Kapos: Chicago banker has a message for White House

SHARE Kapos: Chicago banker has a message for White House

Eric Smith | Provided photo

A Chicago banker has a message for the White House: Study history.

“I applaud President (Donald) Trump for his focus on Chicago violence and agree that significant changes are required, but it’s important to avoid knee-jerk reactions,” says Eric Smith, market president for Fifth Third Bancorp in Chicago. “You have to understand the history of what got us to this point before you can fix something.”

As if to put the bank’s money where its proverbial mouth is, Fifth Third plans to invest $30 billion over five years in the communities it serves — including Chicago, the bank’s second-largest market.

“We need corporate leaders to step up and put together a strategy that’s thoughtful, that addresses the policy issues we need,” Smith says, ticking off education and crime as issues of concern.

Cincinnati-based Fifth Third plans to increase lending, investments and services in low- and moderate-income communities. On Friday, the bank opens its first branch under the plan in southwest suburban Summit.

“It’s very important from our perspective to continue to invest in Chicago in every possible way,” Smith said during an interview in his South Loop office.

He’s a Baltimore native, the son of a school teacher and a cab driver, who earned degrees from Howard University and Harvard Business School. He and his wife, AbbVie executive Kimberly Taylor-Smith, moved to the Chicago area in the 1990s.

Smith worked at Merrill Lynch on deals with BlackBerry and U.S. Cellular before the tech bubble burst. He took a position in New York, but his first day at the office was Sept. 11, 2001.

“It gave me a different perspective on life,” Smith says.

The Smiths, who have two daughters, stayed in Evanston and he pivoted his career into mergers and acquisitions on deals for Kraft, Sara Lee and McDonald’s.

He later moved to J.P. Morgan Chase and worked in investment banking and then as chief financial officer of middle market banking before landing at Fifth Third.

“We have a lot of challenges here in Chicago,” Smith says. “But Chicago is also one of the greatest cities in the world.”

Art Institute’s gala move

The Art Institute of Chicago is shifting how it raises money. No longer will the Woman’s Board be charged with organizing the annual fundraising gala. That job will now be handled by the museum’s board of trustees — the business arm of the cultural institution.

The glitzy gala has for years been held sacrosanct by the Woman’s Board. Some members were taken aback when museum President James Rondeau told them they’d no longer be running the show.

“They want the gala to raise more money, and they think the trustees can do it,” harrumphed one member who asked that she not be identified.

Will trustees now design centerpieces and taste-test menus? Not likely, as there are professional party planners who do that.

Caryn Harris | Sun-Times file photo

Caryn Harris | Sun-Times file photo

A spokeswoman says museum bylaws allow it to “create, oversee and dissolve” groups associated with the Art Institute’s name for fundraising, programming or other activities. In regard to the Woman’s Board, museum leadership is “committed and invested in its long-term relevance and impact.”

To his credit, Rondeau has since spent time discussing his goals with the women volunteers. He wants their board to take a more active role in the museum’s education efforts. That’s a natural fit as many members are passionate about the issue.

“The Woman’s Board will still raise money. They just won’t do the galas,” says Caryn Harris, a Woman’s Board member who also serves as a trustee. “Anytime you have change, people say ‘Wait a minute, that’s not the way it’s always been done.’ But I think people are seeing it as a positive now.”

The change comes as nonprofit women’s boards continue to evolve. They were created at a time when women weren’t part of the workforce. Now that they are, some see the institution as anachronistic.

In this case, the goal is to beef up fundraising. In recent years, the Art Institute gala has raised about $1 million. The museum could see a boost given its trustee ranks include notable names and billionaires Ken Griffin, Eric Lefkofsky and Tom Pritzker.

The event also is moving from annual to every other year. That gives plenty of time for even billionaires to plan creative centerpieces.

Grand news for Roundhouse

The Roundhouse at the DuSable Museum of African American History | Provided photo

The Roundhouse at the DuSable Museum of African American History | Provided photo

The Roundhouse at DuSable Museum of African American History will be home for a grand exhibition by Palais de Tokyo, the Paris-based contemporary art center.

The exhibit is part of EXPO CHICAGO, the contemporary and modern art show being held in September. It’s the first U.S. satellite exhibition of Palais de Tokyo and is expected to draw a big crowd of art lovers and collectors.

The historic Roundhouse was built in 1880 by architect Daniel Burnham and is being restored to its original glory.

The exhibit opens Sept. 12 and runs through Oct. 29, so it can be viewed by attendees of Chicago Architecture Biennial.

Read more Taking Names at shiakapos.com.

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