Today I left the sunshine (yeah right) of the west coast behind and touched down in the mid-west: Chicago to be precise. A new city. A new time zone. The same old body. The same out of whack body clock. Hopefully the new city will not bring 3am gym sessions on account of the jet lag. I am excited. This city of high architecture constantly cries out for my vote for being the best city I have ever visited. Over the years it is a city that has brought its fair share of intrigue, wonder, excitement and a little bit of danger.
My first visit was to embark on an impromptu two-man stag party with a close Chicago based friend who couldn’t make it to my main event in Bristol. Extravagant perhaps but an essential act as the bachelor years drew to a rapid close! Drinks atop the Hancock Tower (at that time the somewhat improbable headquarters of the Welsh Development Agency), Steak at Gibson’s on North Rush Street, and a trip to Coyote Ugly followed. The rest is somewhat a blur. I will leave it to you to decide when during the events that followed the intrigue, wonder, excitement etc kicked-in!
But I will say that there was no danger on this particular occasion. No. I left that for my second, business related, visit to the Windy City. It was a trip that saw me arrive in a snowstorm and have a close encounter of the very real kind.
Walking down Michigan Avenue (I confess I am prone to propping up the retail market when I go stateside) an enormous slab of ice (which of course over the years has taken on the size of a small country) landed no more than six feet (which of course over the years has moved closer to six inches) behind me. A mild anxiety follows me whenever I now walk the streets of Chicago. Anxiety coupled with an extremely sore neck!
So here I am again. The vibe in the city, much like the temperature, feels cooler than San Francisco. No significant, booming tech cluster here of course (although latest tech phenomenon Groupon was founded in the city). This is ‘The Second City’ – a city with a rich industrial past; a city that has evolved into a worldwide centre of commerce on the back of the American century. It is an evolution that has led the Chicago area, when assessed alongside other metropolitan areas, to have the 4th largest GDP in the world and placed the City 9th on the UBS list of world’s richest cities. Such riches have derived from the city being a significant corporate hub. The City plays host to 12 Fortune Global 500 Companies and 17 Financial Times 500 companies. Names such as McDonalds, Kraft, Sears, and Abbott Laboratories all call Chicago home.
Interestingly, given the mobility theme that has been so prevalent in my musings to date, the city also has a strong history of becoming a new home to many such household names. A decade ago the City beat off competition from Dallas / Ft. Worth and Denver to secure the relocation of Boeing’s headquarters from Seattle. More recently it secured the combined headquarters of merged airlines United and Continental. Of course this renewed corporate mobility is not a one-way street. Just a fortnight before my trip commenced, Aon Corp, announced that it was moving its global headquarters from Chicago to London. The reality may be that only about 20 jobs are actually relocating across the pond but the perception is often all pervasive. As corporate mobility continues to gather momentum, recent track record – no matter what the true scale or operational significance – can be key in enhancing a city’s competitive advantage.
In talking to clients and colleagues during my stay here, I sense that there is a greater connection with, and concern about, the Eurozone crisis and how it may play-out than I witnessed on the west coast. It is perhaps simply a function of the broader range of sectors from which these clients are drawn. The conversations out west essentially cast the Eurozone crisis in the large shadow of a burgeoning tech sector, strong growth pressures and rising corporate profitability. Here perhaps the risks feel more real; the potential outcomes more keenly felt. One client I was talking to, for example, has a significant HQ presence in Italy. For him the issue is all too real and demands constant monitoring and strategising to cover all eventualities. As in San Francisco, I told it as I see it. We all know that the situation could shift rapidly as the tightrope continues to be negotiated, but my over-riding impression here in Chicago is that both concern and caution is much more prevalent in the corporate mind-set.
* For those of you wondering if I have finally given up on the song-title as blog title crusade, I suggest that you check out the track listing of Chicago’s 1969 album ‘The Chicago Transit Authority’. See what I did there! There’s life in this yet. No, really there is!