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Vistria Group places its bets on Chicago, a hub for cutting-edge ideas

Commentary By The Vistria Group’s Kip Kirkpatrick & Martin Nesbitt for Crain’s Forum on Rebranding Chicago in Crain’s Chicago Business

Like many Chicagoans, we bonded over the Bulls. We agreed that the best Bulls moment was game 5 of the 1989 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. It wasn’t just the Cavaliers Michael Jordan was looking to prove something to that night, but a crew of Chicago sports writers who didn’t believe the Bulls could win. In a historic game, Jordan went on to prove the naysayers wrong.

The City of Chicago has many critics, but like Jordan, we know Chicago is a winner. When we founded The Vistria Group a little over a decade ago, we had a shared vision about the opportunity to build a new kind of investment firm with a culture and commitment to delivering both financial returns and societal impact. We thought Chicago would serve as a good home for our firm and never considered locating our headquarters anywhere else. 

Why? Chicago is birthplace to many of the world’s noteworthy innovations – from vacuum cleaners to mobile phones and from modern high-rise architecture to, of course, house music. So, what would be a better place to pursue our own quest to define the future of capitalism than a city with a history of being at the forefront of innovation?

Without question, what makes Chicago a hub for cutting edge ideas is its people. As business leaders, we value the deep-rooted values of hard work and humility that undergird Chicago, and we know they serve as an essential foundation for building valuable and sustainable businesses. Time and again, we have seen that it’s the human element that ultimately determines failure or success.

Chicago has always been a hub for ambitious college grads, drawing from top-tier academic institutions not only in Chicago but from across the Midwest. Our city continues to attract talented young professionals because of career opportunities, relative affordability, and a thriving cultural scene. To be clear, every big city has its challenges, but very few have Chicago’s strengths. Attracting a diverse group among these emerging leaders has been critical to our journey.

Chicago is also a tight-knit community. When we signed our first lease – we were literally not only betting on ourselves but also that the Chicago business and civic community would support our efforts to invest, create jobs and foster deeper engagement. Our wager paid off. Since then, our firm has expanded in every way that matters, with the view of Millennium Park, Lake Michigan, and our dazzling skyline as our backdrop, we’ve expanded our efforts to help our community not just through our investments but also in the time and resources our team devotes volunteering and engaging in community.

To be clear, we don’t agree on everything. We have a running dispute on Pequod’s vs. Bartoli’s; Cubs vs. White Sox; and Northwestern University’s Kellogg vs. University of Chicago’s Booth.

But one area where there’s no dispute is our shared love for Chicago and all it can offer. We’re growing, right here, in the city we love. We see a new generation of civic leaders emerging to tackle Chicago’s challenges and build a stronger future together. It’s the tough times that expose the true believers – and like Jordan, we’ll prove the naysayers wrong.

Kip Kirkpatrick and Martin Nesbitt are Senior Partners and co-CEOs of The Vistria Group.

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