Established in 1910, the Executives’ Club of Chicago has witnessed this Midwest city’s rise as a magnet for global businesses.
For over a century, Exec Club has worked to transform Chicago into the global economic center it is today, while challenging the next generation of leaders to redefine the business world of tomorrow.
Today, members acknowledge Exec Club as one of America’s top business forums where passionate leaders come together to connect, learn, and grow. It is the nexus of Chicago’s business community.
In its early years, the Executives’ Club of Chicago’s core members discussed amongst themselves the affairs of the day and the business impact. In sharing their experiences, they sought ways to learn from one another and work with each other on the business front.
Perhaps they discussed new ventures that could benefit from the success of Chicago’s retail companies. Or maybe they were inspiring by the daring transatlantic flights of Amelia Earhart. Women were regularly invited to attend Executives’ Club of Chicago events at the Hotel Sherman, the current site of the Thompson Center and Google Chicago headquarters, and the premier location for Exec Club programming.
Harold O. McLain, President of Railways Ice Co, became President of the Executives’ Club of Chicago in June 1940 and brought with him a sense of openness about the future. It was during his two-year term that the country adjusted to another war and the Executives’ Club of Chicago’s programming became a platform for conversations surrounding it.
While more politicians, journalists, and military leaders would be added to its slate of active leaders and business supporters, the Executives’ Club of Chicago had already become a campaign stop for politicos like Everett M. Dirksen, Herbert Hoover, John F Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Harry Truman.
The Executives’ Club of Chicago marked their 50-year milestone with a Golden Anniversary meeting on March 10, 1961, at the Hotel Sherman. Otto Kerner Jr., the new governor of Illinois at the time was the day’s featured speaker and Mayor Richard J. Daley, served as official cutter of the anniversary cake.
The Exec Club also hosted Gerald Ford for the first time where he discussed the value of the two-party system and starting his role as House Minority Leader. Richard Nixon returned to the Exec Club twice and is the only sitting US President to have spoken at the Exec Club.
When Jane Byrne took over the Mayor’s office from Michael Bilandic in 1979, one of her first stops as the city’s first female mayor was to the Executives’ Club of Chicago. After all, the Executives’ Club of Chicago’s long and harmonious relationship with Richard J. Daley had fortified its role in fostering cooperation between city government and the business community. The Exec Club also welcomed national politicians like George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole.
This time period also saw the creation of the International Executive Of The Year award which was designed to honor exemplary leadership and significant contributions to the individual’s company and to the global business community. Recipients during this decade included Bill Gates, Michael Eisner, and more.
On the cusp of a new century, the Executives’ Club of Chicago re-emerged as a critical cog in the evolving business landscape.
Looking to build a stronger future, the Executives’ Club of Chicago found another important focus: developing the potential of young leaders via the Leadership Circle. Through its own advisory board, committees, group mentorship and quarterly leadership development programs, the Leadership Circle helps grow Chicago’s talent into strong, committed messengers and leaders.
In 2011, the Executives’ Club of Chicago celebrated its 100th birthday with four centennial summits, which included nearly 100 national and international speakers. Christine Lagarde and Condoleeza Rice were some of the speakers invited during this historic year.
Mary Dillon, Larry Ellison, Melinda Gates, Muhtar Kent, Dara Khosrowshahi, Michelle Obama, Irene Rosenfeld, Charles Schwab, Diane von Furstenberg, Janet Yellen, and Sam Zell and were some of the other inspiring leaders that come to share their wisdom and experience with the Executives’ Club of Chicago
At the beginning of 2020, COVID-19 forced the world to pivot and change. The Executives’ Club of Chicago thrived in the world of virtual programming and remains committed to its mission of bringing together Chicago’s “best in class” executives with the most influential global leaders to inspire new ideas and encourage growth right here in Chicago.
The Exec Club rebranded, launched a new website, and created a podcast, The Executives’ Exchange. The podcast showcases Chicago CEO’s, highlights their career journey, and their devotion to the Chicago business landscape. Some of the first guests on the podcast include Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, Jahmal Cole, Amanda Lannert, and Tom Ricketts.
The Exec Club curated more programs to ensure that members had an opportunity to build and maintain relationships with fellow members via digital platforms, hybrid events and the eventual return of in-person programming. Notable speakers that came to the Exec Club during this period were Jose Andres, Steve Case, Kenneth C. Frazier, Steven Galanis, Marillyn Hewson, Mellody Hobson, Arianna Huffington, Eric Lefkofsky, Sheryl Sandberg, and Elaine Wynn.
It’s not just a membership, it’s an opportunity.