possible.
“Staying with the new moms when their babies were born was a great way to introduce them to the family culture of being a mom, sharing any secrets that we, as mothers in the family, have figured out. There are things all the time that present opportunities, and what’s difficult about it is that they’re not here, living my house, so I have to schedule it.”
GRAND: As an educator, do you have any concerns about higher education in our country today?
JOEL: “Who doesn’t? It’s a mess…the cost has gotten out of control and the debt-level is crushing. I think apprentice-like training, like the Cahn Academy, is evolving pretty dramatically. I think there will be a revolution in education because it can’t go on just like it is. It’s just not viable. Online instructors are teaching hundreds of thousands of students now. We actually sent six kids through Stanford, and it was expensive and it was a phenomenal experience, but it’s not available to everybody, and everyone has a right to have an education.”
GRAND: Do you have advice for grandparents [in general]?
JOEL: “I don’t know that we’re in a position to give advice other than to enjoy this chapter. Each chapter in life usually has wonderful things and not so wonderful things, but this is one [stage] that’s pretty much all wonderful things. You don’t have the challenges of parenting, but all of the rewards are still there, so it’s good to luxuriate in those things.”
DIANA “It’s an opportunity to have a powerful influence on people who are like little sunflowers, turning wherever the sun is. There are opportunities to be proactive and creative in finding ways to enrich their lives, that will pay off in our lives as we look ahead for generations to come. I love discovering that maybe the most important way we can love our own children is to love their children, and realize that we have the opportunity to add things to help their own efforts to parent that they really appreciate. Keeping traditions going and starting new ones is a real opportunity to be as creative as you can possibly be, so we just need to get to work.
GRAND TO JOEL: Oprah uses three simple questions when interviewing people so I wonder if you’d answer the following?
GRAND: Work Is?
JOEL: “I would steal a line from my early mentor, Samuel Crow, who said, ‘Work is more fun than fun.’”
GRAND: Success Is?
JOEL: “Success is the legacy you leave. It’s the traces that you leave for good, and in the lives of others. It’s pretty much measured by other human lives, not by how many buildings you build or companies you build or how much money you amass. In one of the courses I teach at Stanford, we discuss how you build your company and your reputation ‘a conversation at a time,’ and I really think success is having each of those conversations have a good effect.”
GRAND: Love is?
JOEL: “Love is Diana.”
About the author
Pat Burns is the co-founder of the Orange County Children’s Book Festival; a film reporter, Regional Editor of GRAND Magazine, author of Grandparents Rock®, and the happy grandmother of four.