The Long Journey of Building A Successful Company and Bettering Our City
Since selling its first life insurance policy on May 7, 1888, Western & Southern Financial Group has grown to a Fortune 500 company that owns nearly $48 billion and manages an additional $27 billion in assets. This staple Cincinnati company not only continues to grow, but is sharing its success with the city.
“The company is 10 times as big as the company I joined and its net worth is 20 times larger,” says Western & Southern Chairman, President and CEO John Barrett. “Our goal is to reach the $100 billion mark of assets owned and under our management by year end 2020.” Even though a lot has changed since the company first opened its doors, Western & Southern stays true to its original objective while adapting to current business climates.
“In 1888, we were a human institution serving human needs and that’s still the case today,” says Barrett. “We started changing in 1982 from only selling insurance and diversified in order to become a great provider of financial services. What started out as a life insurance company is only about 30 percent of what we do now.” In addition to diversifying, Barrett credits breaking into the Fortune 500 by successfully changing the organization’s culture.
“About 30 years ago we had a very laid-back culture, which worked for the business environment at the time. But we needed to make it a far more exhilarating place to work,” explains Barrett. “We needed to make it faster-paced in order to attract the top talent. We started by revamping our human resource department who then helped re-staff the company. “We wanted smart, hardworking and honest people who showed no ‘AGE’ – arrogance, greed or ego.”
After conquering the daunting task of reinventing the company’s culture, Western & Southern intensified its focus on bettering Cincinnati’s communities.
“Giving back is in our DNA,” says Kim Chiodi, Western & Southern’s senior VP of public relations. “Our customers and our employees are in our community and we recognize that. As a company, we want to create value for our stakeholders – and our community is one of our biggest stakeholders.”
One of Western & Southern’s first acts of community service was sponsoring the Christmas nativity scene at Union Terminal to welcome back the soldiers returning home for the holidays during WWII.
“It has moved to Krohn Conservatory and raises over $28,000 a year for The Salvation Army,” says Barrett. “But the company really ramped up our giving 30 years ago at our 100-year anniversary when we set our sights on developing Over-the-Rhine by putting in Brackett Village Apartments on Walnut Street. It’s still a great place to live today and it was the first sign of how our whole way of doing business started to change.
“Since then, we now sponsor Walk MS, the Thanksgiving Day walk/run that benefits Ronald McDonald House and Ride Cincinnati that supports the UC Barrett Cancer Center. We also sponsor the Western & Southern Open tennis tournament, which was leaving town if we didn’t step in, and the Western & Southern/WEBN Fireworks event, which was at risk of being discontinued. “One of the greatest moments for me was during the Great Recession when we cut the ribbon at Great American Tower. I knew that Cincinnati, the city I grew up in and loved, was in the middle of a renaissance – even during a recession.”
Barrett believes the developments and growth of Cincinnati is far from over and the next part of our city to experience positive changes is the area between the University of Cincinnati (UC) and Over-the-Rhine.
“There are great housing opportunities there and it’s between the two big economic power houses of the region: the hospitals and downtown,” says Barrett. “The area between them is a natural place for people to live, making their commute a matter of minutes. I believe the more attractive we can make our city, the more likely we are to continue to attract the best and brightest people to work here.”
According to Barrett, Cincinnati may need a little bit more than just convenient housing.
“We know we need to develop far more tech talent in order to attract more companies,” says Barrett. “Our area’s biggest shortfall is not doing a better job at training people to work with technology. We also need this talent as we work on earning the National Cancer Institute designation for UC, which will bring a ton of talented people to Cincinnati. It’s a really big deal. “There are lots of good things going on around here. This is the best city in the world to live in and there are a lot of exciting things still to come for Cincinnati. I definitely see Cincinnati’s glass as half full.”
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