Bill Wirtz: Chicago has Lost a Titan

wirtz1.jpgIn many ways Bill Wirtz was a big man. Physically he was tall, thick, and muscular. Even his ear lobes were thick– I don’t know why but that is something I always noticed.

However, Bill filled a room with his stature and force of personality more than his physical presence. Like many titans of industry he got his start in family businesses but Bill was no rich kid slacker. He grew the businesses he took over. He was a traditional business man from an age that barely exists anymore. He was honorable, commanding and strong willed. He knew what he wanted and would push his point but he would listen if you made sense and had the fortitude to push back.

Once you had his trust he was extremely loyal but could be unforgiving to those without integrity. He could get angry but more often he was generous. I have witnessed him share his disappointment with the performance of an executive working in one of his businesses and then turn around and give that person another chance–and a raise.

Bill told great stories. Due in large part to his interesting life and experiences. The Wirtz’s were into many businesses including sports, (best known for owning the Blackhawks and the old Chicago Stadium and part ownership of the United Center), liquor distribution, banking, real estate, insurance and more. These enterprises brought him in contact with well known people in entertainment, sports, business, law and government. Bill had a fantastic memory and an entertaining style of story telling.  

Though he knew many famous and important people he also seemed to know most all of his employees at every level. He was proud of the people who started at an entry level job in one of his businesses, often with no college degree who through hard work, brains and savvy would rise to middle or even senior management levels. These people he had great respect for. The Wirtz businesses provided opportunities to people you cannot find in big impersonal corporations. It was all personal to Bill.

I had the honor of working with Bill as a relatively young professional consulting to a public company’s board committee of which he was chair. At first I was in awe of this man so well known in Chicago but Bill quickly put me at ease and treated me with respect. Not all people with his credentials, and many with less, will not treat you with respect. Bill did. He later used me to advise him on some of his businesses. Through these activities I met his sons Peter and Rocky.

Chicagoans that did not know him often complained about how he ran the Blackhawks, the most public of his ventures. He was mistakenly called cheap and was blamed for several stars leaving for bigger paychecks elsewhere. If you had the chance to talk with Bill you would know two things about his Hawks. First, he loved the team and wanted a successful franchise more than any fan on the street. Second,  Bill was a business man first and a sports fan second. He understood that money had to be made in order for the team and the sport to endure. Bill did a lot for professional hockey. This Chicago Tribune article describes this aspect of Bill better than I can.

I will miss working lunches in the Sonia Henning room of the United Center and listening to Bill tell stories.  I will miss Bill Wirtz.

About 48facets
What you read is what you get.

One Response to Bill Wirtz: Chicago has Lost a Titan

  1. Frank says:

    Wow, that is a real loss. I didn’t know you knew him…that’s really cool. He sounds like a great guy. As a young Blackhawks fan back in the day of Bobby Hull and Stan Makita, I thought Mr. Wirtz was “The Man.” Glad to hear he was.

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