KAPOS: Chicago CEOs on how 9/11 changed their career paths

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Several Chicago CEOs changed their career paths after the 9/11 attack. | AP file photo

“It was a smack in the face,” said Maria Kim, who decided to leave the boutique insurance firm that had employed her since college and instead work in nonprofits after terrorists flew airplanes into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

Maria Kim

Maria Kim

“When something like that happens, you can’t help but take stock of what you’re doing. You only have one walk around the sun. It frames how you look at your life,” said Kim, now president and CEO of Cara Chicago, which helps people get out of homelessness and poverty.

Kim is among Chicago executives who changed their career paths after 9/11.

Kim started writing grants for Christopher House, an education center for low-income families, before joining Cara in 2005.

Her family worried about finances, wondering “‘Why would you want to leave what some might consider a fancy job to work with folks affected by poverty?'”

But the graduate of Glenbrook South High School, University of Wisconsin at Madison and University of Chicago Booth School of Business never looked back.

“I still think about the fragility of days,” she told me. “It’s not a guarantee what’s going to happen tomorrow.”

Keating Crown

Keating Crown

Keating Crown was on the 78th floor of the World Trade Center’s south tower when it was hit by the second plane. More than 200 people were on the floor. He was among a dozen who survived.

A grandson of philanthropist Lester Crown, Keating Crown worked for Aon Financial Services Group at the time. After recuperating from leg injuries, he switched careers and stayed put in Chicago. He’s now an executive at Sterling Bay, the development company. And he’s involved in National September 11 Memorial & Museum and Chicago’s elevated park, The 606.

The experience taught him “not to sweat the small stuff.”

Eric Smith

Eric Smith

Eric Smith was starting his first day at a new job in the World Financial Center, adjacent to the World Trade Center, when the first plane hit. “I saw the tail of the plane hanging out. It seemed like an accident,” he recalled. “Then the second plane hit, and we knew.”

He would return to Chicago. His wife, who was expecting their second child, and daughter hadn’t yet moved to New York. And they never did. “The first thing I did was to get life insurance,” he said.

Smith redirected his banking career out of high finance. He’s now CEO of Fifth Third Bank in Chicago. And he threw himself into civic work. “I wanted to live a life that my kids could look back on and see as one of contribution to them and to society at large.”

Irma hits home away from home

Hobe Sound, on the east coast of Florida near Jupiter Island, didn’t suffer a direct hit from Hurricane Irma. But that didn’t ease concerns of business and cvic leaders who have made the affluent community their home away from Chicago.

Chris Reyes

Chris Reyes

“We’re hoping for the best for the people in Florida,” said Chris Reyes, the billionaire co-chairman of Reyes Holdings beer and food distribution company in Rosemont.

Reyes, who recently made Hobe Sound his permanent residence, said his home was buttoned down before the storm. He still has a home in Chicago, where he runs his business and heads the board of Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital.

Trisha Rooney‘s vacation home was locked down before the storm hit. Now the CEO of R4 Services LLC, a records-management company, is bracing for news about the rest of the area. “I’ve grown up going to Jupiter Island and it’s one of my favorite places in the whole world,” she said.

Others with homes in Hobe Sound include civic leader Marshall Field V, who spends much of the year there; McDonald’s Chairman Emeritus Andrew McKenna; William Blair Chairman Emeritus Ned Jannotta; Henry Crown & Co. General Partner Steven Crown and his wife, Nancy; and Magnetar Capital executive Joe Scoby.

Penny Pritzker’s hurricane connection

Penny Pritzker

Penny Pritzker

Penny Pritzker has joined the board of Measure, a startup that uses drones to collect data for other businesses. Measure recently provided aerial coverage for TV stations during Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

This is the first corporate board Pritzker has joined since serving as U.S. commerce secretary.

She’s founder and chairman of PSP Capital. The Chicago investment firm’s subsidiary, PSP Growth, has invested in Measure.

In a release, Pritzker said she sees drones helping “revolutionize” the business world in how it collects and produces data.

Read more Taking Names at shiakapos.com.

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