Why Ken Griffin's departure matters for – Chicago Tribune


Ken Griffin, from left, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and police Superintendent Eddie Johnson visit a Strategic Decision center in Chicago in 2018. (Nancy Stone / Chicago Tribune)
It should give our city more than a little pause as one of its most prominent residents and largest benefactors, Citadel CEO Ken Griffin, announced this week that the Chicago firm’s corporate headquarters will be moving to Miami. This marks the end of a more than three-decade period during which Griffin and Citadel, his industry-leading global financial services enterprise, have called Illinois home.
With their upcoming relocations this year, Citadel and Citadel Securities will join a growing list of companies that have pulled up stakes and moved their headquarters to cities and states that will better enable them to meet their strategic objectives. Earlier this month, Caterpillar announced that it will be moving its global headquarters from Deerfield to Irving, Texas, to attract new talent and customers. Likewise, Boeing will follow suit as it relocates its Chicago headquarters to Arlington, Virginia, citing similar reasons.
It can be argued that many of the reasons for these relocations are beyond the control of their communities. Citadel’s decision, however, was hardly unforeseen or unavoidable; rather, it was a story of “change course” or else. Griffin, a Florida native who founded Citadel in Chicago after graduating from Harvard University, methodically grew his hedge fund to investment prominence and later established Citadel Securities, which is now one of the world’s largest market-makers.
Over the past 30 years, Griffin has become one of Chicago’s most significant employers and civic leaders. But during a speech at the Economic Club of Chicago in 2013, Griffin vehemently criticized Illinois’ political failures that resulted in broken schools, fiscal fragility, rising crime and a declining tax base. And in front of the same group in 2021 — almost a decade later — Griffin foreshadowed a change if these civic problems continued to go unaddressed.
In addition to a public school system that fails to meet the needs of students, Griffin took particular aim at crime: “It’s becoming ever more difficult to have this as our global headquarters, a city which has so much violence.”
So how did we get to this point, where a city can lose one of its hallmark companies and most generous citizens? To be sure, these are not easy problems to solve — there is no magic wand to quickly balance the circumstances of corporate America with the communities in which they live. But when the reasons for a company leaving its roots are topped not by supply chains or access to talent, but issues of basic public well-being such as education and crime, it’s past time for some introspection by a city determined to lead. These problems cannot be solved overnight, but getting on the right course should not be insurmountable, especially for a metropolis with such a storied history of resiliency, grit and the embracing of opportunity.
In recent years, Griffin has become an outspoken figure in Illinois, open with his criticism of political leaders, much of which has been played out in the news media. But it has been a relationship founded in genuine concern for people in Illinois and one backed by civic engagement and extraordinary personal philanthropy. As a recent example, since the beginning of the pandemic, over 75,000 students and their families have received free high-speed broadband through Chicago Connected, a program initially convened and funded by Griffin to close the digital divide for Chicago students.
Griffin’s giving has included multimillion-dollar investments to enhance Chicago public safety, to recruit and support high-quality principals in Chicago public schools, to endow the University of Chicago Economics Department, to build a state-of-the-art emergency center at Lurie Children’s Hospital, and to construct urban soccer fields in neighborhoods across the city’s South and West sides. And visitors to any of Chicago’s most iconic amenities, from the Lakefront Trail to its world-renowned museums, all enjoy the benefits of Griffin’s generosity — and will for generations to come.
All told, Griffin has donated roughly $1.5 billion over the years to a variety of institutions and causes, giving well over a third of that total — over $600 million — right here in Chicago.
Suffice to say, Citadel’s move will be another big setback for Chicago. Beyond the loss of good, high-paying jobs, significant tax revenue and the broad economic impact of the company, there is not another person who has had as large an impact on the city’s cultural and civic vitality — and on Chicagoans’ quality of life — as Griffin over the last 30 years.
So let this be a cautionary tale, not just for Chicago, but for all cities that are home to organizations that support their communities, employ their people and contribute to their tax revenue: We cannot take our corporate residents for granted. Divergence of opinions is healthy, preventing us from bending to extremes and helping plot a more direct course to better serve our diverse citizens. Because whether you agree with his politics or his vision for our city, there is one thing that we can all agree on: Chicago will miss the enduring impact of Ken Griffin and Citadel.
John Canning is the founder and chairman of Madison Dearborn Partners.
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Copyright © 2021, Chicago Tribune
Copyright © 2021, Chicago Tribune