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Debra A. Cafaro: Top Takeaways
"The upside-downside of the situation was in my favor, even though it didn't look like it was. [...] What I saw was the ability to learn how to be a CEO." - Debra A. Cafaro
Photo by Adam Blaszkiewicz
The 91st Annual Dinner Meeting was held on Wednesday, April 10, featuring Debra A. Cafaro, chairman and CEO of Ventas, Inc., and who members learned that evening will be the next chair of the Club beginning July 1, 2019. The program opened that evening with Nominating Committee Chair Mary Dillon presenting the slate of candidates approved by the Executive Committee for the Club’s 2019-2020 board (view here). For the dinner program, Ms. Cafaro gave brief remarks and then joined Mellody Hobson on stage for a seated conversation.
Excerpts from the speech and interview are below.
On her family background….
“I grew up in a working class neighborhood in Pittsburg, which looked a lot like those working class neighborhoods throughout Chicago. My father was a mailman. My mother was a high school valedictorian, turned stay-at-home mom. Both were first-generation Americans, children of immigrants.”
“My parents loved us, and my dad grew to love his work equally or almost as much. He was the most unlikely entrepreneur you've ever seen. Almost by accident one day, my dad learned that he could make a living by trading rare coins. Specifically, he found out that rare silver dollars that were then in circulation, could be worth $20 or even more. So with his mathematical mind he learned the dates to look for, and every week he would take his postal service paycheck to the bank and cash it in for silver dollars. He would jingle on home and we would spread those silver dollars out on the dining room table, looking for the valuable ones. Some weeks dad made more money finding rare coins than he ever did delivering the mail. Eventually, after years of working two jobs, dad opened his own little coin shop in downtown Pittsburgh. He took a big risk, worked incredibly hard, and he did it because he knew his purpose was tied to a sense of both personal achievement and family commitment. That little coin shop put my sister and me through college, his proudest accomplishment.”
On the state of Ventas when she became CEO…
“When I was asked to join Ventas as CEO, [my father’s] example inspired me. That was in early 1999. Back then, Ventas was a new, small and unknown company, and those were its absolutely best characteristics. The company was in deep trouble. We had a single tenant itself headed for bankruptcy. Between heavy bank debt coming due, a tax audit looming, distressed debt guys lining up against us, and a Medicare fraud investigation under way, most people didn't give Ventas a chance.”
On turning the company around and where they are today…
“In those early days at Ventas, our team of underdogs worked harder and more creatively than you can possibly imagine. We were absolutely relentless. We tried everything we could to save the company and turn it around. Where others saw no way out, we saw opportunities to find solutions that benefited everyone. […] We had the advantage of both hindsight and foresight. We anticipated the potential created by the changing demographics in the US. We knew that more healthcare and senior living providers would need a committed, knowledgeable, long-term real estate partner, and we made sure that we could be that partner. Today […] we have 1,200 assets across North America and the United Kingdom, and we're valued at $34 billion. Along the way, we've delivered over 22 percent compound annual return to our shareholders.”
Please note that the content of this program was edited and condensed for clarity.
Dan Gilbert: Top Takeaways
"Somebody told me a long time ago, and it really stuck with me, ‘If you don't have a lot of criticism or critics out there, then you're probably not doing anything worth doing.’ Things don't change without resistance." - Dan Gilbert
On March 19 the Club hosted Dan Gilbert, founder and chairman of Quicken Loans and Rock Ventures, and chairman of the Cleveland Cavaliers, for the Third Forum of the 2018-2019 Program Year at The Standard Club. Second Vice Chair David Snyder moderated the seated conversation with Mr. Gilbert while incorporating questions from the audience submitted via Poll Everywhere.
After the luncheon concluded, Mr. Gilbert participated in a “Continuing the Conversation” program with young leaders, where he continued to answer questions from attendees. Young Leadership Committee Chair Andy Crestodina facilitated the discussion.
Excerpts from the forum and young leaders’ program are below.
On what drove him to become an entrepreneur…
“I think, for me, and probably for a lot of entrepreneurs, it starts young. There's this sort of a feeling, actually. It was never the pursuit of money or cash. It was the action, the excitement, of having your own business […] The action of business, the action of building. I always like to build things.”
On how he approaches the demands of his many businesses on his life…
“I actually heard Jeff Bezos say this about a year or two ago. He talked about how you can't be happy at work if you're not happy at home, and [you can’t be] happy at home if you're not happy at work. I really buy into that […] Everybody here probably has more things to do than time, right? That's just the way it is. So, when you leave, you're never going to be done. You just have to put down the pencil, brush, or whatever you're doing, and leave to do your other things […] I think it makes you better at your job. Now, these electronic devices have tethered all of us, so do you ever really leave it? You probably don't, but you have to look for the balance.”
On instilling a corporate culture...
“I do this with a couple other guys, the folks who are leaders, senior leaders. We spend an eight-hour day with all new people every eight weeks […] we have a lot of fun and we play videos, and we do some exercises, and things like that. I will tell you that I'm really shocked and surprised to get feedback from people who say, ‘I can't believe that you would spend that much time with [new employees].’ Really, what could be more important than the leaders, founders spending a full day ingraining the team into the culture of who you are? And that's another way we describe culture. It's not what we do, it's who we are.”
On the city-wide effort to rebuild Detroit…
“What you had in Detroit, unlike any other city, is you had this geographic divide first […] The land mass of the city of Detroit proper could fit Manhattan, San Francisco, St. Louis; six big American cities inside of it. The spreading out of that distance alone created barriers, and those barriers then got fueled by union versus management, white versus black, East Side versus West Side, suburbs versus the city, bureaucrats versus everybody […] That culture fed until 2013, when the largest municipal bankruptcy in the history of the country, maybe the world, took place. I'll tell you what, that'll give a city religion real quick. It got everybody in the same boat[…] Foundations, the citizens, neighborhoods, the people, the businesses – we don't agree on everything, but we're swimming in the same river, same direction. When you get that, man, there's nothing like it. It's a great feeling. Especially when you compare it to where it was for over a half century.”
Please note that the content of this program was edited and condensed for clarity.
Jean Case: Top Takeaways
"It's really important to start out with a clear understanding that fearlessness is not the lack of fear, it's the ability to see that fear, stare it right in the eye and push past it.” - Jean Case
Photo by Adam Blaszkiewicz
On March 11, the Club hosted a Special Luncheon Meeting featuring Jean Case, chairman of The National Geographic Society and CEO of the Case Foundation, at The Chicago Club. Chair Mellody Hobson moderated the conversation with Ms. Case and then took live questions from the audience.
Ms. Case discussed her new book, Be Fearless: 5 Principles for a Life of Breakthroughs and Purpose. The book was based on research commissioned by the Case Foundation that analyzed the core qualities of successful change-makers, innovators and entrepreneurs. They discovered “five principles that are consistently present when transformational breakthroughs take place,” as noted in Be Fearless. Those principles are:
- Make a big bet
- Be bold, take risks
- Make failure matter
- Reach beyond your bubble
- Let urgency conquer fear
Below are excerpts from the discussion:
On her reason for writing Be Fearless…
“The book was written to make it clear that it's ordinary people who do extraordinary things, and my unusual sort of journey through life […] I've had this privilege of not just traveling around the United States, but literally around the world, including to some of the most remote places in the world. What I see everywhere is people have great ideas. They have ideas about how to make the world a better place, but they're often stopped with this idea that ‘it can't be me, I don't have what it takes.’ We wanted to go to school on that a little bit.”
On the concept of fearlessness…
“I should say although the book is called Be Fearless, it's really important to start out with a clear understanding that fearlessness is not the lack of fear, it's the ability to see that fear, stare it right in the eye and push past it.”
On the “make failure matter” principle…
“When you're taking risk and you're trying new things, you will have failures along the way. ‘Make failure matter’ is not a celebration of failure, but rather a recognition that failure teaches. Just like in R&D, it's actually the errors that play the most significant role in helping you perfect an idea, groom it, turn left if you have to try a different way forward. Too often in both corporate cultures and firms, in life, it's almost like we don't talk about failures […] There are two chapters that I think really draw this out and one is, we know this term “crash and burn.” What if we called that “crash and learn?” What if we said this is the moment when we actually can learn some really significant things. That's only going to happen by being transparent about the failure and doing the hard work of saying, ‘What have we learned here now and how do we apply it?’ The second [chapter] is “Fail in the footsteps of giants,” because one of the things that drives me crazy is we sanitize success stories.”
On the unintentional “bubble” people form…
“If we're not intentional about having people around us who are different, with different perspectives and different ideas, then we will get in this bubble and our own perspectives will be limited. We're in a very divided time. People are gripped with fear, and discontentment. One way out of it is to go spend time with people who are quite different.”
Please Note this transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.
To see the full interview, visit our YouTube page.
Steve Easterbrook: Top Takeaways
"Customers want to buy into a brand, and not just buy from a brand." - Steve Easterbrook
Photo by Adam Blaszkiewicz
The Club held its Third Dinner Meeting of the 2018-2019 Program Year featuring Steve Easterbrook, president and CEO of McDonald’s Corporation, on February 20 at the Fairmont Chicago: Millennium Park.
As is tradition for the third dinner meeting, Chair Mellody Hobson recognized the Chicago Consular Corps, with 21 Consuls General in attendance. Ms. Hobson also acknowledged the Club’s new members, who attended the Annual New Member Reception held before the dinner program. Before dinner, a last and special video tribute was presented to Andrew J. McKenna, chairman emeritus of McDonald’s, a former Club chair and a leader in civic engagement within the Chicago business community.
After these honors, Mr. Easterbrook joined Ms. Hobson on stage for a fireside chat. Below are excerpts from the interview.
On why he chose to work at McDonald’s…
“For a consumer, it’s a narrow perception of the [company]. You see the restaurants, you see our people, see our food, but behind it is a mini industry running from construction, real estate, architecture and design all the way through to the operational processes, marketing, communications, and it is just a fascinating business. Once you get a glimpse into that, you think there’s more than meets the eye, and it could be just a great learning experience.”
On the ways societal change affects customer demands…
“Peoples’ frames of reference are continually changing, getting continually more demanding […] If there was a survey 10 to 15 years ago to name 10 companies around the world who you consider to be really convenient, I would guess we would be right up there. Then something like Amazon comes along, or Uber comes along, or being able to change your flight on an app comes along, and it's not necessarily change within our sector, it's just change in business and society overall […] It continually resets the definitions, so if three minute [in a drive thru] becomes two minutes, customers won't necessarily say, ‘You're doing such a better job in service times,’ because perhaps their expectations are greater than that because they are seeing so much greater convenience offered through other avenues as well. It’s a continually moving space.”
On how to meet customer demands while being true to the core of the business…
“There are certain companies that need to be on the forefront of innovation, that need to start to create new trends. I think we're at our best when we're a fast follower of trends or we stay on trend. Now, to be a laggard is a disaster because you've got a lot of catching up to do and that's hard work. We've had a little bit of that to do over the last few years, but I think we're making progress. I don't think our customer base is asking us to totally break new rules and break new paradigms. They want us to get better at what we should be good at and will embrace any efforts we make to basically just become a better McDonalds. So, I mean the simple language I use, ‘If we can bring the greatest benefit, to the most people, in the shortest possible time, that's when our scale becomes an advantage.’ If you resist change because it's just too hard, too difficult, too complicated, you get left behind and customers vote really quickly with their feet.”
Please Note this transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.
2019 Auto Show Media Preview
"Our industry faces unprecedented geopolitical and regulatory challenges: trade issues with China, potential tariffs in the U.S., and of course for us, Brexit," - Joe Eberhardt
Photo by Adam Blaszkiewicz
The Club welcomed Joe Eberhardt, president and CEO of Jaguar Land Rover North America, for the 2019 Auto Show Media Preview on Thursday, February 7.
This year, the program took place on the showroom floor at the Jaguar Land Rover booth where Mr. Eberhardt debuted the new 2020 Range Rover Evoque, a luxury compact SUV. Before introducing the car, Mr. Eberhardt gave brief remarks on the trends facing the auto industry. Following the reveal, he answered questions from Second Vice Chair of the Club David Snyder, who presided at the meeting.
“Our industry faces unprecedented geopolitical and regulatory challenges: trade issues with China, potential tariffs in the U.S., and of course for us, Brexit,” said Mr. Eberhardt. “To remain globally competitive, we urgently need the UK government to provide certainty for business, including guaranteed tariff-free access and frictionless trade with the European Union.”
Please Note this transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Art of Innovation with Chicago Innovation: Top Takeaways
"You have to become comfortable with your discomfort if you’re going to innovate. Which means you need shit-disturbers on your team. And artists are shit-disturbers.” - Kelly Leonard
Panelist Kelly Leonard. Photo by Adam Blaszkiewicz
The Club and Chicago Innovation co-hosted a special meeting, the “Art of Innovation” on January 24 at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). The evening included performances by students at SAIC and a panel discussion on the topic, moderated by Club member Howard Tullman, executive director at the Ed Kaplan Family Institute for Innovation and Tech Entrepreneurship at the Illinois Institute of Technology.
The panelists that evening included:
- Eva Maddox, Consulting Principal at Eva Maddox Design Strategies, LLC
- Kelly Leonard, Executive Director of Insights and Applied Improvisation at The Second City
- Ashley Wheater, Artistic Director at The Joffrey Ballet
After the panel discussion, participants answered live questions from the audience. Below are excerpts from the program:
On what skills business leaders can learn from artists….
Kelly Leonard: “The [improvisation] training is to teach you to go into the unknown, to be comfortable with risk, to be agile, and it’s practice. It’s funny, people don’t recognize this idea of it being practice. You don’t go to the gym once and say ‘I’m good,” right? If you want to be innovative you have to practice innovation.”
On constraints in artistry…
Eva Maddox: “I have never worked without constraints, and actually it’s not fun to work without constraints, because you have to find what the problem is, and then you start thinking and creating ways to make [a project] come about. Constraints help. In our profession, in terms of architecture and design, we always have constraints, whether it’s the site, or the money or the program. The creative aspect is trying to solve that and trying to find options that will make the brand come alive.”
On the movement away from subscriptions to live performance companies…
Ashley Wheater: “We sit in a unique position today, where in the last 10 years we’ve actually seen our subscriptions increase. That’s a rarity. […] The reality is that you can never sit on your laurels. You need to look to the future and always be one step ahead, because we know that the day is going to come when it won’t be that way.
Please note that the content of this program was edited and condensed for clarity.
"Planning for Chicago's Next Tech Revolution": Top Takeaways
"We look for these opportunities to disrupt industries and companies. We know how to do it, we know what to look for, we would be very helpful in helping companies prepare and become the disruptor as opposed to becoming disrupted." - Chris Gladwin
Photo by Adam Blaszkiewicz
On January 15, the Club hosted the Second Forum Luncheon: “Planning for Chicago’s Next Tech Revolution,” at The Standard Club. Panelists included:
- Mike Gamson, SVP Global Solutions of LinkedIn
- Chris Gladwin, Co-Founder & CEO of Ocient
- Penny Pritzker, Founder & Chairman of PSP Partners
The Club’s Second Vice Chair David Snyder moderated the discussion, which centered on the P33 initiative, co-founded by Chris Gladwin and Penny Pritzker.
Below are excerpts of the conversation:
On a basic introduction to P33…
Penny Pritzker: The thesis of P33 started as a conversation that Chris really raised, the issue of Chicago punching below its weight as a tech hub. We're the third largest city in the country, but on most tech indices, we rank six to 10. That led us to create a vision. We brought together about 150 university and business [leaders], established company leaders, tech leaders, government leaders, to say, “How do we transform Chicago into a tier one global tech hub by 2033?” That's the vision.
On the guiding principles behind the development of initiatives…
PP: The first [principle] is, we want to position Chicago as a go-to city for tech innovation, and the second is, we want to drive inclusive growth in the tech sector and in our entire economy. The inclusivity is a significant part of what we're doing. Not the only part, but it's not adjunct, it's central. We want to leverage our existing assets and our existing initiatives. We feel fundamentally that the private sector needs to lead this effort, and that our established businesses and our tech companies need to come together.
On the unexpected learnings from research on net promoter scores….
Chris Gladwin: What we found is, asking over 1,000 people across the United States in tech communities, […] Chicago's own net promoter score of its community is lower than anyone else's own net promoter score of its own community. So if we think we're cheerleaders, we're not. […] Everyone else's net promoter score of us is by far lower. Our brand is by far the weakest. Then if you ask people objective questions like, “What's the most educated big city in the United States?” and it’s Chicago, their jaw would be on the floor. I think it's in our mid-western character that we don't want to over-sell ourselves, but we are so far behind the facts, that we've got a long way to go.”
On the separation between the established Chicago business community and tech sector…
PP: That was something that was shocking to me when I returned to Chicago. We had our established companies kind of living in this orbit, meeting in these groups, getting together, and we had our tech companies over here, and they were not there. The Venn diagram overlap was pretty slight, if at all. That's a problem for us to remain a successful city.”
Mike Gamson: There are two or three tables here that have almost all the tech people in them, isolated in their little tech mini-cluster.Make some new friends, this is what we are here to do. And so it's real if you're looking around like, "Am I at one of those tables?" Or, "Is that why they're dressed so poorly?" [Laughs]
There is some entrepreneur here who is hoping that the company that she is building will be worthy of you as a client. So open your mind a little bit to taking that call. Our first reaction as a business leader is to not engage with anyone. Even if you don't buy the product, even if you are uninterested in the potential benefits that could accrue to you through the business transformation that technology provides, just be open to it. Build a bridge, accept a meeting, take a call.
Please note that the content of this program was edited and condensed for clarity.
Ganesh Bell: Top Takeaways
"In the past, technologists only wanted to work in cool things. They want to work on the latest, greatest thing when it's hot. Today you can work on the latest greatest thing in the world, which is machine learning, AI, Internet of Things, robotics, and 3D printing, but actually do it in industries that are purposeful. That's actually pretty exciting." - Ganesh Bell
Photo by Adam Blaszkiewicz
The Club’s Young Leaders Committee held a breakfast featuring Ganesh Bell, president of Uptake, at the Uptake offices on Friday, December 14. Mr. Bell gave remarks and then answered questions during a Q&A moderated by Young Leaders Committee Chair Andy Crestodina.
Below are excerpts from the program.
On Uptake filling a void…
“If software accelerated the transformation of industries, AI just gave it a major, major, major turbo boost. We at Uptake saw this in the industrial world. That's where we started, in the industrial world, because we saw a decade of industrial productivity going down and unused data going up. Also the nature of work in all of these industrials is changing because we're deploying more robots, more drones, and humans with wearables, and generating more data. […] In all of these industries, when you connect all this data and learn from that data, you can actually augment human intelligence with artificial intelligence and do some simple things, like predict failures in machines. In just four years since the inception of the company, we built an industrial AI, an IoT platform, where we have been trained, our algorithms and engines have been trained, on more than a billion operating hours. We can now predict more than 55,000 failures across many different industries.”
On what has changed in regards to how humans work...
“If you talk to leaders in leading some of the biggest companies in the world, they'll tell you they have dealt with lots of these things in the past, from leading change, big transformations in companies, an innovation dilemma, or the industry getting re-imagined. […] They will all tell you that while they've dealt with a lot of change in the past, this time it feels different. Why does it feel different this time? Because something's happened in the last decade. We've long held the belief that technology, or work itself, could be defined in two ways; routine tasks, and non-routine tasks. Routine tasks are things that could be automated, and non-routine tasks are things that cannot be automated because they have intuition, judgement, and creativity attached to it. But something happened in the last decade, especially in the last half decade where things that require creativity, intuition, and judgement can also be automated. […] The reason is all about the acceleration of technology. Humans don't have a reference point for something that's continuously accelerating.”
On job disruption and an unemployment crisis…
“You'll see people divided on it, which is both job creation and job destruction. I generally fall in the camp of jobs will be dislocated and they'll be dislocated first in skills, they will be dislocated geographically, they will be dislocated in time, and this idea of crowd sourcing and the gig economy is actually real. […] I think it will be a curve where at least, for the next couple of decades, we are in the phase of human plus AI and robot; where human is augmented by a robot or an AI. I think there will be crossover in certain jobs over the next decade where it's robots plus humans, then eventually robots themselves. In many industries there is some autonomous future. In the industries that [Uptake is] in, we talked to our customers. Why not an autonomous power plant? It's quite possible. It actually feasible. It's just that human condition of acceptance hasn't arrived there yet. Just like autonomous cars today are technically possible, but human condition and acceptance hasn't happened. I think it will happen. In many industries it will happen over a much slower period than most predict. I believe that the nature of work will change from the 9 to 5, and that this idea of gig economy will definitely happen, which means how we regulate labor, how we think about pay, how we think about benefits – all of those things will actually go through change.”
Please note that the content of this program was edited and condensed for clarity.
Bono: Top Takeaways
"I think the thing that offends me, and makes me angrier than anything in the world, is the squandering of human potential, including my own. I think that love, if we had to define it, is the realizing of potential in others and indeed in yourself." - Bono
Photo by Adam Blaszkiewicz
The Club was honored to host Bono for the Second Dinner Meeting of the 2018-2019 Program Year at the Hilton Chicago Hotel on December 6. Club Chair Mellody Hobson moderated a conversation with Bono, to an audience of over 1,600 attendees. As Ms. Hobson noted in her opening remarks, “Tonight's speaker is the first person we've ever had with just one name. We've heard a lot over the years from rock star CEOs. We've heard from rock star politicians. This is our first time hearing from a rock star rock star.”
Below are excerpts from the conversation that evening.
On the longevity of U2 and his bandmates…
“Sticking together is probably the most difficult thing for anybody in an series of relationships: family, business, band, marriage […] When we walk onstage together, the four members of the band, a strange thing happens. People, maybe some in this room, will tell me that they experience the hairs going up on the back of their neck when the four members of the band walk out. This does not happen when I walk out, or two of us. The four of us have to walk out. But what they don't know, and I tell people this, is it's happening to us. […] What it is, is that it is impossible to stay together, and when our audience looks at us, knowing that we've probably waded through shite, and we've gotten onto that stage, it's very powerful. It's alchemical. We've turned our shite into gold.”
On whether performing ever gets old…
“Oh no. We just finished a tour a few weeks ago in Europe and it took me more to prepare for that tour than any tour we've ever played. I think it was partly the subject matter, and it was very demanding physically and mentally to go through this. I would wake up, 50 percent of the shows, on the morning of the show, feeling nauseous, feeling sick and just wondering about the show and if could I pull it off. Could we pull it off? And it's not [about] can you get through the song list or are you going to make it to the end of the show. It's nothing like that. Unfortunately, our drug of choice in our band is that this has to be the greatest night of our life. That's tricky on a Tuesday in fucking God knows where.”
On the meaning of his quote “a singer is someone with a hole in his heart as big as his ego”
“There is no way we can put [artists] on a pedestal, because we become artists usually as an attempt to fill a void. Some hole in our heart, some ache. Because you don't really start writing songs or painting pictures or films or poetry unless there is something missing from you. And so that's what I was trying to get at.”
On what is missing for him…
“I think it's changed over the while. When I was younger I didn't understand where, perhaps, my rage came from, but now I do. Now I have rage for the right reasons. I think the thing that offends me, and makes me angrier than anything in the world, is the squandering of human potential, including my own. I think that love, if we had to define it, is the realizing of potential in others and indeed in yourself. […] You never see human potential more squandered than in the dire despair of poverty and extreme poverty. And to realize, and I've said this before, but I hope it's still not a cliché, that where you live can never decide whether you live.”
Please note that the content of this program was edited and condensed for clarity. To view the full conversation, visit our YouTube page.
The Honorable John W. Hickenlooper: Top Takeaways
"I've never persuaded anyone to change their mind on anything that really matters by telling them why they were wrong and why I was right; only by listening and then listening harder."
- The Hon. John W. Hickenlooper
Photo by Adam Blaszkiewicz
The Honorable John W. Hickenlooper, governor of Colorado, was the featured speaker at the Club’s First Forum Meeting on November 14, hosted at The Hyatt Regency Chicago. Governor Hickenlooper, whose second term will end on January 8, 2019, spoke to the legacy he leaves behind in Colorado after serving in the role for eight years. After he provided brief remarks, Governor Hickenlooper participated in a Q&A session moderated by Club Second Vice Chair David Snyder, COO of Chicago CRED, who took live questions from the audience via Poll Everywhere.
Below are top takeaways from the presentation and Q&A:
On leading Colorado in legalization of marijuana…
“When it got elected, I was against it. Every elected official, pretty much everyone I knew in Colorado was against it because no one had ever done it before […] My mother's family were Quakers and the Quakers – I'm not a Quaker – but I do think it's interesting they have a whole context where they think of what's called a ‘fair witness;’ someone who doesn't have a self-interest one way or the other but does their best to see if we can find truth in the issue. I thought that was the appropriate role for state government – to do our very best to see if we could make this work. I found the smartest people I could get, had a young guy out of Harvard Law who came in and became our marijuana czar. I'll tell you, the things that we most feared – a spike in teenage consumption, spike in overall consumption, people driving while high – we haven't seen them.”
On considerations to make in implementing legalized marijuana …
“In terms of regulating it and going after the black market, don't overtax it. You don't want the price so high that you continue to have a black market. Drug dealers don't care who they sell to. We set a limit of 21. You can't buy pot until you're 21. We still have a black market and it's a serious problem, but we now have $250 million a year of tax money that we can put towards that. We also put it towards a lot of the chronically homeless, most of whom have mental health problems, but almost always have drug issues. That allows us to have resources for that, which is incredibly important.”
On universal background checks for guns…
“In 2012 […] in Colorado state with 5.4 million people at the time, there were 38 people convicted of homicide who tried to buy a gun and we stopped them, 133 people convicted of sexual assault, 620 burglars, 1,300 people convicted of felony assault […] we stopped them. There were 420 people that had outstanding warrants that they couldn't see their ex-boss or their ex-spouse; they tried to buy a gun and we stopped them […] there were 240 people who when they showed up to pick up their new gun, we arrested them for an outstanding warrant for a violent crime.”
Please note that the content of this program was edited and condensed for clarity.
The Honorable Lawrence A. Kudlow: Top Takeaways
"He has an arsenal of tools to use and he has chosen to use tariffs. It doesn't mean they're forever, it just means it's part of his negotiating style.” - The Hon. Lawrence A. Kudlow
The Club welcomed the Honorable Lawrence A. Kudlow, assistant to President Donald Trump and director of the National Economic Council on Friday, November 2, for a special meeting at the Standard Club. Director Kudlow gave remarks and then participated in a Q&A moderated by Club President & CEO Donna F. Zarcone, who took live questions from the audience via the texting platform Poll Everywhere.
Director Kudlow spoke to the Club the same morning the Bureau of Labor Statistics released the most recent Employment Situation Summary report. It marked an unchanged unemployment rate of 3.7 percent, and an increase of 250,000 jobs in October.
Below are highlights of Director Kudlow’s remarks and Q&A session:
On the health of the U.S. economy…
“This increase in economic growth – from roughly 1-2 percent to 3-4 percent – is not a sugar high […] As the president pledged during the campaign, we have lowered the marginal tax rate especially for large and small businesses. We've also put in 100 percent immediate expensing for investment and created very easy conditions so our great corporations can bring home their overseas money.”
On Democrats winning the House and overturning tax rates…
“If there is a turnover [in the House] and there is an attempt to raise tax rates, first of all, I think it will be stopped in the Senate. If it's not, I believe the president will veto any attempts to raise taxes and he will veto any attempts to raise regulations and unwind the Congressional laws and his own executive orders. No president that has done what he's done insofar as rolling back costly and burdensome regulations across the board.”
On productivity and workforce retraining…
“Let’s go back to the business tax cuts. Lower rates are here to stay, so better business investment and more capital per worker will raise the productivity rate. Productivity has been low for 20 years because [we’re] starved for capital; the workforce needed it for retraining, new equipment, re-skilling, as my colleague Ivanka Trump puts it, and she's dead right on this. So the money will be there to help the workforce improve. The workforce improves, the productivity rate goes up and covers the wage increase. The fact that we haven't seen it in a while doesn't mean it can't happen again.I saw it in the 80s and it continued in the 90s. We're bringing it back.”
Please note that the content of this program was edited and condensed for clarity.
Satya Nadella of Microsoft: Top Takeaways
"I fundamentally believe, like any human being, companies have an identity, have a soul."
- Satya Nadella
The Club held the First Dinner Meeting of the 2018-2019 Program Year on October 3 featuring guest speaker Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft. Chair Mellody Hobson moderated a seated conversation with Mr. Nadella. See the top takeaways below.
When asked about questioning Microsoft’s purpose…
“The reason I asked the question was I felt we were not defining who we are and what we want to achieve with the clarity that is needed in order to drive any kind of success. I fundamentally believe, like any human being, companies have an identity, have a soul. And sometimes you get defined by what others think about you versus really having that inner strength of what is it that you uniquely contribute.”
When asked why he thinks empathy is so important…
“Empathy, you could say, is very good in the personal life […] but I think it's central to business. If you sort of say, innovation comes when you want to build a product or a service that is going to meet the unmet, unarticulated needs of customers, your best shot of being able to do that is to have that deep sense of empathy, that ability to see others.”
And that's why I think that it's so important for us to not separate out what we think is important at work and what we think is important for us in life. If you can somehow bring the two things together, and empathy is one such very powerful thing that I've found to be very useful for me.”
On the significance of artificial intelligence…
“I think the defining technology of our times is clearly going to be AI and machine learning. Let's just think about what AI can do for us as we sit here in 2018 in terms of bringing more people to fully participate in our society and our economy. One of the things I'm very passionate about is accessibility. [...] AI can, in fact, make it possible for someone with disabilities to fully participate in our society.”
When asked whether AI should have rules or regulations…
“At Microsoft we are very much grounded on the fact that with AI, the human is in the loop. I believe abdicating responsibility for AI and its decision-making too early is very dangerous. If you're creating AI systems that are making automated decisions, then the person who is building that system is in the loop. Therefore they have the responsibility to go figure out how to make sure that the AI system is going to make the right decisions. […] So, yes, I think there are design principles, [and] regulation that's definitely needed."
Please note that this transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity. To see the full interview, visit our YouTube page.
Discussion Series led by the Henry Crown Fellows on Ulysses S. Grant
September 13, 2018
The Club hosted the annual Discussion Series led by the Henry Crown Fellows on September 13 at The Chicago Club. This year, the conversation focused on the life of Ulysses S. Grant through the Civil War and Reconstruction.
As in years past, member Charlie Bobrinskoy – vice chairman, head of investment group at Ariel Investments – provided a presentation to attendees before they broke out into dinner discussion groups. To supplement the conversation, readings were sent to members before the program, including excerpts from Grant’s memoirs.
Mr. Bobrinskoy began the presentation mentioning the recent “rehabilitation” of Grant’s reputation.
“One of the things we’re going talk about tonight is that different people have very different perceptions of Ulysses. S. Grant,” said Mr. Bobrinskoy.
For years, Grant was considered a failure of a president. This sentiment was aptly represented in a 1942 presidential-ranking survey distributed to historians who collectively listed him second to last. By 1982, he had only climbed three spots on that list in a similar survey of historians. Although seen as a national hero when he died in 1885, resentment gained traction in the southern starts, where many people criticized Grant as an ineffective leader that managed a corrupt administration. As the “Lost Cause” theory of the Civil War grew in popularity, Grant’s reputation declined.
Recent biographies of Grant, including one published by writer Ron Chernow, have re-examined Grant’s life, including his time as General of the Union Army, and the steps he took toward improving life for freedmen and women during Reconstruction.
Photo by Adam Blaszkiewicz
Special Luncheon Meeting with Mayor Rahm Emanuel
July 19, 2018
The Club was honored to host Mayor of the City of Chicago Rahm Emanuel for a Special Luncheon Meeting at the Union League Club on July 19. Mayor Emanuel gave brief remarks before an interview with Chair Mellody Hobson.
During his remarks, Mayor Emanuel gave an overview of Chicago and the city’s status in regards to economic expansion, education and development. He noted that of the five biggest cities in the country, Chicago has had the largest drop of unemployment in the past 10 years, in addition to being ranked the number one U.S. city for direct foreign investment for the sixth consecutive year and the number one U.S. city for corporate relocations for the fifth consecutive year. Mayor Emanuel credits that to the growth strategy developed when he first came into office called “The Five T’s,” referring to talent, training, transportation, technology and transparency.
“If you invest in those five things you can grow your economy and ensure that you are actually not only recruiting companies but having all the growth you need to help solve and address other challenges,” he said.
The city itself is well-positioned for acquiring talent, given that a 150-mile radius around the city holds more level-one universities than any other city in the world. However, Mayor Emanuel also emphasized community colleges in the city and the training they provide for individuals lacking financial means. He specifically cited the Chicago Star Scholarship, which gives free community college to any student who received a B average in high school.
Photo by Adam Blaszkiewicz
Special Luncheon Meeting with Dr. Dambisa Moyo
May 21, 2018
The Club welcomed Dr. Dambisa Moyo for a Special Luncheon Meeting on Monday, May 21 at The Chicago Club. Dr. Moyo discussed the ideas explored in her recently published New York Times bestselling book, Edge of Chaos: Why Democracy is Failing to Deliver Economic Growth – And How to Fix It, and then participated in a Q&A session moderated by Chair Mellody Hobson.
Dr. Moyo opened her remarks with observing the growing skepticism she sees around the world in regards to liberal democracy and market capitalism and the role they play in economic advancement and human progress. She cites three reasons for the growing skepticism:
- Voter participation rates are down to 50 percent from 65 percent in the 1960s.
- Money has seeped into the political process, with lobbying dollars doubling from $1.5 billion to $3 billion in the last decade. Additionally, after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, just 158 families in this country to be responsible for over 50 percent of the political contributions made in the 2016 presidential election.
- People have lost faith in the political system and the government’s ability to function. As one Pew think-tank cites 80 percent of Americans do not trust the federal government to do what is right on a regular basis.
Additionally, Dr. Moyo mentioned the results of a World Economic Forum survey that showed the majority of citizens around the world have more faith in authoritarian governments, such as the Chinese government, to deliver economic progress than they do in democracies.
“I’ve had the privilege of traveling to over 80 countries around the world – rich and poor, democratic and non-democratic. One thing has become absolutely clear: we who believe in democracy and market capitalism are no longer convincing,” she said.
Photo by Adam Blaszkiewicz
Annual Fifth Night Celebration: The Evolution of Craft Beer
May 15, 2018
On Tuesday, May 15 the Club held its annual Fifth Night Celebration centered on “The Evolution of Craft Beer.” The program was held at Theater on the Lake and featured two optional panels with representatives from nine breweries offering tastings that night. Beers from each brewery were paired with a menu item from the buffet stations catered by Blue Plate.
The first panel covered the history and current state of craft beer in Chicago while the second covered the business of beer. Both were moderated by Goose Island Brand Activation Manager and Brewery Educator Jesse Valenciana. The panelists who participated were:
The History and Current State of Craft Beer
- Mary Bauer, Plant Manager, Lagunitas Brewing Company Chicago
- Greg Hall, Founder, Virtue Cider
- Phil McFarland, Senior Director of Sales and Strategic Planning, Half Acre Brewing Company
- Jacob Sembrano, Brewmaster, Cruz Blanca Brewery & Taqueria
The Business of Beer
- Stephen Bossu, Co-Founder, Hopewell Brewing Company
- Richard Leinenkugel, President & Chief Beer Merchant, Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company
- Ed Marszewski, Co-Founder, Marz Community Brewing Company
- Curtis J. Tarver II, Co-Owner, Vice District Brewing Company and Club member
During both panels, the speakers shared how they each became involved in the craft beer industry, with experiences ranging from family businesses to lucky coincidences. Greg Hall previously worked as the brewmaster of Goose Island Brewing, which his father John Hall started in 1988. During the first panel on the history of craft beer in Chicago, he explained how Goose Island was the first craft brewery in the city and was part of a new wave of craft American beer that gained momentum in the 1980s. Mr. Hall recalled the challenges the brewery faced in first convincing bars and restaurants to sell their beer.
“The old school European beers were thought to be the most premium beers out there. The American beers were the most popular. Nobody knew how to categorize us in the late 80s, early 90s,” he said. “We weren’t the redheaded step child. We were the stray cat the redheaded step child found in the alley.”
Photos by Adam Blaszkiewicz
90th Annual Dinner Meeting with Jeffrey Seller
May 7, 2018
The Club welcomed Broadway producer Jeffrey Seller on Monday, May 7 for the 90th Annual Dinner Meeting celebrated at the Hilton Chicago Hotel. The evening started with retiring board member Jack Hartman presenting the Nominating Committee’s 2018-2019 slate of officers and directors of the Club, which members unanimously accepted. The program began with remarks from Mr. Seller – producer of Hamilton, Rent and Avenue Q, among many other shows– which detailed his career and the business of making musicals. Afterwards, Chair Mellody Hobson moderated a candid discussion that touched on topics including Mr. Seller’s path to Broadway, his process of creation, and future projects.
The previous day, Mr. Seller and Lin-Manuel Miranda announced the opening of Hamilton: The Exhibition, a traveling museum that will open in Chicago on Northerly Island in November. It will serve as an immersive exploration of the American Revolution through the perspective of Alexander Hamilton. In Mr. Seller’s eyes, Chicago is the ideal place to launch the museum.
“Chicago embodies the intersection of civic stewardship, cultural engagement and capitalism that define American exceptionalism,” he said. “The Herculean efforts of the business and civic leaders that architects who dreamed up and built the Chicago’s World Fair in 1893 exemplified how a city can enrich the lives of citizens through entertainment, education and illumination. “
These kinds of strategic considerations are skills Mr. Seller honed over his 25-year storied career in theater. Given the role he plays in making artistic visions a reality, he emphasized two points. First, that commercial potential is impossible to predict, so he has only brought to stage art that he loves; and second, he is committed to expanding the demographics of Broadway.
Photo by Richard Shay
Author Discussion Series with Natalie Y. Moore
April 16, 2018
The Club welcomed author and WBEZ South Side reporter Natalie Y. Moore for the Club’s inaugural Author Discussion Series on April 16 at The Chicago Club. In 2016, Ms. Moore published The South Side: A Portrait of Chicago and American Segregation, a book that interweaves her personal story of growing up in a middle-class black neighborhood on the South Side with a historical and statistical analysis of Chicago segregation. The book was the winner of the 2016 Chicago Review of Books Award for nonfiction, and a Buzzfeed best nonfiction book of 2016.
After Ms. Moore’s initial remarks, Young Leader Tanya Burnell – who first proposed the author discussion series – interviewed Ms. Moore and moderated a Q&A with attendees. Members then broke out into separate groups and discussed the book over dinner.
Ms. Moore opened the program with observations on Chicago segregation since the book was published. She emphasized that segregation is about inequity, power and resources, and that it was not motivated by class, but by race.
“Whenever I'm covering issues around food injustice, violence, affordable housing, public housing, lack of jobs; all roads lead back to segregation,” said Ms. Moore. “We actually do have to have some acknowledgement of what segregation is before we can move [forward].”
As she explained, it’s not just the hyper visible examples in history like “separate water fountains,” and “Brown v. Board of Education,” but rather the housing and zoning practices established in Chicago to separate communities by race, and the failed efforts of Chicago Public School integration. While the last chapter of her book cites possible solutions to the problem of segregation, Ms. Moore emphasized that before solutions can be discussed, people in political and economic power need to understand the breadth of the issue and the ways they unknowingly may fuel the problem.
“The first step is getting people to examine the segregation in their own lives in their own choices,” she said. “A very easy way to think about the segregation in your lives beyond housing is [to consider] how you spend your leisure activities. Art, food and culture are good entry points into neighborhoods.”
Photo by Adam Blaszkiewicz
Special Luncheon Meeting with the Honorable Jerome H. Powell
April 6, 2018
The Honorable Jerome H. Powell gave his first official speech as Chairman of the Federal Reserve to Club members and guests at a Special Luncheon Meeting at the Hilton Chicago Hotel on April 6. Chair Mellody Hobson presided over the meeting and interviewed Chairman Powell after his remarks. The Club was excited to host a livestream of the program on our YouTube channel, along with multiple media outlets.
Chairman Powell spoke to the state of the economy, noting that unemployment fell from its peak of 10 percent in October 2009 to 4.1 percent as it stands in the latest report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. He also mentioned that inflation continues to run below the Federal Open Market Committee’s (FOMC) objective of 2 percent.
When considering longer-run problems, Chairman Powell cited that GDP growth averaged just over 2 percent per year in the current economic expansion, which is slower than other economic expansions. Additionally, the average pace of labor productivity growth since 2010 is the slowest since World War II and about one-fourth of the average postwar rate.
With those factors in mind, Chairman Powell explained the Federal Reserve’s current monetary policy set forth after the FOMC meeting last month. The transcript of his full remarks along with charts and figures can be found here on The Federal Reserve website.
After his remarks, Ms. Hobson asked questions of Chairman Powell, including those suggested by the Club’s Questions Committee. See excerpted questions and answers by clicking the link below.
Photo by Richard Shay
Third Dinner Meeting with Laurence D. Fink
February 13, 2018
The Club welcomed Laurence D. Fink, founder, chairman and CEO of BlackRock, Inc., for the Third Dinner Meeting of the 2017-2018 Program Year on February 13. The Dinner Meeting was held at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel, where the Club also hosted the annual New Member Reception. New Members were given a red rose to wear for the evening, while Consuls General, who were also honored that night, received white roses. Chair Mellody Hobson moderated a fireside chat with Mr. Fink, who had recently made headlines for his annual “Letter to CEOs.”
Below are excerpts of the conversation between Mr. Fink and Ms. Hobson.
On the ambition that fuels his success:
Mellody Hobson: I read something from one of your former partners at First Boston that said, "This is a guy who always wanted more than he had. He was the guy whose nose was pressed against a window. You could sense his ambition." What was driving you this whole time?
Laurence Fink: I have a drive that is pretty intense to try to believe that I'm self-improving every day.
MH: Do you wear people out?
LF: [...] I think I help drive many of my leaders, and the next generation of leaders, to be driving themselves. I think I've been a great role model for so many of the next generation of leaders in the firm. And I don't have to tell them to drive, they're driving just as fast as me. They're working just as hard for the improvement of the organization every day. I actually believe that's one of the fun things for me to see, watching these young people, and serious leaders of the firm today, drive their careers, drive themselves, succeed and build.
On his $100 million loss at First Boston, which led him to leave the company:
MH: Were you angry with yourself?
LF: I was just mortified at myself. I talk about this experience all the time because, let's be clear, the failure wasn't anybody else's but mine.
MH: So you owned it?
LF: I totally owned it. The firm wanted to fire a bunch of people for that loss, and I told the firm, “If you're gonna fire them, fire me," and they wouldn't do it. So everybody stayed. But I believed that because I was ultimately responsible for that position. Probably the most important thing I learned – and this is one of the great lessons we learned and one of the foundations of our risk management system – is we should have been fired a year ago, and a quarter ago, before the loss. We were making so much money, and we had no idea why we were making so much money. We had just extraordinary risk, and there was no risk systems then. Nobody bothered to ask us, "How are you making so much money?" Or, I never asked myself.
Photo by Richard Shay
2018 Auto Show Media Preview with Hinrich Woebcken
February 8, 2018
On February 8, 2018 the Club was honored to once again host the Auto Show Media Preview Luncheon at McCormick Place. Hinrich Woebcken, CEO of the North America region for the Volkswagen brand, and president and CEO of Volkswagen Group of America, spoke to a packed audience that day. Club member David Snyder moderated a Q&A session after Mr. Woebcken presented on the exciting developments he foresees in the automotive industry.
“The next five to eight years are going to be, as a car industrialist, more exciting than the last 80 years,” Mr. Woebcken said.
To start, Mr. Woebcken addressed the company’s comeback after the 2016 emissions crisis, which resulted in the recall of 500,000 vehicles in the United States. Under his leadership, the company coordinated a logistic effort that bought back, fixed and resold the affected cars. In 2017, a U.S. judge approved a $1.2 billion settlement for over 600 car dealerships.
“In my 30 years of business experience, I never had such a challenge as to manage a crisis and at the same time build a future,” said Mr. Woebcken.
Even so, he and his team pressed on and formulated a new business model for Volkswagen in North America, starting with governance. Rather than reporting back to headquarters in Germany, the company decided with Mr. Woebcken’s arrival that a strong central leadership was needed in the United States. This allowed Volkswagen of America greater autonomy in driving the cost model, factory functions, and purchasing.
Additionally, the team focused its development on the future of electric cars, investing $2 billion in the United States on electrical charging infrastructure. By 2025, Volkswagen intends on being the largest manufacturer of electric cars in the world.
Photo by Adam Blaszkiewicz
Third Forum Meeting with Arne Duncan
January 18, 2018
The Club welcomed back Chicago native Arne Duncan, managing partner of Chicago CRED, for the Third Forum Luncheon of the 2017-2018 Program Year, located at The Chicago Club. Second Vice Chair Elizabeth Connelly served as moderator for the Q&A that took place after initial remarks.
Mr. Duncan, who formerly served as the United States Secretary of Education and the CEO of Chicago Public Schools, shared details on his latest professional endeavor: reducing Chicago gun violence. Chicago CRED – which stands for Creating Real Economic Destiny – seeks to reduce gun violence through recruiting men in the west and south sides of the city who are most likely to be perpetrators and victims of shootings, and transition them to jobs in the legal economy.
Presented significant facts:
- Chicago has more homicides and shootings than Los Angeles and New York combined.
- Chicago had 660 homicides last year. Based on population, to reach the same homicide rate in New York, 660 would need to be reduced to 92 homicides.
- In Chicago, only 26 percent of city homicides and 5 percent of shootings ever result in arrests.
- 75 percent of violence occurs in 15 neighborhoods. 75 percent of both the victims and the perpetrators of gun violence are young black men ages 17 to 24.
- Each homicide costs Chicago $1.7 million.
Mr. Duncan emphasized that these facts exemplify how the city is in crisis, and Chicagoans are collectively failing at reducing gun violence. He believes this is rooted in the way society values lives differently.
“I am convinced that if most of those who were being shot and killed were of my complexion, my skin color; if they wore suits like me and they worked downtown; we would not have 660 homicides. It would just not be allowed to happen,” he said. “But because we value the lives of young black men and young Latino men differently than folks who look like me, this has somehow been acceptable or allowed to happen.”
Photo by Emily Cikanek
Young Leadership Forum with Chair Mellody Hobson
January 10, 2018
On Wednesday, January 10, the Club’s Young Leaders Committee hosted Chair Mellody Hobson at The Mid-America Club for an evening program moderated by Young Leaders Committee Chair Kristen Prinz, principal at The Prinz Law Firm.
Below are selected questions and Ms. Hobson’s answers from the conversation that evening:
When asked about being the first black, female chair in the Club’s history:
“It’s not lost on me that being the first black woman to chair the Club in 90 years is significant. I mean, it took 90 years. I take the responsibility very seriously, and I say to myself, ‘what is the legacy that I will leave?’ And the legacy that I hope I leave first and foremost is the best programs that ever were. I say, go big or go home. Every speaker we have is going to be huge. But also that we include all people, and speak to all issues. It was no accident that Mary Dillon who runs Ulta was the first speaker. We brought people into the conversation that maybe hadn’t been there before, and yes we shocked some men in the audience by saying men’s makeup might be the next thing.”
When asked how you bring diversity to the room:
“You decide that’s what you’re going to do. Every single person in this room has power. Every single person in this room is going to be hiring people if they are not already. Every person in this room has influence, because by virtue of being in the Club, I know you have influence. So the question becomes, how do you decide that that’s important? That you want to see something that pushes you into new ideas and new perspectives that you wouldn’t have if everyone is the same. Challenge the status quo. I truly believe that leads to a better outcome.”
Photo by Adam Blaszkiewicz
Special Meeting for Innovation for the Ages
On Monday, December 11, the Club collaborated with Chicago Innovation, The Retirement Research Foundation and The Village Chicago to present Innovation for the Ages, a panel of Chicagoans over 60 who are launching new ventures rather than retiring. The panel took place at The Museum of Broadcast Communications, giving attendees the opportunity to also view the Museum’s permanent exhibit during the reception and the Saturday Night Live exhibit after the program.
The panel featured Vicki Escara of My Next Season, Christopher B. Galvin of Harrison Street Real Estate Capital, Richard Melman of Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, Hedy Ratner of the Women’s Business Development Center and Gregory D. Wasson of Wasson Enterprise. The panel discussion was moderated by Thomas D. Kuczmarkski of Chicago Innovation. A Q&A followed the panel discussion.
Below are questions asked of the panelists:
You each are in the unique position of transitioning from being CEO of a major company or companies to starting your own ventures. How did you determine what your next move was going to be?
“When I had made the decision to retire, one of my former directors I had a close relationship with gave me some advice... he said, ‘you have to decide whether you want to do a thing or things going forward.’ Do you want to go become a CEO of another public company and do [one] thing or do you want to do a portfolio of things. I thought it would be awesome to do the portfolio thing and broaden my knowledge base because I was very deep in healthcare, retail and pharmacy. I also thought, when you’re with a company for 25 years, your associates become like family, and there was no way I could go run another company and have that same relationship. So that’s what drove me to [a portfolio].” - Greg Wasson
“I had the good fortune of going to work for the Mayor of Atlanta for a year. And that was a really great move for me because I learned from her to rebalance my life. She was doing a lot of work in the Atlanta inner city and a lot of work on education. We went into every senior graduating class that year. The graduation rate in Atlanta for seniors was around 50 percent. She made it her goal to see that they got a job, or go into some kind of education. She gave them her cell phone number and then she said, ‘Vicki you take all of the calls,’ so of course the calls start ringing. I remember distinctly looking at her and saying, ‘Why are you doing this, Mayor?’ She looked right back at me and said, ‘Because I believe in the power of what one person can do. When are you going to take [your] executive management skills and do something really good with your life? How much money is enough money?' I share that because it really resonated with me…and that was the path that took me to be CEO of two great nonprofits.” – Vicki Escarra
Second Dinner Meeting with President Barack Obama
December 5, 2017
The Economic Club of Chicago was honored to host President Barack Obama for 2,800 attendees at our Second Dinner Meeting of the 2017-2018 Program Year. President Obama was interviewed by Chair Mellody Hobson in a two-part interview at the Hilton Chicago Hotel. The first half of the interview was conducted in the International Ballroom; the second half, in the Grand Ballroom. The conversation focused on his time as president, his plans for the Barack Obama Presidential Center, and allowed our members and their guests to see an intimate and candid glimpse of the 44th President of the United States.
This program is just one of many rich conversations over the last 90 years that allow our members to hear varying perspectives.
Photos by Adam Blaszkiewicz and Richard Shay
Special Luncheon Meeting with Jamie Dimon
November 22, 2017
On Wednesday, November 22, the Club welcomed Chairman, President and CEO of JPMorgan Chase Jamie Dimon for a Special Meeting at The Standard Club. Chair Mellody Hobson moderated the conversation with Mr. Dimon, who discussed JPMorgan Chase’s recent $40 million investment pledge to Chicago’s south and west sides. Ms. Hobson started the conversation referencing Mr. Dimon’s extended time in Chicago as chief executive officer of Bank One, and his self-professed love of the city.
“People always used to ask, what have you done for Chicago lately? You can ask anyone in Chicago that question and they’ll answer it,” said Mr. Dimon. “You ask a New Yorker that question and they’ll say, ‘What do you mean? What has New York done for me?’”
Mr. Dimon discussed the large civic projects JPMorgan Chase has initiated, citing corporate responsibility and the necessity of collaboration between businesses and civic society. Ms. Hobson questioned what importance shareholders place on civic involvement. Mr. Dimon emphasized that financial success is linked to customer, employee and community happiness, and that if he doesn’t serve all interests, he will fail. For that reason he says he has never, “had a shareholder say ‘you’re wasting shareholder money.’”
JPMorgan Chase’s investment in Chicago’s south and west neighborhoods aims to target community groups that fund job training, small business expansion, infrastructure revitalization and personal financial health programs. These areas of development were also the focal point of a $150 million investment in Detroit the company made in 2014.
Photo by Adam Blaszkiewicz
Second Forum Meeting with Gerard Baker
November 16, 2017
The Club welcomed Editor-in-Chief of The Wall Street Journal and Managing Editor of Dow Jones Gerard Baker for the Second Forum of the 2017-2018 Program Year on November 16. The Forum was held at The Mid-America Club, where Mr. Baker gave brief remarks before participating in a live Q&A moderated by Second Vice Chair Elizabeth Connelly.
Mr. Baker’s prepared remarks covered what he considers the most significant macro trend of his lifetime – the rise of nationalism.
“It’s a political phenomenon that is the resurgence of something I think we’d thought we saw largely dispatched to history maybe 30 or 40 years ago,” said Mr. Baker. “Nationalism is very much back in vogue.”
President Trump was a prime example of this movement, given that he ran on a platform of economic nationalism in his campaign to “Make America Great Again.” However, Mr. Baker noted that even before the election of Donald Trump, the trend was rooted in western society with the success of Brexit in the United Kingdom. It continues to expand across Europe, as nationalist parties gain traction in Germany, France, Austria, the Netherlands, Hungary and Poland.
“The impetus of the European Union was putting [nationalism] behind them,” he noted. “The European leadership is trying to eliminate national boundaries but most Europeans don’t want to do that.”
This assertion of national identity expands beyond western society and has rebounded in many Asian countries like China and Japan. According to Mr. Baker, this relatively recent push towards nationalism is a reaction to the explosion of globalization over the last 40 years.
“It became increasingly clear that while globalization was having a net benefit for the global economy as a whole, the benefits of that were spread in a poorly distributed way,” he said. “More and more of the elites were identifying with globalization and less and less with their fellow [citizens].”
Photo by Adam Blaszkiewicz
First Dinner Meeting with Mary Dillon
October 12, 2017
The First Dinner Meeting of the 2017-2018 Program Year was held on October 12 at the Fairmont Chicago: Millennium Park, and featured Club board member Mary Dillon, chief executive officer of Ulta Beauty. Former Chair Ilene S. Gordon opened the meeting with a ceremonial “passing of the gavel,” marking Mellody Hobson’s First Dinner Meeting as Chair of the Club.
Since Ms. Dillon started as chief executive officer of Ulta Beauty in 2013, annual sales have reached a high of nearly $5 billion, with the company employing 35,000 people and maintaining over 1,000 stores. The company also boasts a loyalty program of 25 million members, who account for roughly 90 percent of its sales. While many retailers are closing doors, Ulta Beauty continues to expand, with plans for another 100 stores next year. In addition to selling various beauty products, the stores also have beauty salons offering services that include haircut and styling, facials and skin treatments, brow waxing, manicures and makeup application.
Ms. Dillon asserted that the beauty industry will continue to be relevant, as it has through the course of known human history. As she explained, cosmetics have existed in every culture for at the least the last 6,000 years, popularly observed in ancient histories like Egypt.
“Think about the images you’ve seen of Cleopatra. She truly made the smokey eye and winged eyeliner a thing,” she said, to laughs in the crowd. “[The beauty industry] is getting more dynamic today, in the increasingly multi-cultural world and country that we live in, through the fluidity of gender definition, the importance of social media, the explosion of beauty bloggers and the fact that more photos are taken today than ever in human history.”
Ms. Dillon is credited with Ulta Beauty’s turnaround and for “rebranding the company from a discount retailer to a premium brand,” as Chair Mellody Hobson explained. After speaking about the industry, Ms. Dillon shared her own story and the principles that have guided her over the course of her career.
Photo by Richard Shay
First Forum Breakfast with Commissioner Ginger S. Evans
September 29, 2017
The Club was honored to host Chicago Department of Aviation Commissioner Ginger S. Evans for the First Forum of the program year held at The Chicago Club on September 29. Commissioner Evans shared the most recent iteration of O’Hare 21, an investment and development plan for O’Hare International Airport.
“We know that significant changes are needed at O’Hare to protect its future,” said Commissioner Evans. “The good news is that the program comes at no cost to tax payers and we’ll employ thousands of people in the future.”
The Commissioner shared many ways O’Hare is uniquely positioned for growth, noting first that its central location in the United States means it can more efficiently serve passengers around the world compared to other US gateway airports. However, from 2005 to 2015, O’Hare lost international passengers, while other gateway airports saw a sharp increase ranging from 30 percent at Los Angeles’ LAX to 120 percent at Miami’s MIA.
“I think it’s because we haven’t invested in our international facilities in a very long time,” said Commissioner Evans. “International Terminal Five is remote from [terminals] one, two and three. So if you arrive international, you depart, you have to get on the train, you rescreen for your domestic flight; very inconvenient. It’s very much a disadvantage.”
Commissioner Evans emphasized that making flight connections easier for passengers and airlines is an important strategic consideration when considering the layout of terminals.
“If [global alliances] can co-locate, it reduces the amount of facilities we have to build because they’re co-utilizing it; it’s a more efficient use of capital. And much more efficient both for the passengers and for the people who are managing those air crafts.”
Photo by Ana Miyares
Discussion Series led by the Henry Crown Fellows on Karl Marx
September 19, 2017
The 2017-2018 Program Year kicked off at The Chicago Club, with the annual Discussion Series led by the Henry Crown Fellows. This year, the focus was on the contentious philosopher, Karl Marx.
Member Charlie Bobrinskoy, vice chairman, head of investment group at Ariel Investments, gave introductory remarks for the program and made a short presentation to 150 members before attendees broke out into their dinner discussion groups. In opening that presentation, he explained the relevance of the topic to today by pointing to an April 16, 2016, Washington Post article, which declared “A majority of millennials now reject capitalism.” This article cited a Harvard University survey that polled young adults ages 18-29, and found that 51 percent of respondents do not support capitalism, 42 percent said they support it, and 33 percent said they supported socialism.
“I’m going to argue that Karl Marx and his ideas had a greater impact on the 20th century than any other person,” said Mr. Bobrinskoy, mentioning that at one point, 25 percent of the world’s population lived under a government that called itself Marxist.
In presenting background on Karl Marx, Mr. Bobrinskoy emphasized that the man was educated not in economics but primarily in philosophy as a student of German philosopher Hegel, and that this formed the foundation for how he approached his work. Marx spent his career critiquing capitalism as a system, eventually publishing Capital: Critique of Political Economy, many years after The Communist Manifesto.
Mr. Bobrinskoy listed ten primary criticisms Marx had of capitalism, and asked that these criticisms guide the discussions over dinner, in addition to the following questions:
- Which of Marx’s criticisms of capitalism do you find most compelling?
- Where was Marx most wrong about capitalism?
- Most Marxist countries do not work out well. Was there a fatal flaw in Marx’s philosophy that doomed future Marxist societies?
- All past economic and social systems (slavery, feudalism) have had beginnings, evolved and eventually ended. Why should capitalism be different?
Photo by Ana Miyares
Third Young Leadership Forum with Sheriff Tom Dart
May 18, 2017
The Club held its final Young Leadership Forum on May 18th at The Chicago Club, hosting Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart for a breakfast discussion moderated by Young Leaders Committee Chair Toni Irving. Dr. Irving – who serves as executive director of Get IN Chicago, a private fund that invests in programs targeting acutely high risk youth – began the conversation by addressing an unexpected addition to the Cook County jail: a brick pizza oven.
“With this pizza program, one of the many different things we have come up with is we’re trying to teach skills we can give the detainees that they can transfer to the community,” said Sheriff Dart. “All along I wanted to do two things: detainees to learn the skill and then sell it to the public to make money to sustain the program, and also to humanize the detainees. People would be buying something that is cooked by individuals who are incarcerated, so it changed the mindset.”
The negative public perception of incarceration and the goal of being “tough on crime” popularized in the 70s and 80s has had a significant impact on the number of individuals entering the jails and for what reasons. According to Sheriff Dart, roughly 30 percent of the individuals in Cook County jails have been diagnosed with a serious mental illness, receiving some type of psychotropic medication. He explained a situation many individuals go through that eventually results in their incarceration:
“[People] are coming into my custody truly because they have an illness. They have lost their job because of their mental illness, they go on and off their meds, and their families struggle to help their loved ones until they can’t do it anymore and they call the police frequently. So the police come there they remove them from the house because of the domestic issue, and they are not allowed back in the house. So now they are homeless as well. So where do you go? Well they are going to find some place to sleep and something to eat. So most frequently people in our custody they are charged with criminal trespass of property, what does that mean? That means they were looking for a place to sleep, frequently busses. They are being brought in on retail theft, because they are stealing things to eat. Then we bring them to the one place in the planet every psychologist and psychiatrist will all say is the worst place to bring them, into the criminal justice system.”
Photo by Adam Blaszkiewicz
Fifth Night Celebration with Yo-Yo Ma
May 10, 2017
The Club was honored to have renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma as a guest speaker and performer for our Fifth Night Celebration on May 10, 2017, at Chicago’s Symphony Center. Member Jay Henderson, former chairman of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association and former vice chairman, client services at PricewaterhouseCoopers, moderated a conversation with Mr. Ma that was interspersed with ensemble performances.
Mr. Ma serves as the Judson and Joyce Green Creative Consultant to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Negaunee Music Institute, which aims to create connections to music for individuals and communities in Chicago and around the world. At the beginning of the conversation, Mr. Henderson acknowledged Mr. Ma’s dedication to the project.
“The work that you’ve done with your leadership and advocacy, the work that’s gone on around CPS, leadership with Ingenuity, the support of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra – over the last three years, the number of schools in the Chicago Public School system that have a rating of strong or excellent in their arts education program has more than doubled,” said Mr. Henderson.
Mr. Ma’s involvement in arts education is one way he shares culture, a word for which he provided his own personal definition.
“[Culture] is whatever you think gets passed on that people remember. It’s all about memory. I think that’s what separates us from any other living form, is that we have that capacity,” he said, including a quick example of the many ways things can become part of culture: “Does anyone know where the story of Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer came from? Montgomery Ward. They wanted to sell more toys. Here a business said we want a new toy, and then something entered into the culture forever.”
Photos by Richard Shay
89th Annual Dinner Meeting with Ginni Rometty of IBM
May 1, 2017
The Club welcomed Ginni Rometty of IBM on May 1st for its 89th Annual Dinner Meeting, held at the Sheraton Grand Chicago Hotel. At the Dinner Meeting, the upcoming year’s board of directors slate was announced and accepted by the membership, including incoming chair of the board, Mellody Hobson, president of Ariel Investments. That evening, all members were sent the complete board list via email.
After watching a short IBM video on the potential uses of Watson, Mrs. Rometty started the program by giving brief remarks on data, and the ways this competitive advantage is launching us into a new era: the cognitive era.
What kind of information is in data collected by various companies and organizations? Mrs. Rometty provided specific statistics to exemplify how far this data reaches.
“In the case of doctors, there have been 80 million MRIs taken, there have been half a million genes sequenced, and if you look at cancer articles, there are 100,000 written in a year. So what could a doctor know? For consumer or retail business, there are 3.5 million searches done per minute and 500 hours of video uploaded per minute,” she said. “Ninety percent of you allow people to know everything about you by turning on geo-tracking on your cell phone. I’m in the [other] 10 percent because I know what they do with that data.”
However, all that information is not searchable on the internet. Only 20 percent of the world’s data is searchable, while the other 80 percent is in the possession of companies. That data is where the value lies, but as she explained, people need a tool to make sense of it.
“Until today, every last era of computing was never able to do anything with that data. It’s a new era, and Watson is just an example of that,” she said. “It’s what we call cognitive. These are systems that you don’t program, they understand, they reason and they learn from the data.”
Photo by Richard Shay
Third Forum Luncheon: Shareholder Activism
April 5, 2017
The Economic Club hosted a panel on shareholder activism for its Third Forum of the program year at The Chicago Club. Member Thomas A. Cole, senior counsel at Sidley Austin LLP, served as moderator for the program. Panelists included Michelle Edkins, managing director and global head of investment stewardship at BlackRock; Peter W. May, founding partner and president of Trian Partners; and John W. Rogers, Jr., chairman, CEO and CIO of Ariel Investments.
Mr. Cole began the program with a brief presentation on the various types of shareholder activism, including governance, financial, and M&A-focused activism. He then moved the conversation to considering governance activism and the relationship that is formed with leadership. Ms. Edkins explained how BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, works with a company’s management to protect their index investment strategies.
“We need to look at all of these proposals through the lens of what is going to happen in the next six months, 12 months, three years, five years and beyond because that’s the timeline over which are clients will be invested,” said Ms. Edkins. “Our general tendency is, that if we believe management understands the need for change and has a board that will hold them accountable for change, then we’d rather they drove the change than introducing outside directors in, which can create uncertainty.”
Mr. May similarly identified with the notion of a long term, as opposed to short term, approach to working with companies. As he explained, the history of his firm goes back to before Trian Partners was founded in 2005, when he and his partner, Nelson Peltz, built a number of public companies.
“We invested in companies that were underperforming from an operating point of view, and tried to get management to think about their businesses as if they owned 100 percent,” he said. “[We asked] what kind of decision making would they make if they were the owners of the business and not thinking about guidance that is very short term oriented, and short term results that are either driven by poor compensation programs, or a whole host of other things that create short termism on the part of management.”
Photo by Adam Blaszkiewicz
Special Cubs World Series Celebration with Tom Ricketts
March 7, 2017
On March 7th the Club was pleased to host Chicago Cubs Chairman and ECC board member Tom Ricketts at The Hilton Chicago Hotel for a Special Cubs World Series Celebration. After the presentation, Jay Levine moderated a conversation with Mr. Ricketts that featured questions texted in from the audience. After the program, attendees were invited to take a pictures with the World Series Commissioner’s Trophy and eat ballpark food at a strolling buffet in the Grand Ballroom.
When the program opened for remarks, Mr. Ricketts was welcomed with a standing ovation from the over 900 members and guests in attendance. The Club presented a short compilation of video clips from a 2013 Club dinner program that featured both Tom Ricketts and Theo Epstein. During the dinner, the two shared their strategic framework for making the Chicago Cubs the best team in baseball with three goals: win a world series, preserve Wrigley Field, and be a good neighbor.
In achieving their first goal, they also became one of the most recognized sports team around the world. According to Mr. Ricketts, there were 50,000 stories, 62 billion impressions, and 18 million tweets about the Cubs World Series win.
“We were a better team than people even know,” said Mr. Ricketts. “Obviously the best win percentage of the regular season. Aside from being third in runs per game, we were first in almost every category in baseball. In addition to being a fun offensive team, we’re very much a defense minded team.”
A far cry from the team he took on seven years ago.
“When we came in 2010, it was a very high payroll, it was a very old team, we didn’t have a good record, we had a very bad farm system, we had the worst facilities in baseball, we had the longest drought in the history of sports,” he said. “So when you add all of those up, that’s a package not a lot of people go looking for.”
Photo by Richard Shay
Second Young Leadership Forum Luncheon and Second Forum Dinner with James Balog
March 2, 2017
The Club had the privilege of hosting environmental activist and photographer James Balog for two programs on March 2nd: a Young Leadership Forum Luncheon, and a Forum Dinner later that evening. Mr. Balog is the founder and director of The Earth Vision Institute and the Extreme Ice Survey, two organizations focused on bridging “the divide between art and science through unique conceptual insights, technological innovation and scientific knowledge,” and ultimately educating global citizens about the impact of environmental change.
The Young Leadership Committee hosted 26 members at The Chicago Club that afternoon, where Mr. Balog answered questions from members and shared his journey from young outdoorsmen to photographer and activist.
Growing up in the suburbs of New York City, Mr. Balog knew from a young age that he did not want remain there. He became invested in mountaineering when he attended Boston College, where he hiked the Presidential Range of the White Mountains in New Hampshire. Having studied geomorphology, Mr. Balog soon realized, “I didn’t want to wind up in computing. I wanted to be outdoors.” He then transitioned to nature photography, admitting he had no guidance or experience whatsoever. Even so, his photography ended up gracing the pages of Time and Life magazines, eventually leading him to National Geographic.
Young Leader Committee Chair Toni Irving delved into a question concerning the environment and American exceptionalism as a possible explanation for the country’s lack of action.
“We have understanding of how this is going on. We have scientific understanding,” said Mr. Balog. “Unfortunately, we as a society and species are slow to react to such slow moving threat. We react to the sharp, incoming threats.”
Despite that fact, Mr. Balog did have confidence that the 50 years of environmental progress already achieved would continue. Quoting Winston Churchill, he said, “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing, but only after they’ve exhausted every other option.”
The Forum Dinner was held at the Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel Chicago later that evening, where Mr. Balog gave remarks to 300 members and their guests, including many children. The presentation included trailers for Mr. Balog’s upcoming documentary and a trailer for the award-winning documentary released in 2004, Chasing Ice, which chronicled his team’s work on the Extreme Ice Survey.
The content of his remarks focused on examining the observable evidence of climate change: increased wildfires and melting glaciers.
“I often have people say to me – do you believe in climate change? And my answer is always no,” said Mr. Balog. “I don’t believe in climate change. I think climate change is real based off the evidence that so many thousands of women and men have observed in science and that I’ve observed in my own reality with photography.”
Photos by Adam Blaszkiewicz
2017 Chicago Auto Show Media Preview featuring Dan Ammann of General Motors Company
February 9, 2017
The annual Chicago Auto Show Media Preview was held on Thursday, February 9 at McCormick Place, featuring General Motors President Dan Ammann as the keynote speaker. Forums Committee Chair Keith Cardoza moderated a conversation with Mr. Ammann after his remarks.
Mr. Ammann began his presentation by noting Mayor Emanuel’s recent launch of Vision Zero Chicago, an effort to improve traffic safety for citizens, whether in vehicles, on bikes or on foot. Similarly, General Motors is working towards the goal of improved safety by transforming the company via a two part strategy. The first part of that strategy is a continuation of the company’s core business: building and selling great cars. The second, and the primary subject of Mr. Ammann’s speech, is the goal to “lead the future of personal mobility through the creation of an entirely new transportation model.”
He noted that the traditional business model of the automobile industry is changing, give the high cost of car ownership and the very low utilization rate, in addition to valuable time lost when utilization occurs.
“If you take the ride share model, and combine it with rapidly developing autonomous technology, eventually, that high cost will come down and utilization will rise,” explained Mr. Ammann.
For this reason, General Motors has invested in Lyft and bought Cruise Automation, an autonomous vehicle start-up. Now, the company has begun testing a fleet of Chevrolet Bolt EV autonomous vehicles in Arizona, California and Michigan.
Mr. Ammann then shared a time-lapse video of a self-driving car in the streets of San Francisco, which was seen navigating situations like construction zones, jay-walking pedestrians, double-parked trucks and a biker who cuts the car off.
It was emphasized that autonomous vehicles are key to making our roads safer, given that of the 35,000 lives lost in U.S. traffic accidents in 2015, 90 percent were caused by driver error. In addition to safety, self-driving cars have the potential to:
- Reduce congestion
- Supplement public transit
- Provide connectivity between cities and suburbs
- Facilitate door-to-door mobility for the elderly and disabled citizens.
After his remarks, Mr. Ammann had a seated conversation with Mr. Cardoza, who asked how GM balances a company culture that moves towards technology and automation while ensuring peace of mind for their employees.
“At a very general level, I would say General Motors has a culture of putting the customer first,” said Mr. Ammann. “And second, it’s a culture to win, so for us to win as a company, every employee in the company has to be invested in where the customers are going, where the future is going.”
With a company culture clearly invested in its customers, Mr. Cardoza also questioned how General Motors utilizes resources and potential competitors outside the company that are not in the automotive space, like Google or Uber.
“If you wind the clock back maybe a year or two, there’s no one so far as we could tell who had all the pieces necessary to make this work. So if you think of large scale industrial manufacturing capability on the one hand, deep software talent on the other hand, and a rideshare network as another piece of this – no one had all of those pieces together,” Mr. Ammann explained. “So what you’ve seen beginning to happen, some of the steps we’ve taken, investment in Lyft, acquisition of Cruise software technology, we’ve been setting ourselves up so we have the full capability. You see other companies forming alliances and relationships, so I think its natural we’ll see more of it going forward.”
After the conversation, members and their guests were encouraged to walk the floor of the 2017 Chicago Auto Show.
Photo by Adam Blaszkiewicz
Third Dinner Meeting of the 2016-2017 Program Year featuring Ben Silbermann
January 30, 2017
The Club held its Third Dinner Meeting of the program year on Monday, January 30 at the Hyatt Regency Chicago. The Dinner Meeting featured Ben Silbermann, co-founder and CEO of Pinterest. After giving remarks, he was interviewed by J.B. Pritzker, managing partner at the Pritzker Group and a Club board director.
As is tradition for each Third Dinner Meeting, the Chicago Consular Corps was honored that night, recognizing Consul Generals from 15 different countries. Additionally, a New Member Reception was held to celebrate those members who joined the Club in the last two years. New members were given a red rose pin to wear for the evening.
Ben Silbermann remarks focused on his personal story and how he came to co-found Pinterest, a content sharing website that allows members to “pin” images, videos and other objects to their personalized pinboard. As he explained, “Pinterest is used by people who want to get ideas about their everyday life: what they want to wear, what they want to eat, what they want to do with their kids. I wanted to tell you the story of what happened along the way; what went wrong, what went right, and what we learned.”
Mr. Silbermann grew up in Des Moines, Iowa, the son of two ophthalmologists. When he was younger, he enjoyed collecting insects and stamps, a hobby that would come to inspire Pinterest. After attending Yale and working in D.C. for a short time, Mr. Silbermann moved to Silicon Valley to work for Google in the company’s online advertising group. Although he eventually quit his job to become an entrepreneur, working at Google taught him invaluable lessons he would come to apply to his future venture.
“I would say that Google was culture shock in the best possible way. They took every idea, no matter how crazy, and they took it seriously. Now when I was growing up, the son of doctors, the first question you’re always asking is what can go wrong? That’s what doctors do – they figure out what could go wrong and they make sure that doesn’t happen,” he said. “And at Google, the first question they would always ask is, what could go right? What I learned at Google is that even if one in 10, one in 100, or one in 1,000 of those ideas works, the scale of technology would deliver it to the whole world.”
In time, he met his co-founder, Evan Sharp, an architect student who like Mr. Silbermann was interested in the internet. The two went back and forth discussing ideas for websites, eventually coming back to their mutual childhood interest in collecting. Inspired by a pinboard Mr. Sharp had of various architectural ideas, the two decided to make an image-based collection site that would allow users to collect and organize all of the interesting things they found on the internet. Despite the enthusiasm and faith in their product, investors in Silicon Valley were unsure.
“Silicon Valley is a place that is ostensibly opened minded, but everyone is subject to their own biases. That habit of following into old patterns, it happens to everyone. It’s why it’s so hard for so many women and so many minorities to break into new businesses because people don’t think they look like what a successful person looks like,” he said. “Eventually the numbers were irrefutable. We’re the fastest service ever to hit 10 million users. We were able to secure investors. But that lesson, sometimes it’s what makes you weird that makes you valuable, is something I still really cherish today.”
After finishing his remarks, J.B. Pritzker sat down for a seated conversation with the Pinterest CEO. He first asked how the website could be distinguished from other social networks.
“When I use social networks, I use Facebook and Instagram, the whole goal is to get a reaction from other people. I don’t know if you’ve had this feeling – you post a photo and no one likes it, you quietly delete it. But Pinterest is actually just about you. Ideas come from other folks, but the likes and pins, people do it for themselves.”
Given recent difficulties the leaders of Facebook and Twitter have experienced, Mr. Pritzker questioned Mr. Silbermann on the risks of Pinterest.
“What do you worry about,” asked Mr. Pritzker. “There’s fake news on Facebook, there’s bullying on Twitter, what do you worry about on Pinterest?”
Mr Silbermann explained, “personally, I worry about false information that can hurt people. For example, my parents are doctors, and spreading information that people shouldn’t be vaccinated is really dangerous. My parents would always tell me, ‘Everyone’s entitled to an opinion, but they’re not entitled to their own facts.’ It really hurts people.”
After the program, the Young Leaders’ committee held an After Party which Mr. Silbermann also attended. This post-reception gave members 45 and younger the opportunity to talk to Mr. Silbermann on a more intimate level.
Photo by Richard Shay
Second Dinner Meeting of the 2016-2017 Program Year featuring Dean Kamen
December 14, 2016
The Club hosted its Second Dinner Meeting of the program year on December 14th, featuring Dean Kamen, an inventor and founder of DEKA Research and Development Corporation. Mr. Kamen spoke at length about his robotics program for young people named FIRST, an appropriate topic for the audience that evening, as members were encouraged to bring their children to this holiday program.
Also in attendance were FIRST robotics teams from the Chicagoland area. They showcased their creations at the program receptions and during dinner. Michelle B. Larson, President & CEO of the Adler Planetarium, moderated a seated conversation with Mr. Kamen after his initial presentation. He began with remarks that explored his various inventions, including the Segway®, the wearable infusion pump, the robotic arm and the iBOT mobility device. He emphasized the ultimate theme of his philosophy:
“Technology when properly applied, and used as a tool, not a weapon, can change the world,” he said, while adding to laughs, “and if there’s anyone in this room that doesn’t think this world is need of an accelerated rate of change – you’re either numb or I need to take whatever it is you’re taking.”
Mr. Kamen shared various videos and photos in his presentation, which included an excerpt of his guest appearance on The Colbert Report. As he explained, he’d been on the show five times over the years in exchange for Stephen Colbert’s help in promoting the FIRST program.
Ultimately, his work with FIRST also aims to change the cultural value associated with science and innovation.
“I want it to be competing with football, not a science fair,” he said, explaining that the emphasis placed on sports outweighs its significance to society. He later stressed that he does like and enjoys sports, but as a hobby, not an obsession.
Instead, he thinks individuals should be celebrated for their achievements of the mind, and their ability to solve larger problems of the world. One of those problems, a problem Mr. Kamen set out to solve, was the availability of clean, drinkable water.
“The number one health problem in the world would go away if we just gave people clean water,” he said. He and his team were able to create a water-purifying machine that takes contaminated water and produces drinkable water. However, distribution was a concern. The medical partners he had worked with in the past for other medical inventions served the wealthiest countries in the world, which typically had a supply of clean water.
“But there’s one company that gets their product everywhere in the world. That would be [Coca-Cola]. So I went to the Coca-Cola Company and said help me get my water box everywhere in the world, and we’ll help you make the next generation real-time, generate-any-one-of-your-beverages [machines], from the mixing and measuring technologies we use for medical stuff, like dialysis machines.”
The machine he ended up creating for Coca-Cola was the Free Style Machine. Dean Kamen’s team made 33,000 of them for the launch, under the condition that if they exceeded expectations, Coca-Cola Chairman Muhtar Kent would help showcase the invention.
“We exceeded their expectations, and he’s a man of his word,” said Mr. Kamen. “He said ‘I want to show one of your water machines to the world. I’m the biggest sponsor of the Olympics, every country will be there, but Dean, can you do one thing? Can you make it red?’”
Mr. Kamen’s team followed through with this request, and the water machines were showcased at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
After his presentation, Mr. Kamen sat down with Michelle B. Larson who first asked him how he became involved in science and technology as a child. Mr. Kamen explained he didn’t do particularly well in school, and would instead spend his time on building tools for his brother, who was in medical school at the time.
“I got to a point where I had to tell my parents I’m going to start making this stuff full time. And my mother stopped talking to me. She’s a teacher,” he said. “She’s a Jewish mother, and I said you already got your doctor, leave me alone! But it didn’t work, so I realized it’s not that necessity is the mother of invention. I realized if this stuff didn’t work, my mother would never talk to me. So in my case, it was mother was the necessity of invention.”
When asked how he responds to people who question the importance of scientific research, or wonder ‘what’s the point,’ Mr. Kamen had one message.
“To any luddite, any anti-intellectual who wants to say ‘of what use is basic scientific research,’ I’d say none. Go back into your cave, rubs sticks together and have a good time.”
Photos by Richard Shay
First Forum Luncheon featuring David Axelrod
November 16, 2016
The Club had the opportunity to hold a timely forum featuring David Axelrod on November 16th, just over a week after the 2016 Presidential Election. The sold out First Forum hosted 500 members and guests at The Standard Club, and saw Mr. Axelrod, director and founder of The University of Chicago Institute of Politics, in conversation with Steve Edwards, executive director at the Institute and member of the Club.
Mr. Edwards opened the conversation by commenting on the evident surprise many people in politics had concerning the results of the election.
“My son actually said, after I reminded him of all the errant predictions I made, he said, ‘how do you still have a job?’” Mr. Edwards explained, to laughs in the crowd.
“Assure him you’re not alone,” quipped Mr. Axelrod, who then continued to delve into the results of the election. He cited the parts of the Democratic base not being particularly galvanized in some cities, like the African-American population in Detroit and Milwaukee. However, the primary problem he mentioned was in rural communities and small towns across the industrial Midwest, Hillary Clinton underperformed Barack Obama significantly, by about 9 to 10 points.
“I think part of it is when you think about the messaging of the Democratic campaign and the messaging of the Trump campaign, it’s pretty clear that democratic messaging was about diversity, it was about the new emerging coalition; it was about African Americans and Latino Americans and Asian Americans and young people, and college-educated people particularly women, and I think the message that was sent to working class white voters was that you’re not part of this. And at the same time you had Donald Trump focused like a laser on the same voters saying you’re held in disdain, you’re the product of a rigged system, which leads to the economic piece of this.”
Mr. Axelrod continued to explain that the revolutionary times we live in, brought on by technology, has seen changes to communications and the economy, particularly to jobs that have been lost through automation.
“That is far more important than globalization, which has become the target,” he said. For instance, guest to his podcast “The Axe Files”, CNN host Fareed Zakaria noted, we’re supposed to have driverless cars by the end of the decade - there are three million people who drive in this country for a living. “Where are they going?” he asked.
“Things are moving so fast, we don’t have a strategy to approach this.” said Mr. Axelrod. “And then you have the overlay of rapid cultural and demographic changes. And it’s a combustible stew. So by sending the message they sent, the Clinton campaign actually abetted the ‘Make America Great Again’ campaign.”
When asked about Donald Trump’s transition team, the discussion turned to areas of concern that may exist.
“The biggest concern I have is in the area of national security because Trump’s rhetoric was very hostile to international institutions and brazenly disregarding of them - NATO for example. His flirtation with Putin is one of great concern. All of Eastern Europe is concerned about what his relationship with Putin means,” said Mr. Axelrod. “I know what the job entails, and I know that the words you speak as president, one misspoken word or tweet can send armies marching or markets tumbling.”
With over 100 texted questions from the audience, Mr. Edwards and Mr. Axelrod continued to discuss issues such as healthcare, immigration and class divides. Questions that were texted in included:
- Do you think the Electoral College makes sense in this day and age?
- Would Bernie have won?
- What impact do you think gerrymandering had on this election?
- What does it mean that truth did not matter in this election?
- Do you think the formula of talking heads and paid political commentators dominating news media helps or hinders the goal of an informed electorate?
- What role did gender bias play in the "unlikeabilty" of HRC? Can ANY accomplished woman be "likeable" enough to win?
- What did you think about Van Jones' "whitewash" comment?
See the full list of questions members texted in here.
The conversation ended on an audience question that asked where those who are unhappy can focus their energies. Mr. Axelrod encouraged involvement.
“If you don’t like the direction this country is going, get in there and steer the wheel,” said Mr. Axelrod. “Don’t turn away, turn in. This is no time to be on the sidelines. Participate.”
Photo by Adam Blaszkiewicz
First Young Leadership Breakfast Forum featuring Parag Khanna
October 28, 2016
The First Young Leaders’ Forum was held the morning of Friday, October 28th at The Chicago Club. The program featured Parag Khanna, a leading global strategist and best-selling author.
Mr. Khanna is a senior research fellow in the Centre on Asia and Globalisation at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy and the National University of Singapore; a managing partner at Hybrid Reality, a boutique geostrategic advisory firm; and co-founder and CEO of Factotum, a leading content branding agency.
Recently, he published Connectography: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization, the content of which served as the primary subject of his remarks at the Young Leaders’ breakfast.
As he explained, the most important force of the future will be connectivity, primarily the connectivity of megacities, and how the influence held by “regions of power” may supersede the borders of historical and political tradition.
“We go to bed at night thinking we have rigid boundaries,” said Mr. Khanna, speaking of continental and national borders. But as he pointed out, the maps we grew up learning in school do not take into account people, and how populations are mapped.
The continued move towards global urbanization and resulting growth of megacities is a huge part of connectography, which explores the idea that “urbanization is a systematic phenomenon.” Mr. Khanna cited China and its growth strategy, which is reorganizing the country into 26 urban districts - an empire of megacities. China has invested considerable amounts of money into maintaining connectivity through projects in infrastructure and transportation, with billions invested in the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) from 57 countries around the world.
“In the future, the winners and losers will be determined by whether your stuff is old or your stuff is new,” said Mr. Khanna. “China has been building for the last 25 years.”
In terms of global competitiveness, that does not bode well for the United States given “the infrastructure is so bad we’re operating sub-optimally,” he said.
“We think with our military-industrial complex. They [China] think with their construction companies,” said Mr. Khanna.
He did share hope for the continuation of American competitiveness and industry, through what he envisions as the North American Union - a network of megacities that spans from Canada to Mexico, with the United States maintaining a pivotal role at the center. However he emphasized that the world of the future will be much more symmetrical as opposed to hierarchical.
“Every part of the world will matter,” said Mr. Khanna.
Photo by Adam Blaszkiewicz
First Dinner Meeting of the 2016-2017 Program Year featuring Oscar Munoz of United
October 24, 2016
Monday, October 24th, marked the First Dinner Meeting of the 2016-2017 Program Year, featuring Oscar Munoz, chief executive officer of United. Chair Ilene Gordon presided at the meeting, which took place at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel, in the Sheraton Chicago Ballroom. Two members were awarded Lifetime certificates that evening for achieving 50 years of membership at the Club: Edgar D. Jannotta, chairman emeritus of William Blair & Company, and Marvin R. Strunk, former president & CEO Madison Bank & Trust Company.
The program began with a brief introductory video of United Airlines, before Mr. Munoz gave remarks on the future of Chicago’s hometown airline. Given the Dinner Meeting occurred just after the Cubs won against the Dodgers to take them to the World Series, Mr. Munoz joked, “I was stressing a bit over the course of this weekend. My worst case scenario was Cubs take it to seven games, lose a nail biter on Sunday night, and I got to address Chicago on Monday.”
As the hometown airline and largest private employer in the city of Chicago, Mr. Munoz noted his company’s civic responsibility.
“I’ve seen what this community does and the standard you set, and I’m here tonight to say that you will see us at United as a more active partner in the collective task to build this city worthy of the next generation,” said Mr. Munoz. “We view the future of our company and the future of the city as a common endeavor that we will shape together.”
Mr. Munoz has served as the chief executive officer of United Airlines since September 2015, a time when the company was facing turbulent circumstances. A federal investigation that pushed the former CEO to leave the company, a rocky merger between United and Continental and low customer satisfaction reviews were a few of the serious challenges Mr. Munoz contended with when he first arrived at United.
“I had a full inbox when I stepped in that corner office. And as you know, many of you in executive leadership, when you’re in turnaround mode, the trick isn’t figuring out what to do, it’s about knowing what to do first,” said Mr. Munoz. “It’s about sequencing, timing, about separating the signal from the noise, and distinguishing the system from the real cause of the problem.”
With that, Mr. Munoz started his listening tour - a 90 day excursion that had the CEO flying to the company’s network of cities to hear the concerns of managers, employees and customers. During that time, he became aware of the issues his employees faced on a daily basis.
“Clearly our people were disenchanted, disenfranchised and disengaged. There was a crisis of trust that had built up over a long period of time. We had lost our customer primarily because we had lost our people,” said Mr. Munoz. “You listen, you learn, and then you lead.”
After his remarks, Mr. Munoz was interviewed by Club Chair Ilene Gordon who asked questions concerning Mr. Munoz’ ideas on leadership, the airline industry and customer service. The two also discussed Mr. Munoz’ heart attack and heart transplant that occurred mere months after he became CEO of United, a time during which he received an outpouring of support from the Chicago and United communities. He ended the program on that note, passing to the audience words from a cardiologist that saved his life.
“If you ever feel anything weird, call 911. And when you call 911, immediately tell them where you are, because you may not make it past the phone call.”
Photo by Adam Blaszkiewicz
Discussion Series led by the Henry Crown Fellows, Alexander Hamilton: Father of the American Economic System and American Prosperity
September 14, 2016
The Annual Discussion Series led by the Henry Crown fellows was held on September 14th at The Chicago Club, focusing on the subject Alexander Hamilton: Father of the American Economic System and American Prosperity. The subject of Hamilton was timely, given the arrival of the Broadway hit musical to Chicago this fall. The program was the most popular discussion series to date.
The evening started with member Charlie Bobrinskoy of Ariel Investments making a presentation on Alexander Hamilton, discussing the various contributions of this often controversial founding father. The most notable economic contributions members discussed were:
- He transformed U.S. credit into the best in the world
- In assuming states’ debts, he created one economic system rather than 13
- Established a sound dollar, which eventually became the world currency
- Created bank of the United States, a forerunner to the Federal Reserve
- Set country on the path to a diversified manufacturing economy
- Set the sanctity of contracts and transactions in stone
After the presentation, roughly 170 members broke out into dinner groups to discuss these economic contributions, informed by readings assigned before the program: The First Report on Public Credit by Alexander Hamilton and an excerpt from the Ron Chernow’s biography of the statesman.
After the dinner discussions had been concluded, members were invited back for a brief wrap up conversation. During the wrap-up, Henry Crown Fellow and Club member Fred O’Connor led his group in a performed summary of their Hamilton analysis, complete with a harmonica and rhymes. Other groups offered points from their discussions, explaining whether Hamilton would be considered a Democrat or Republican by today’s standards, or if he would even be a politician at all.
The night ended with optional cocktails on the terrace at The Chicago Club.
Photos by Adam Blaszkiewicz
2016 Fifth Night Celebration: Mingling with the MacArthur Geniuses
May 25, 2016
The Club celebrated its 2016 Fifth Night Celebration on May 25th at Venue SIX10. The program, Mingling with the MacArthur Geniuses, recognized the 35th Anniversary of the MacArthur Foundation’s Fellows Program, which awards unrestricted fellowships to “talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.”
As Julia Stasch, president of the MacArthur Foundation, explained to members and guests that evening, “The MacArthur Fellowship is designed to recognize the kind of exceptional creativity that drives profound change, or inspires action and hope on the part of many people. What does creativity mean in that context? It means creating new forms of knowledge and artistic production, it’s bridging disparate disciplines to solve problems or to look into the future, or it could be forming new sets of questions,” said Ms. Stasch. “The essence of the fellows program is to find and support people to soar and continue to inspire and create.”
The night featured two seated conversations, each featuring a pair of MacArthur “geniuses.” After the conversations, members and guests were invited to a strolling dinnerbuffet. Excerpts of the conversation pairings are featured below.
Claire Chase, Flutist and Executive Director of the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE)
Aaron Dworkin, Dean of the School of Music, Theatre & Dance at the University of Michigan
Mr. Dworkin detailed the founding of his organization, Sphinx, while an undergraduate at the University of Michigan. The organization is dedicated to transforming lives through the power of diversity in the arts. The time he spent establishing the enterprise took away from his time practicing on the violin.
“I had this epiphany one day where I just sat and I was thinking about what I was trying to do with Sphinx and I realized that everything about it were the exact same things I was putting into my violin every day,” said Mr. Dworkin. “I was approaching the entire enterprise like I approached my violin, as an artistic creation.”
Ms. Chase agreed having had her own experience establishing ICE, a group of instrumentalists aiming to reshape the way music is created and experienced.
“It’s so true that there’s no organizational decision in an arts organization that does not have an artistic impulse, and there’s no artistic decision that doesn’t have an organizational dimension to it,” said Ms. Chase.
ICE and Ms. Chase are known for adventurous and innovative ways of playing and engaging music and audiences, an attribute the two fellows explored in their conversation. Ms. Chase recalled the wise words of a fellow friend and performer who told her when they were young, and when she had high hopes of becoming a world famous flutist, “it doesn’t matter what you do, it matters where you’re needed.”
“It was a singularly transformative moment of my life,” said Ms. Chase. “If I could find the intersection of what I love to do – the ways I want to develop new languages musically – with where this work might be needed, and how we could build community around that; well that would be a really interesting life.”
Mr. Dworkin shared one of his original poems, They Said I Wasn’t Really Black.
Ms. Chase, in honor of Mr. Dworkin, performed on her flute the famous violin piece, Paganini’s Caprice No. 24.
To see these performances, view the video on our Speakers page.
John Novembre, Associate Professor in Human Genetics at the University of Chicago
Tara Zahra, Professor of East European History at the University of Chicago
Ms. Zahra pointed out that when she first heard about being paired with John Novembre, she was confused on what they would discuss.
“It turns out that we both have a very deep interest in migration and population politics, and approaching it from a very different perspective,” explained Ms. Zahra. She explained that she became interested in Eastern European history during her undergraduate career, and began to focus on migration.
“I think I got interested in part because I’ve always been interested in ordinary people and the ways in which the history of ordinary lives intersect with the history of politics and states,” said Ms. Zahra. “Migration isn’t just one of the most pressing issues of our time politically, it’s also a history that everyone can connect to in one way or another.”
Mr. Novembre – a computational biologist who has developed original data visualization and analysis techniques to investigate the correlations among genomic diversity, geography and demographic structure – explained that in his analysis of European genomic data, they noticed variations, and noticed that it was “strikingly geographic, instead of language groups breaking up or any other kind of major structuring from historical groupings,” said Mr. Novembre. “We saw very geographically what looked like a map of Europe.”
Mr. Novembre asked a poignant question concerning today’s understanding of migration, noting the coverage of the Syrian refugee crisis. Is it, as he questioned, unprecedented?
“It is the biggest refugee crisis since World War II. But there are a lot of precedents that are in some cases really disturbing,” said Ms. Zahra. “A question that really fascinates and troubles me is why is it that a region who produced so many refugees and migrants for over 100 years now seems to be so hostile to newcomers, and I think that also has a deep history.”
To view the complete conversation, check out our Speakers page.
Photo by Adam Blaszkiewicz
Special Luncheon Meeting featuring Secretary Penny Pritzker
May 12, 2016
The Club welcomed Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker for a Special Luncheon Meeting on May 12 at the Hilton Chicago Hotel. Secretary Pritzker shared prepared remarks and then joined Club Chair Ilene Gordon for a moderated discussion.
In her speech, Secretary Pritzker illuminated the breadth of the department.
“Commerce has 12 agencies under its umbrella. We count both fish and people. We issue both patents and weather warning. We implement trade agreements and make sense of big data,” said Secretary Pritzker. “Every day we collect enough data – about weather, the economy, demographics – to fill two Libraries of Congress.”
She then detailed three lessons she’s taken away from her time at the Department of Commerce:
- The speed and intensity with which globalization and digitalization is changing the way the economy operates.
- The country cannot afford gridlock in the government.
- The necessity of business leaders’ engagement.
“From the rise of autonomous vehicles to the birth of the sharing economy to the shift to advanced manufacturing, this same transition – from people to machines – is happening all over the world, including in the United States,” said Secretary Pritzker, discussing her first point. “We need to have a serious dialogue about the implications of this change on the average American worker.”
She continued to explain that although we are taking steps to modernize the way we train and educate our people, we are not moving fast enough.
“The solutions need to be driven by people like you – business leaders who see how the nature of work is changing and know what you need from our local workforce to compete,” she said.
Given the fast pace of innovation and development, political gridlock in this country is not allowing urgent solutions to be met, the importance Secretary Pritzker notes, of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The TPP would eliminate 18,000 tariffs and strengthen supply chains across the Asia-Pacific.
During the moderated discussion, Chair Ilene Gordon questions the Secretary on what business leaders can do to help their employees understand the importance of lifting tariffs and improving trade agreements around the world.
“You have a responsibility to explain to your employees the importance of your foreign business,” said Secretary Pritzker. “The second thing is to explain that we are at a disadvantage. The Asia-Pacific region since 2000 there have been 100 free trade agreements. China is in the process of trying to set their own multi-lateral free trade agreement in the Asia-Pacific. And either we’re going to set the rules, or they’re going to set the rules.”
Ultimately, she emphasized the importance of collaboration between government and the private sector to deal with the economic difficulties in Chicago and the nation at large.
“The best insights and some of the best guidance we’ve gotten for policy has come from business leaders, like all of you in this room,” she said. “We need to not lose faith in, not just Chicago, but the direction we’re taking our country.“
Photo by Richard Shay
The 88th Annual Dinner Meeting featuring Ellen J. Kullman
May 3, 2016
The ECC’s 88th Annual Dinner Meeting was held on May 3 and featured retired chair and CEO of DuPont, Ellen J. Kullman. Chair Ilene Gordon moderated the discussion, starting the conversation with Mrs. Kullman’s own beginnings as CEO of DuPont.
Mrs. Kullman became CEO at the peak of the financial crisis, quipping that, “If I didn’t have bad luck, I’d have no luck at all.” Ultimately, with her careful recalibration of the DuPont leadership team, they were able to come out of the financial crisis without cutting their dividend, something she mentions as a source of pride for her team.
Leading DuPont through the financial crisis prepared Mrs. Kullman for future challenges at the company, including a board proxy fight with activist investor Nelson Peltz. In what has been rarely the case with activist investors, DuPont won the proxy fight, providing Mrs. Kullman rare insight into the best strategies in working with these investors.
“You have to understand your company better than they do. But how they look at it, not how you look it at it. You’ve got to do that analysis and see ‘what if I split up the company in two or three or four,’ ‘what if we levered up the company and dropped our credit rating’ what would happen then? And you have to start educating your board,” she said. “We did not agree that splitting the company into bite size pieces for someone else to come in and gobble up was right, and that’s what I felt their break-up plan wanted to do.”
As the former head of DuPont, a company that specializes in science and technology innovation, the conversation proceeded to discuss the pressing issues and specific challenges faced by a CEO in the science industry, including immigration, genetically modified organisms and the search for millennial talent. Mrs. Kullman vocalized her concern for American early education and the lack of competitive technological and scientific curriculum.
“We’re not training our kids for the world they are inheriting. Because it’s going to be heavily science and technology based. And they might know how to pick up their phone and use it, but the questions is, do they understand what underlies it,” she said, to applause. “Our kids are still making volcanoes with the baking soda. They should be putting together engines and pumps and understanding how that stuff works.”
When it comes to her future plans, Mrs. Kullman has various areas of interest she’s exploring.
“I’m looking for a portfolio that will keep me actively engaged in different areas globally, different technology areas, mostly science driven.” She added that she’d potentially be working with The National Academy of Engineering on an initiative for STEM education in middle and high schools.
However, after retiring from 100-hour work weeks, she is currently content with enjoying her free time.
“I’ve taken some time off. There’s a whole other world out there. There are so many fun things to do.”
Photo by Richard Shay
Young Leadership Forum - Chicago Innovation Awards' Past Winners Showcase: The Billionaires Club
April 13, 2016
The Economic Club of Chicago’s Young Leaders Committee and The Chicago Innovation Awards hosted a joint program at Google on April 13, titled Past Winners Showcase: The Billionaires Club. The program featured four past Chicago Innovation Award winners, who started companies that are now valued at $1 billion, to each give remarks and answer questions from the audience. Google Head of Industry-Retail Ted Souder moderated the program that evening.
Excerpts of the panelists’ stories can be viewed below.
Founder & former CEO of Fieldglass
Mr. Shekawat began by explaining that he’s a bit of “an accidental entrepreneur.” He grew up in a navy family in India, and eventually came to the U.S. as a COBAL developer and landed at an IT company in Detroit. After five years, Mr. Shekawat felt lost and had started to build “a deep wellspring of frustration that I couldn’t place.” He remembers very clearly having an epiphany one day working as a consultant.
“I have this out of body experience where I’m thinking, ‘why are you listening to me?’ As I processed that it started to bother me, because the answer is obvious: He isn’t listening to me, he’s listening to the face of McKinsey. And he knows that the firm will not let me fail and that’s the way that model works.”
Shortly after, Mr. Shekawat quit McKinsey with the idea that “I could write my own story or be part of someone else’s story.” This eventually led to him starting Fieldglass, a software that allows companies who utilize large amounts of contingent labor to manage engagement with their suppliers. He learned early on that it was important to “not just to study the problem but study the problem landscape,” or understand the definition of the problem competitors think they are solving.
“It taught me you have to choose every word in that problem definition very carefully because that statement you choose becomes your map and your compass for many years, whether you like it or not.”
President & Co-CEO of dough, Inc.
Ms. Ross started by introducing the two companies that comprise dough, Inc.: tastytrade and dough.
“Most people think we’re a food broker and we’re not, it’s actually finance,” she said.
Ms. Ross met her fellow founders of dough, Inc. when she became COO of their previous company Think or Swim. After they were bought by a company in 2009, Ms. Ross and her fellow founders were excited to look back on their careers in finance and determine what had been missing. Their end conclusion? Fun.
“Finance and fun are really an oxymoron,” said Ms. Ross. But with that, the three founders launched tastytrade. Within two years, they launched dough to provide a more interactive tool for their customers.
Ms. Ross partly contributes dough, Inc.’s success to this open communication with their customer base.
“We have always made sure our customers have access to us. One of the most important things you can do is open that floodgate to get customer feedback. We build a better product because of our customers.”
Founder & CEO of Cleversafe
“One of the things I’m most proud of with Cleversafe is that I was able to put equity into the hands of a lot of great people,” said Mr. Gladwin. “The challenge I’ve had for them is ‘you’re up next, what are you going to do with this wonderful thing we’ve created.’ As you’re building a company that’s something you want to think about – what will that legacy be?”
That wonderful “thing” is Cleversafe, an object storage system that provides limitless data storage via the cloud. Mr. Gladwin continued by explaining his entrepreneurial backstory, Cleversafe being his third and most successful tech start-up.
Mr. Gladwin compared his professional journey to one of his favorite pastimes, adventure racing, which asks participants on teams to find their way to the finish line in unfamiliar territory as quickly as possible.
“What I’ve found in my career, the persistence to overcome tough challenges with a team and figure out where you are and where you’re going, that’s what my journey has been like,” he said.
COO of Avant
“We’re really focused on the everyday, middle class consumer, and I would define that as someone who has a credit score between 600 and 700 and a household income of $50,000 - $100,000 dollars,” started Mr. Hughes, speaking of his company, Avant. “That customer has had poor experiences in lending and obtaining credit as well as bad products, since 2008.”
Mr. Hughes was employee number one at Avant, and now serves as the head of operations, marketing and products. When he first started, he was one of four individuals working at the company and would speak directly to customers. As he said, that experience helped him learn precisely what a customer wanted, did not want, and what was most important to them, allowing him to report back to his tech team.
“The four of us were sitting in a supply closet with no windows and talking to these customers and just had to make it work. And really had to make this product fit these customers’ needs,” he said. “Four of us grew to 950 people because the customers loved the product.”
To view each panelists’ complete remarks, watch them speak here.
The Third Forum of the 2015-2016 Program Year: A Debate on the Upward Mobility Crisis
March 1, 2016
The Third Forum of the 2015-2016 Program Year, A Debate on the Upward Mobility Crisis, took place on March 1 at the Swissôtel Chicago. The debate brought two economists who politically align with opposite sides of the aisle: Alan Blinder, professor of economics and public affairs at Princeton University and former member on President Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisors; and Glenn Hubbard, dean and professor at Columbia Business School and chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors under President George W. Bush. The debate was moderated by ECC member Sunil Kumar, dean of The University of Chicago Booth School of Business.
The discussion began with Dr. Kumar asking each panelist to give a brief analysis of the current economic climate and state of upward mobility and economic inequality in the United States.
“It’s not that America has become much less mobile when a generation ago we were super mobile, it’s that we thought we were super mobile but we weren’t mobile. And in terms of intergenerational mobility, we’re roughly where we’ve long been,” said Dr. Blinder.
Dr. Hubbard agreed that the mobility rate has held steady, but added that, “there is a cautionary tale – while that lack of deterioration sounds like a glass half full, the glass half empty is this: because inequality has risen at the same time, the birth lottery, becomes much more important. So a child born to a low income family will be much more disadvantaged today, relatively speaking, than when I was young.”
He continued to explain that increased growth will benefit all, and that we “should not let legitimate concerns about inequality interfere with our desire for growth,” he said.
Although in agreement with a general need for growth, Dr. Blinder emphasized the discrepancy in the rise of wages.
“If you look at wages…forget about all income from capital, the rise in inequality is stunning,” he said. “The lower 10 percent’s wages have declined over 33 years by a modest amount, the median has only gone up 5 percent over 33 years, and the upper 1 percent has gone up 154 percent, and that’s just wages. Capital income is on top of that.”
Given this lack of wage growth, many individuals find dissatisfaction with their compensation.
“There has been in recent years, and by some measures recent decades, a sharp disjuncture that is not historically the case, between wage growth and productivity growth,” said Dr. Blinder. “That wages have grown much more slowly, so that the average worker is no longer being rewarded for the sweat of his or her brow.”
Both panelists also discussed the growing need for focus on education, to instill individuals with profitable and productive skills sets, especially given the technological advances of recent decades.
“Education could be doing much more to develop skills, not only in primary, secondary, tertiary education, but re-training skills. But we just don’t do enough of that as a country,” said Dr. Hubbard.Dr. Blinder added that the “recipe of success” for America is to continue climbing the technology ladder, however we needed to focus on K-12 education in poor districts and pre-K education.
“Every American kid should be getting high quality, pre-K education. The evidence of the efficacy of that education, the pure financial rate of return, is enormous,” said Dr. Blinder.
Dr. Kumar ended the discussion by asking the two economists to give insight into what members of the business community can do to help ameliorate the current climate on inequality.
“There was a time in our country when business leaders stood up and were counted on big issues. The Marshall Plan for example, was not the brain child of Congress but the brain child of business leaders. Nobody has more to gain in economic perspective from the changes we’ve talked about than the business community,” said Dr. Hubbard. “Seeing the business community come up with specific ideas and press political leaders on them is important. I think too often we see CEOs who are very keen on talking about things that affect their firmer industry, as they should, but I think it’s time to stand up and be counted, and this is an issue on which they should do so.”
Photo by Dominika Photographer
2016 Auto Show Media Preview feat. Lex Kerssemakers of Volvo Car USA
February 11, 2016
Our members were guests of the 2016 Auto Show for their annual media preview luncheon on February 11 at McCormick Place. This year’s featured speaker was Lex Kerssemakers, president and CEO of Volvo Car USA. Keith Cardoza, principal and CIO at Brownson, Rehmus & Foxworth, presided at the meeting and interviewed Mr. Kerssemakers after his remarks.
Mr. Kerssemakers began his remarks sharing an interesting fact – when The Economic Club of Chicago held their first meeting in 1927, this was the same year Volvo began making cars.
“The significance of this is not lost on me. Two great examples of organizations that have evolved and stood the test of time over the years,” he said.
As he explained, the future of the automotive industry is centered on addressing three global challenges:
- Emissions and fuel efficiency
These challenges have determined Volvo’s path in recent years pushing technology and innovation to re-center on their brand’s primary focus: people. This has led to considerable work combatting the above listed challenges, including fuel-efficient and electric vehicles and establishing their Vision 2020, which states that “nobody should be killed or seriously injured in a new Volvo car by the year 2020,” a bar set so high because, “any lower would be to accept that it is OK for people to be killed or seriously hurt.”
Mr. Kerssemakers also that the answers to the three challenges coalesce into the “hottest thing in the automotive industry” right now: autonomous driving.
By the end of 2017, Volvo will have 100 autonomous cars in the hands of customers, through a project called “Drive Me.” The project will allow customer feedback to develop cars for a wider audience and it will assist authorities in formulating and mending legislation and infrastructure planning.
During the moderated conversation, Mr. Cardoza asked, “Volvo doesn’t want deaths in any cars, by any manufacturers. The question is, when you develop a new significant technology on safety, where do you find the line between your offer to your shareholders to keep that technology proprietary and your offer to the greater good, of sharing that safety technology with your competitors?”
Mr. Kerssemakers responded by pointing out that in 1959, Volvo invented the safety belt, but never kept the patent because of a sense of societal responsibility. For that reason, though they may leverage it for a few months, most of their safety technology comes to the market to benefit the automotive industry.
Additionally, Mr. Cardoza questioned him on how Volvo is dealing with the millennial generation and the trend of waiting longer to purchase cars. Mr. Kerssmakers explained that Volvo isn’t worried– many are choosing to push back the timelines on various aspects of their life.
“The more we learn, the less we are concerned about the millennial generation,” said Mr. Kerssemakers.
The Third Dinner Meeting of the 2015-2016 Program Year feat. David M. Rubenstein of The Carlyle Group
February 4, 2016
For the Third Dinner Meeting of the 2015-2016 Program Year we welcomed David M. Rubenstein, co-founder and co-CEO of The Carlyle Group, a private equity firm based in Washington, D.C. Mr. Rubenstein gave remarks from the stage before an interview with Club Chair Ilene Gordon.
While speaking to the audience, Mr. Rubenstein repeatedly expressed his surprise of the number of people who had come out to see him. “This reminds me of my bar mitzvah because I have not had so many people who want to see me since my bar mitzvah,” said Mr. Rubenstein, receiving laughs from attendees.
Audience participation was a facet of his remarks, when he asked the crowd to raise their hands for various questions, including opinions on whether the economy was delving into another recession, whether taxes were going to be raised, and which political candidate individuals hoped to see as the next president. He continued receiving laughs from the crowd, asking:
“How many people think the next president should be a private equity professional? How many people think private equity is the highest calling of mankind?”
He then transitioned to explaining how he found his way into private equity and shared with the audience his personal story of growing up in Baltimore, where his father worked as a postal worker.
“If your last name is Rubenstein, you think the person probably has a father who was a nice Jewish lawyer or doctor or dentist, but I like to remind people that there are blue collar Jews, and my father was one of them.”
For this reason, Mr. Rubenstein knew he would have to make it on his own. He received a scholarship from Duke University – “it wasn’t a basketball scholarship, I can assure you,” – and then went on to receive a scholarship to attend the University of Chicago Law School, with hopes of fulfilling a life-long goal of public service. Post law school, he started working for Jimmy Carter’s campaign and followed him to The White House, becoming the deputy domestic policy adviser to the president at age 27. At the age of 37 he co-founded The Carlyle Group.
Since his success at the Carlyle Group, Mr. Rubenstein has dedicated his time to giving back, known especially for his “patriotic philanthropy,” which has entailed restoration of significant U.S. monuments like the Washington Monument and various homes of founding fathers.
“I would like you to think about what you might be able to do to give back a little to your country [in addition to] other organizations you might support,” he said. “I try to encourage students to think early in their life what they can do to make the country a better place; give back your time, your energy, your ideas, because something will strike your fancy and something you can do will make this country a slightly better place, and if everyone does that I think our country can be a much better country than it has been.”
During the Q&A portion of the evening, Chair Ilene Gordon asked where he sees the greatest risks in the economy over the next decade. As he explained, the biggest problems he foresees are:
- “There is $4 trillion of emerging market corporate debt that is dollar dominated. If you’re in Brazil and you borrowed money in dollars and the Brazilian Real has gone down 50 percent against the dollar, it’s very difficult to think that that could be repaid. All that debt is going to have to be extended or restructured.”
- “Oil prices are so low, and commodity prices are so low, it’s begun to effect economies much more than people thought.”
- “Another problem is the strength of the dollar. We’re the only reserve currency, and everyone else is racing to devalue their currency and we’re not doing that. If anything ours is going higher up, and so our ability to export may be more challenged.”
- “Our ability to provide monetary and fiscal stimulus for our economy is very weak.
- “China’s growth is going to be slower than people anticipated.“
Ms. Gordon also asked if he there were any investments he did not make, but wished he had.
“How many hours do you have?” he asked, receiving laughs from the crowd. He chose to cite two instances specifically. The first was Facebook, the second, Amazon.
Please view our Speakers page to hear Mr. Rubenstein discuss those missed opportunities, along with his answers to questions on the global economy, the next recession, carried interest and Carlyle culture.
Photo by Richard Shay
The Second Forum of the 2015-2016 Program Year: Drugs, Crime & Punishment - Is it Equitable or even Effective?
January 15, 2016
The Second Forum Meeting of the 2015-2016 Program Year took place January 15 at the Palmer House Hilton Hotel for a conversation on Drugs, Crime & Punishment: Is it Equitable, or even Effective? The program focused on major facets of the criminal justice system – bail costs, sentencing requirement, the role of policing, overpopulation of county jails and drug policy – and how they disproportionately affect minorities and low-income individuals.
Christie Hefner, director of the Center for American Progress Action, served as the discussion moderator. Panelists included Jens Ludwig, director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab; Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance; and Toni Preckwinkle, president of the Cook County Board.
“Every day we pick up the paper or listen to the news, there’s another tragic shooting or murder that is splashed all over the front page. Which creates a sense that we must be in chaos in our cities, which in turn might lead many of us to think that the best public policy that we can promote is get more people off the streets and put more people in our prisons and our jails,” said Ms. Hefner.
But as she questioned, what do we actually know about what makes us safer and what are the most effective criminal justice policies? These questions are under consideration across the country, especially considering that the United States consists of five percent of the world’s population but holds 25 percent of the world’s incarcerated population.
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle credits this primarily to the over policing and detainment of minority citizens, a product of racism and current police culture.
“We detain black and brown people at extraordinary rates,” she said. Additionally, about 90 percent of the people in Cook County jail are awaiting trial and cannot make bond. Of those people in jail, 70 percent are there accused of nonviolent crimes.
“I usually say our jail lies at the intersection of racism and poverty,” she continued.
Nationally, incarceration rates have generally been going down – about seven percent in the last five years. But in Illinois, they have gone up about seven percent in the last five years, which is the eighth largest increase in the country. A huge factor driving the incarceration rate are the drug laws currently in effect locally and across the country.
As Ms. Hefner pointed out, “Cook County actually made the most marijuana possession arrests of any county in the nation, and had the worst racial disparity rates.”
Mr. Nadelmann expounded on the issues of drug policy and had critiques of Chicago’s approach to the matter.
“In Chicago and Illinois, you are so backwards, you have to be embarrassed about it. Take the marijuana issue – you’re finally rolling out medical marijuana, I think you’re the 23rd in the country to do it. A decriminalization bill got through the House and Senate and died on the governor’s desk. Meanwhile other states are taxing it, regulating it, tax revenues are coming in,” he said. “When other states are doing it, is there just an assumption here that, ‘you know, we don’t lead here. We follow, after most of the rest of the country has done it.’”
Mr. Ludwig shared data-driven research from the University of Chicago Crime Lab that examines behavior and causes of violence.
“If you look not just in Cook County, but across the United States, you’d see the policy debate that goes back and forth between how we want to trade off incarceration against the crime problem as if those were the two inevitable choices that we have,” he said. Instead, Mr. Ludwig contends we should be focusing on the third option – prevention.
Mr. Nadelmann emphasized at the closing of the meeting, that if change was going to happen in Chicago, it would come from the city’s civic leaders.
“I think the principal problem and the principle potential for moving in the right direction lies in this room, in what this room represents. Because ultimately it’s the leadership of civil society…who need to insist on change,” he said.
You can find more information on the Drug Policy Alliance here.
You can find more information on the University of Chicago Crime Lab here.
Photo by Dominika Photographer
Young Leadership Forum featuring Ilene S. Gordon
January 12, 2016
We kicked off the new year with the Club’s Third Young Leadership Forum of the 2015-2016 Program Year, featuring Club Chair Ilene Gordon who also serves as chairman, president & CEO of Ingredion Incorporated. Ms. Gordon provided various insights into her personal and professional past that have shaped her present. Pat Eskew, chair of the Young Leaders Committee, moderated the discussion.
Ms. Gordon started her career as a strategy consultant with the Boston Consulting Group, and after she and her husband were placed in London, an opportunity arose to open an office in Chicago. The Midwestern city was a new frontier for Ms. Gordon, who explained she “wanted to be a pioneer.”
When she arrived in Chicago, Ms. Gordon became involved in the packaging business, starting at Signode and then moving to the Packaging Corporation of America, where she was encouraged to go into management. From the beginning, she has always wanted to hire the brightest people who would push back, explaining that, “I don’t want people who agree with me, I want people who challenge me."
At the Forum, Ms. Gordon shared tips on how she determines a successful mentorship. It must be someone she knows well, someone with whom she can be honest, and someone who comes to each meeting prepared with an agenda of items they want to discuss. Additionally, she said that at each meeting, an individual should feel like they are walking away with “three nuggets” of advice or information they have learned from their mentor.
When it comes to leading the next generation, Ms. Gordon has also dedicated herself to STEM education among young girls, emphasizing that pushing STEM for those young women will lead to more women in leadership.
Photo by Anthony Vena
The Second Dinner Meeting of the 2015-2016 Program Year feat. Patrick Whitesell of WME-IMG
December 9, 2015
The Second Dinner Meeting of the 2015-2016 Program Year featured Co-CEO Patrick Whitesell of WME-IMG, an agency that operates in more than 25 countries specializing in talent representation; commercial marketing and endorsements; brand strategy; media production and distribution; and event management.
ECC Chair Ilene Gordon interviewed Mr. Whitesell that evening, starting with his Hollywood origin story. After considering law, Whitesell followed his three older brothers out to Hollywood. One of his brothers recommended he pursue a career as an agent. With that, Whitesell interviewed at various agencies until he received a position at InterTalent in the mailroom, a great place to start in Hollywood according to Whitesell, because it’s the “center of everything and you really figure out what you want to do.”
“If you look at anybody who works at a media company today, they all started in the mailroom, as an assistant, as a driver. There’s a real culture of training and growing that way. And the mailroom is still a vibrant, critical piece of our development,” he said, adding, “what’s awesome about Hollywood is that it’s a complete meritocracy. Once you get in, it’s all about the work you do. “
Before WME-IMG, Whitesell and his Co-CEO Ariel Emanuel managed Endeavor. In 2009 they orchestrated the largest talent agency merger in history when they partnered with William Morris to form WME.
“When we were [Endeavor], you could do everything: you could run the company and represent the clients. That became impossible when we merged and then went on to IMG. So really we had to develop more into a traditional CEO skill set. Delegating, strategy, hiring the right people, and culture. Culture is kind of the most important thing to us and the thing we care the most about getting right,” said Whitesell.
Whitesell and Gordon also discussed the changes social media has had on the industry and the role of an agent in reputation and brand management. He mentioned that, particularly in the music industry, clients have to be engaged on social media. As he explained, “we represent Adele and Drake. So, both of them released their records with no marketing. Basically they sent out a tweet, one post. And Adele sold more records than any record in history. More than Michael Jackson in his heyday. And that’s not spending a dollar. So that’s massive disruption and massive power, it gives a lot of control of your message to your audience.”
The seated conversation ended with a “lightening round” of quick-hitting questions. The questions and answers are provided below:
Favorite sports team: Green Bay Packers
Favorite sports hero: Bart Starr
Favorite actor/actress: Pass
All-time favorite movie: Godfather (Part One)
What do you think will be the top movie this holiday season: “Sisters. We represent that whole movie. It’ll be the biggest upset. Star Wars will probably be ok.”
Photo by Richard Shay
Young Leadership Breakfast Forum featuring Coach Marv Levy
December 1, 2015
The Young Leaders Committee welcomed Hall of Fame Member and Former Head Coach of the Buffalo Bills Marv Levy to The Chicago Club on December 1. Young Leaders Committee Ex Officio Peter Lee of Summit Trail Advisors interviewed Coach Levy. The breakfast forum covered the unlikely intersection of sports and literature, as Coach Levy not only discussed his storied record as a head coach but also his more recent foray into writing poetry and books.
When asked how he was able to reinvigorate his team after losing four consecutive Super Bowls, Coach Levy explained that he and the general manager “decided we would bring on to our team only people of high character. And they were so resilient, despite the crushing experience of losing those games.”
After the first Super Bowl loss, Levy shared with his team a poem that was meant to reflect the words of an old Scottish warrior. He posted the poem on the bulletin board outside their meeting room.
“Fight on my men, Sir Andrew said
A little I’m hurt but not yet slain
I’ll lie down and bleed awhile
And then I’ll rise and fight again.”
In the years after that first Super Bowl loss, whenever the team experienced some sort of setback, someone else from the team would post the poem to the bulletin board again. That sense of resilience amongst the players allowed them to preserve, he noted, and allowed them to get to work after each loss. “I would always say, ‘don’t tell me you have the will to win. Tell me you have the will to prepare.’ Because if you don’t have the will to prepare, you don’t have the will to win.”
Coach Levy, who became famous for his no-huddle offense, discussed how the strategy came about and the work that went into cutting down their playbook and making the offense more simplified.
“It was Henry David Thoreau who uttered those words: Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity. Given his sentiments, I don’t know why he didn’t say it just once,” he said, to laughs from the members in attendance.
After retiring, Coach Levy became involved with radio, television and writing. He recalled that, “the day I retired I remember saying to myself, retire means you’ve got new tires and you’re ready to roll.” When he was inducted to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, he was in disbelief. “I’m up there, and all I could think was ‘am I really here?’ It was a tremendous honor for someone that started out as a high school assistant coach.”
At the end of the breakfast, Coach Levy shared the words he gave to his players in his final team meeting on his last day as coach of the Buffalo Bills, which can be read below.
I wish for you all an idealism that lasts a lifetime, because the day you become a cynic is the day you’re going to lose your youth.
I wish for you difficulties, but not an inordinate number.
I wish for you the capacity to laugh often, frequently at yourself.
I wish for you friends who have earned your trust, and a trustworthiness that earns you friends.
I wish for you just the right amount of impatience.
I wish for you the opportunity upon occasion to be a seven point underdog.
I wish for you tolerance – given and received.
I wish for you being able to say often, with a touch of wonderment in your voice, ‘where else would I rather be, than right here, right now.’
And finally, I wish for you all, certain mechanical skills, I’ll call them. The kind that would allow you to rebuild broken dreams, and that will allow you to say, ‘the best is yet to come.’
Photo by Anthony Vena
Special Breakfast Meeting on The Transfer of Power: Making the Presidency More Effective
November 19, 2015
On November 19th the Club hosted a Special Breakfast Meeting on The Transfer of Power: Making the Presidency More Effective at The Chicago Club. Douglas R. Conant of ConantLeadership moderated the discussion with our distinguished panel, which included:
- The Honorable Christopher P. Lu, Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor
- The Honorable Steven C. Preston, Chief Executive Officer of Livingston International and Former Secretary of U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and Former Administrator of U.S. Small Business Administration
- Max Stier, President & CEO of the Partnership for Public Service
The group gathered to discuss the existing issues that occur during the transition from one presidential administration to the next, which prevent the new administration from governing immediately. For instance, according to the Partnership for Public Service, about one third of the government’s top political appointees were still not confirmed during the first year of the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations. Additionally, it was noted that for more than 200 years, our federal government has transferred presidential power relying primarily on oral history, with each administration reinventing what needs to be done rather than building on what was done before.
Mr. Stier noted that unfortunately, in past presidential elections, the sole focus has remained on “winning and not governing.” His non-partisan organization, Partnership for Public Service, has launched their Ready to Govern initiative to address these problems and work with politicians on both sides of the aisle. Their plan of action entails:
- Assist the 2016 presidential candidates with planning
- Engage Congress in transition reforms
- Identify sound management practices and create accountability for more effective government
- Prepare presidential appointees to succeed in government
Mr. Preston, who managed the Romney transition team, noted that while many of these inefficiencies can be dealt with on a practical operations level, much can be said for the “heart commitment” or “the commitment of the teams to work together,” to ensure a smooth transition. Mr. Lu, who was the head of the Obama/Biden transition, echoed these sentiments, adding that “the guts of government should be nonpartisan.”
With that, all three panelists emphasized that the skills business leaders could bring to the government were invaluable, because as Mr. Stier noted, “the business community owns so much of the operational talent of this country,” and our government is not going to get healthy on its own.
For more information on the Partnership for Public Service and ways to get involved, visit their website here.
Photo by Anthony Vena
The First Dinner Meeting of the 2015-2016 Program Year feat. W. Rockwell Wirtz and John F. McDonough of the Chicago Blackhawks
October 19, 2015
The First Dinner Meeting of the 2015-2016 Program Year broke from tradition, allowing members the choice of wearing black tie or a Blackhawks jersey, in support of our speakers – Blackhawks Chairman W. Rockwell “Rocky” Wirtz and President and CEO John F. McDonough. Mary Ann Childers served as moderator. The evening began with a special surprise guest, Jim Cornelison, who sang the National Anthem to open the meeting.
After dinner, the program began with the ceremonial passing of the gavel, where immediate past Chair John Ettelson handed the gavel to current Chair Ilene Gordon. For his service as chair, Ettelson was awarded a lifetime membership in the Club. Two other members in attendance were recognized for 50 years of membership in the Club, thus achieving Lifetime status: James J. O’Connor, former chair of the Club and Harold Dotts, whose own father was awarded an ECC lifetime membership in 1988.
Childers began the conversation that night asking Wirtz and McDonough to discuss the origins of their business partnership which began shortly after the death of Wirtz’ father in 2007, at which time ownership of the Blackhawks passed to Wirtz. In order to revitalize the franchise, he understood that he needed the right leadership and connected with McDonough to arrange a meeting.
“It was supposed to be a 90 minute lunch, and it ended up being four and half to five hours,” said McDonough. The two realized that their own business and leadership philosophies aligned. With that, the two began working together and McDonough maintains that it’s the “the best individual professional decision I ever made.”
Additionally, Wirtz talked about his grandfather, Arthur Wirtz, who founded Wirtz Beverage and purchased the Blackhawks in 1954.
“He always said you’ll never listen your way into trouble,” said Wirtz. A humble notion that reflects both Wirtz and McDonough’s leadership style.
Childers also took a moment to confront the current allegations being held against player Patrick Kane. Wirtz expressed that no decisions would be made until all the facts were known.
When asked if they worry the expectations are too high for the Blackhawks now that they have achieved so much success, both reinforced that they approach it like they haven’t won one Stanley Cup.
“Once you’ve stopped to admire something you’ve done, you’re stopped, and it’s hard to get started again,” said McDonough, who also provided his own views on successful leadership. “A good leader absorbs the blame and distributes the accolades.”
One such accolade is the championship rings, which Wirtz purchases for every person in the Blackhawks organization, from the interns in the office to the players on the ice.
“It’s an organization,” said Wirtz. “And anyone – so the person answering the phone, the person scoring the game-winning goal in overtime, to the person in the locker room cleaning up after the players – they all roll up to one thing, that one goal to win ultimately the Holy Grail which is the Stanley Cup.”
The meeting was adjourned as Chelsea Dagger, the Blackhawks goal song, played in the background.
Photo by Richard Shay
The First Forum of the 2015-2016 Program Year - How Inclusive is Your Company?
October 14, 2015
The First Forum Meeting of the 2015-2016 took place October 14 at the Chicago Club titled How Inclusive is Your Company? The program was in partnership with ADA 25 Chicago, a network of civic partners who have come together to commemorate and advance a civil rights milestone – the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The program examined the various beneficial implications Chicago businesses have in hiring individuals with disabilities and making an office environment more accommodating for all.
Kareem Dale, director & senior counsel at Discover Financial Services in Chicago, served as moderator. Karen Tamley, Commissioner for the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD) and Steve Pemberton, vice president of diversity and inclusion for Walgreens Boots Alliance, were panelists that morning.
The relevance of that conversation was not lost on attendees given that more than 1 in 10 Illinois residents have some kind of disability, and the disability community is one of the fastest growing segments of society, a fact Commissioner Tamley mentioned. In the future, concerning product and technology development for people with disabilities, she thinks it will be “less about special products for ‘special people,’ and more about accommodations for everyone.” For instance, the idea of wider sidewalks does not just benefit individuals in wheelchairs, but mothers with strollers.
Mr. Pemberton emphasized how changing perceptions of disabilities can make a difference in seeing the benefit such diversity offers a work place.
“It’s a hard truth: if you have a disability, you have to navigate the world differently. But that gives you a skill set – you see and experience the world differently.”
He emphasized through recalling a personal story however, the dignity that comes with entrusting individuals with a job when he pointed out that it means “someone sees you not through the lens of circumstance, but possibility.”
According to a 2012 Illinois Disability Status Report, 35 percent of people with disabilities are employed while the median annual income of a person with a disability is $21,000.
Mr. Dale emphasized, however, that “this isn’t about sympathy. It’s about helping your companies be better.”
Commissioner Tamley offered practical steps for business leaders intending on greater inclusion:
- Commitment at the highest level to disability inclusion
- Develop a culture that includes people with disabilities, such as having reasonable accommodation policies that allow for physical accommodations and aim to make technology, like websites, more accessible
- Provide employee resource groups for people with disabilities
- Planning that doesn’t make accommodations an afterthought; budget considerations and truly thinking ahead about the necessities individuals may require
After the panel ended, live questions were taken from the audience. ECC member and current CEO of Access Living Marca Bristo ended the Q&A with a meditative commentary on the benefits of discussing these issues: “I’ve been disabled for 38 years, and for 37 of those years, this program would not have occurred.”
Photo by Dominika Photographer
Young Leadership Forum with Henry M. Paulson, Jr.
September 30, 2015
The First Young Leadership Forum of the 2015-2016 Program Year featured a returning speaker, former Secretary of the Treasury Henry M. Paulson, Jr. The chair of the Young Leaders Committee, Pat Eskew, hosted the late afternoon forum at IBM offices, where he interviewed Mr. Paulson, who now heads The Paulson Institute.
Mr. Paulson talked at length about his new book, Dealing with China, which examines the country’s current economic happenings through the lens of Mr. Paulson’s extensive working history with Chinese officials. The conversation also delved into his leadership learnings given the principal role he played in the U.S. government’s 2008 economic bailout. In spite of his consistently committed schedule, Mr. Paulson iterated that maintaining a balance in his work life and home life was a lesson he learned early on in his career, right out of business school when he worked at Goldman Sachs in Chicago. He shared that he would race down the stairs and “run to catch the 4:30 train” each day that would take him back to the suburbs.
As chairman at the Paulson Institute, Mr. Paulson focuses his energies on his lifetime passion of conservationism and his long relationship working with China to create solutions for pressing economic and environmental challenges faced today. He emphasized that although many people would like to see a demise of Chinese growth and success, that it is in the best interests of both countries to work together pragmatically.
Photo by Dominika Photographer
Discussion Series Led by Henry Crown Fellows, Catherine the Great and Russian Expansionism: This Didn't Start with Putin
September 24, 2015
The Club’s 2015-2016 program year kicked off at the Chicago Club, with the annual Discussion Series led by the Henry Crown Fellows. This year members explored the subject Catherine the Great and Russian Expansionism: This Didn’t Start with Putin. Prior to the evening, attendees were sent maps of Russia – then and now—and excerpts from Pulitzer Prize winning author Robert Massie’s biography, Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman (excerpts can be found here). Members were asked to examine three questions during their dinner discussion:
- What made Catherine great?
- Are there lessons to be learned from what Catherine did to help us understand Putin and his foreign policy?
- How did the fact that Catherine was a woman affect how she governed. Was she a better/different leader as a woman?
After the dinners ended, members reconvened for a wrap-up discussion, sharing the conclusions each group came to over the course of their conversations. Current-day comparisons to Catherine the Great ranged from Hillary Clinton to Kim Kardashian to Angela Merkel. Some believe that the expansion Catherine achieved during her reign remains a key reason Russia at present feels entitled to the lands of neighboring nations. Many maintained that, woman or not, like many leaders over the course of history, Catherine played “the hand she was dealt,” well and used her character and resources to bring Russia into its Golden Age of history.
Many thanks were given that evening to member Charlie Bobrinskoy, vice president of Ariel Investments, who continues to coordinate these discussion series each year. A fun fact that was revealed at the beginning of the program – Mr. Bobrinskoy is a direct descendent of Catherine and Grigory Orlov!
The night ended with post program conversation and vodka cocktails on the roof.
You can view the twitter conversation around the program at @econclubchi.
The PBS biography, Catherine the Great, can be purchased here.
For further readings on Catherine the Great, Robert Massie’s book can be purchased here.
Photos by Dominika Photographer
Fifth Night 2015: A Gourmet Celebration with the James Beard Foundation
May 5, 2015
The Chicago culinary community took center stage at this year’s Fifth Night Celebration, one day after Chicago hosted the James Beard Foundation Awards Gala – the first city outside of New York invited to take a seat at this prestigious table. The evening began at the Chicago Illuminating Company with Susan Ungaro, President of the James Beard Foundation, moderating an intimate panel discussion amongst some of Chicago finest restauranteurs:
- Kevin Boehm, co-founder of Boka Restaurant Group
- Rohini Dey, Ph.D, owner and founder of Vermilion Restaurants and ECC member
- Nick Kokonas, owner of Alinea, Next and The Aviary
- Donnie Madia, managing partner and owner of One Off Hospitality Group
- Rich Melman, founder of Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises
The previous evening, The James Beard Foundation awarded Madia and Melman with the Outstanding Restauranteur Award and the Lifetime Achievement Award, respectively.
After the evening’s discussion, chef tasting stations were available to the membership:
- Giuseppe Tentori, chef and partner of GT Fish & Oyster, provided a crab salad with avocado, cucumber and crispy potato.
- Sarah Grueneberg, chef and owner of Monteverde, shared spring salad, polenta, crème fraiche, aleppo pepper and Iberico sheep’s milk.
- Bill Kim, chef and owner of bellyQ, offered cured hamachi on a rice puff with avocado yogurt and pickled papaya kimchi.
- Rohini Dey, owner and founder of Vermilion, served tandoori skirt steak, lychee jalepeño ceviche and verde chimichurri.
- Doug Psaltis, chef and partner of RPM Italian, shared smoked ricotta agnolotti with Australian black truffle and basil burro.
The mixology stations provided two signature cocktails, the first, Pineapple and Tamarind, which included Absolut vodka, tamarind syrup, fresh lime juice, pineapple chunks and tajin classic. The second, Botanical Garden, included Plymouth gin, DeKuyper Fleur Elderflower liqueur, fresh lime juice, mint leaves and ginger beer.
A special thank you to Southern Wine & Spirts of Illinois and Terlato Wines for their contributions to the event.
See more from the event below:
Photos by Dominika Photographer
Annual Dinner Meeting with Robert A. Iger
April 14, 2015
The final dinner meeting of the 2014-2015 Program Year began with the Nominating Committee’s recommendation for the slate of incoming officers and directors for the upcoming year. As referenced in an announcement to the membership, we are pleased to share that Ilene S. Gordon, chairman, president & CEO of Ingredion Incorporated, will become the next chairman of the Club, effective July 1.
Soon after opening comments, the main event of the evening began – an interview with Robert A. Iger, chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company, moderated by board member Mellody Hobson. Hobson aptly began with his beginnings, discussing Iger’s origins as a weatherman on a local news show.
“It taught me how to give people bad news,” he quipped, when articulating that the position is a rather reviled one. In his earlier jobs, Iger noted that when mistakes were made, he would admit to it because he’s “a big believer in facing up to your shortcomings and admitting mistakes.”
As head of a major creative force, he also recognized that failure is an inevitable part of the creative environment, which takes center stage at the multi-billion dollar company producing some of the most beloved films in the United States and abroad. However, in addition to the storytelling, Disney has also become known for its technological innovations, which have allowed the company to tell even better stories.
“George Lucas is a perfect example of this. One of the world’s great story tellers, yet one of the most effective people using technology to tell stories in even more profound, greater, dramatic ways,” Iger said-- a vocal nod to Lucas who was in attendance that evening.
Hobson transitioned the conversation to another major film franchise that was an unexpected success for Disney: Frozen. “The calls that I got from extremely important people in the world, who had to have an Elsa dress for Christmas – it was fascinating. I’m sorry that I wasn’t a dress maker, I could have made a lot of money,”he said, receiving laughs from the audience.
However the conversation quickly took a more serious tone when Iger went on to describe what was recently published in the book Becoming Steve Jobs: The Evolution of a Reckless Upstart into a Visionary Leader— that he was one of the first people to know that Steve Jobs’ cancer had returned.
“Why are you telling me this?” was his initial reaction, knowing that a looming time clock was ticking away minutes until they were to share Disney’s purchase of Pixar that same day. As we know, Iger committed to purchasing Pixar which further developed the working relationship he shared with Jobs.
Pixar is Disney’s second largest investment after ABC. The third largest investment was also a topic of discussion, when Hobson and Iger discussed the intricacies of opening Disney Shanghai. Iger said when originally researching expansion into China, Disney realized the “only way we could plant the brand was to build a park.”
The park is set to open in the spring of 2016, and the company has made careful considerations in building an American park in a Chinese city. As he pointed out, the company wanted to avoid cultural imperialism and decided, “let’s build something authentically Disney but distinctly Chinese.”
Iger has extended his contract as CEO, but is committed to leaving his position in 2018, explaining that he believes that a change of leadership generates energy and new perspective. When Hobson asked him to explain his dream for himself, Iger answered he was looking forward to “a time in life where I have the freedom to play a little bit more, dream a little bit more, think a little bit more, even relax a bit more.”
Photo by Richard Shay
Third Forum: Chicago Plan Update
March 24, 2015
The Third Forum of the 2014-2015 Program Year: Chicago Plan Update continued a conversation started in January 2013 on the Plan for Economic Growth and Jobs. World Business Chicago (WBC) is responsible for the implementation of the Plan, a coordinated effort with the City of Chicago, which highlights 10 economic development strategies for the Chicago region:
- Excel as a leading advanced manufacturing hub
- Enhance attractiveness as a center for business services and headquarters
- Boost competitiveness as a national leader in transportation and logistics
- Brand Chicago a premier destination for tourism and entertainment
- Make Chicago a national leader in exports
- Create demand-driven and targeted workforce development
- Support innovation and entrepreneurship in emerging and mature sectors
- Invest to create next-generation infrastructure
- Develop and deploy neighborhood assets to align with regional growth
- Create a business environment in which companies can flourish
The forum, held at The Chicago Club, began with a panel discussion moderated by Brian Fabes, second vice chairman of the Club and CEO of Civic Consulting Alliance, and featured Deputy Mayor Steven Koch and Jeff Malehorn, chairman and CEO of WBC. The discussion began with a status update of the Plan, which included specific mention of the Digital Lab for Manufacturing—a source for research, development, training and exploration of the newest technologies in manufacturing—and Chicago Anchors for a Strong Economy (CASE)—a network of leading Chicago institutions that utilize their purchasing power to aid local economic development.
Discussion quickly moved to questions of where the Chicago region presently stands and its future potential, which centered on the growing income gap and the need for middle income jobs.
Fabes went on to ask about an interesting point of comparison – the city of San Francisco was originally not an economic hub, and then found immense prosperity. Are we going to experience anything similar to San Francisco? Koch mentioned that “San Francisco bet on one sector,” and fortunately found success. But as Malehorn pointed out, Chicago is a city of great industry diversity.
Given that Chicago is comprised of distinct neighborhoods, connecting communities was also a major point of discussion. The productivity of the city is about much more than what is coming out of the Loop, and it’s important to utilize a place-based strategy, with “more innovation coming out of neighborhoods.”
After the panel presentation, members met in smaller groups to discuss three questions over dinner:
- How do you see national economic and employment trends playing out in Chicago?
- What opportunities exist for the Plan to address these trends going forward?
- In what sectors, clusters, or other areas might Chicago strive to lead the nation in creating an economy that benefits everyone?
Following the dinner discussions, members attended a wrap-up session, which provided an opportunity for the dinner groups to share ideas and explain the focus of their conversations to each other and to representatives from the Plan’s leadership team. Group leaders generated compelling dialogue when they voiced the primary takeaways from members’ analysis of the Plan. Based on what was shared, many groups focused on workforce development and recognizing the necessity of improved infrastructure to further advance the city. Additionally, education—particularly in early childhood and community college development—served as a major talking point.
Photo by Richard Shay
Third Dinner Meeting with Mary Barra
March 12, 2015
The Third Dinner Meeting started with an enthusiastic new member reception in the Boulevard Room at the Chicago Hilton. As Chairman John Ettelson mentioned in the opening remarks, new members received a rose pin to wear that evening in recognition and congratulations for their election into the Club.
Additionally, members of the Chicago Consular Corps were recognized, a Club custom at the third dinner each year. Consuls General from Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, El Salvador, India, Lithuania, Peru and Spain were introduced.
After dinner, Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors Company, was welcomed to the stage where she spoke about the future of the auto industry. As she explained, “we are on the verge of a revolution in personal transportation.”
She continued: “interest in the auto sector is growing in many quarters. The technology industry, in particular, is becoming more engaged because they realize that cars are the ultimate mobile app.”
GM is making investments in technology because they believe in the continuous potential of the industry and want to play a central role in the surging demand domestically and internationally for personal transportation.
Barra admits “the competition in this industry is fierce and getting stronger every day. In fact, this is one of the rare times in the history of the industry when virtually every auto company is profitable. As you would expect, confidence is running high among all of our competitors.”
And transformative changes are on the horizon, which will include electric powered vehicles, autonomous vehicles and enhanced connectivity. With these changes, GM will continue to increase the fuel efficiency and reduce the environmental impact of vehicles. The company will additionally look to the future of safety. A specific example Barra included:
“In less than 2 years we are going to start connecting cars to each other, and the world around them, using wireless technology called V2X. V2X encompasses both vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure technology. It's a game changer for safety, because when enough cars share information about such factors as speed, direction, and braking, crashes will be substantially reduced. This is reality. It is not science fiction. It is not a pipe dream. It is here. We know how to do it. And it will transform the industry in the coming years.”
After her speech, Barra took part in a Q&A moderated by Chairman John Ettelson. When asked how soon she will be sitting behind an automatic car, Barra predicted within a “decade or so.”
The final question of the night: “Will we one day be driving flying cars, a la the Jetsons? Barra answered, “That’s not where I’m putting a lot of R&D dollars.”
Photo by Richard Shay
2015 Chicago Auto Show Media Preview with José Muñoz
February 12, 2015
The Chicago Automobile Trade Association hosted Economic Club members and guests at the 2015 Chicago Auto Show Media Preview luncheon for the eleventh year in a row.
This year’s guest speaker was José Muñoz, executive vice president of Nissan Motor Company and chairman of Nissan North America, Inc. He discussed the historical entrance of Nissan into the U.S. market and how this multi-national company has maintained its consistent presence in the country, adding that Nissan is a success-story that can serve as a template for a U.S. manufacturing resurgence.
Brian Fabes, chair of the ECC's Forums Committee, moderated Q&A.
When asked about what competitors worry him most, Muñoz responded, “every single car that is not a Nissan is a competitor sale, and I worry about every single one…we respect all the competitors and in this market – you cannot disrespect anyone.”
Photo by Richard Shay
Start-Up to Success YLF Breakfast at ContextMedia
January 28, 2015
The Club kicked off a beautiful Chicago morning with the Young Leadership Forum Entrepreneurs: From Start-Up to Success held at ContextMedia.
Thank you to moderator Alex Campbell and panelists Raaja Nemani, Gregg Kaplan, Andrew Sieja and ContextMedia’s own Shradha Agarwal and Rishi Shah.
Excerpts from the forum:
On company culture:
“It’s not what you do, but about how everyone treats each other,” says Raaja Nemani of BucketFeet. “You don’t have to play ping pong.”
On growing too fast:
Gregg Kaplan of Redbox points out that there is no "right" growth rate, every company grows on its own terms, even if that means slowly and steadily, as in the case of Redbox in its first three years. Once you have a clear path, however, “stick to your own perspective. When it’s right, you have to go fast.”
New ECC member, Shradha Agarwal, maintains that it’s important to have discussions with the team, for as important as growth is, it’s “equally as important, if not more important, to preserve what we have with high quality.”
On the fear of failure:
“You have to look those fears and the existentialist threat right in the eye as an entrepreneur,” says new ECC member, Rishi Shah.
Additionally, it’s necessary to forgo the public scrutiny. As Gregg Kaplan explains, “you get that blank stare at the cocktail party when you say well I’m trying to rent DVDs out of a machine at the front of McDonald's.”
Many thanks to our young leaders who attended! For more quips from the program, check out our Twitter page @econclubchi.
Photo by Ryan Postel
Second Forum with Mickey Edwards
January 26, 2015
ECC's second forum was held at the Chicago Club featuring former Congressman Mickey Edwards, who discussed his new book The Parties Versus the People: How to turn Republicans and Democrats into Americans. The book originated as an Atlantic article, which can be read here.
Upon reflection on his time in Congress, he realized,
“There were a couple truisms that struck me. If you have a company, any other kind of operation, and it isn’t working right, one of two things has happened. You’ve hired the wrong people who don’t know how to run the system and make it work. Or there’s something wrong with the system. The other truism that I realized…is the incentive system. What you reward is what you get, and what you punish is what you don’t get.”
He specifically discussed the existence of sore loser laws:
“Delaware has a weird law, it’s called the Sore Loser Law, that if you run for your party’s nomination either in a convention or in a primary and you lose, you’re not even allowed to be on the ballot in November.”
He added, “how many states have that crazy law? 46. You’re living in one.”
Edwards continued to discuss this law and commented on the resulting bipartisanship:
“You’re not interested in appealing to the entire electorate and what they want because the future of your political career is in the hands of the hardliners who dominate the primaries. We have turned over access to the ballot to two private political clubs who can tell the population, ‘here’s who you have a right to choose among.’”
Furthermore, he insists that Republicans and Democrats alike are “trapped in a political system that if they work with people on the other side they are threatened with a primary, they are taken out in many cases in a primary, because the hardliners now dictate our political system.”
Though, various states have taken steps to make changes.
“Other people see it like I do. USA Today had an article that said the American people are fleeing from the political parties. Forty percent now register as Independents. And in 2006 the people in Washington state said we’re not going to take this anymore. And they went to the polls with an initiative and they ended party primaries. And now in Washington state, every candidate for governor, for senator, for whatever office is on the same ballot; Republicans, Democrats, Greens, and if nobody gets over 50 percent they have a run off…but they all have to appeal to the entire electorate because everybody gets to vote in that race. The entire constituency gets to choose.”
Edwards ended his discussion on this final note:
“It is the welfare of the parties, not the welfare of the people, that has begun to govern how our political system works. We need people who cannot only be loyal, true, loving Americans but who can function as Americans in common, not as champions for a club they joined.”
Photo by Richard Shay