The G-8 and NATO summits being held in May in Chicago are expected to draw thousands of protesters, and Christie Hefner had heard that some local CEOs were being told by their senior staff to "get out of town" that week to avoid them.
The warnings were making it "very difficult" for organizers to persuade corporations and executives to become "engaged" in the planning effort, Hefner said while moderating a panel discussion Tuesday at the Executives' Club of Chicago.
There was silence.
Hefner looked at Brad Keywell, the venture capitalist and one of Groupon's largest shareholders.
"Are you looking at me? I'm the young guy here," Keywell said. The audience laughed. "I have no idea how to answer that question," he said.
Patrick Ryan came to Keywell's rescue. "Business creates jobs. … It helps bring families down the road to prosperity," said the former Aon founder and CEO, who shepherded Chicago's failed bid for the 2016 Olympics. Ryan concluded his pep talk with, "I think you really need to focus on not 'Get out of town,' but get that (jobs) message across in every possible way."
The audience in the Fairmont Chicago ballroom applauded.
Lori Healey, executive director of the G-8/NATO Host Committee, said she had not heard of any security consultants advising executives to leave the city.
"To the best of my knowledge, that's not happening," she said.
Thomas Kasza is a former special agent in charge of the Chicago district of the U.S. Secret Service, the federal agency responsible for security at official G-8/NATO events. Kasza now works as a senior vice president at Chicago-based security firm Hillard Heintze and is advising foreign embassies and local consulates on security measures for the overlapping summits May 15-22.
"'Get out of town,' that's not what we subscribe to," Kasza said. "I've not heard security directors say that."
He said all an executive needs is a plan.
"There is security and protection in logistics," he said. "You'd have to be naive to think you're going to be able to stroll anywhere you want, but a plan with some effort will work."
I told Kasza I had heard about one such plan from a source, who oversees public relations at a Fortune 500 company in Chicago but didn't want to be named. The source said it was essential that his CEO attend G-8/NATO events to build relationships with foreign governments.
But he said he planned to advise his CEO to arrive at those events simply dressed and in a cab, rather than a limo or town car. A tuxedo would be waiting for the CEO in his hotel room. His wife would meet him there, also arriving in street clothes. They would get dressed in the room and then walk downstairs for dinner.
"What you just said is one of those plans," Kasza said. "The person who told you that has been through this."
There are really only three large venture capital firms in Chicago: J.B. Pritzker's New World Ventures; Eric Lefkofsky and Brad Keywell's Lightbank; and Apex Venture Partners, led by Lon Chow and Wayne Boulais.
Next year, Nick Rosa's Sandbox Industries will join that list.
Sandbox recently closed the $199 million Blue Cross Blue Shield Venture Fund II, which it manages for BCBS plans that want to invest in health care technology startups, Rosa said.
The firm is raising money for two more funds: A $50 million to $100 million Sandbox Advantage Fund, which will make investments across several fields, and a $100 million agriculture and food technology fund.
The advantage fund will be raised from wealthy families and institutional investors, both of which are typical sources of venture capital. For the food fund, Rosa is raising money from large agribusinesses. Both funds are expected to close next year.
Sandbox also will expand its space into the third floor of its West Loop office.
Paris loves Chicago
A delegation of Chicago business leaders is in Paris this week presenting a draft of an in-depth study on improving the tri-state economy to the prestigious Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
It sounds boring. But the pictures posted on entrepreneur Howard Tullman's blog (tullman.blogspot.com) reveal that the delegation got to meet and hear from Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and take in some stunning architecture.
Tullman, via an email from Paris, said that Renee Derem-Johnson, who was married to Chicagoan George Johnson (of Johnson Products fame) for a short time in the 1990s and a recipient of France's Legion of Honor, has been one of "the key trip helpers," opening "many doors for us with everyone in the city." Tullman described her as "a sorta Auntie Mame character here."
"The Secretary General of the OECD told us that he feels totally surrounded by us — the U.S. President and Secretary of State are from Illinois, and the U.S. Ambassador to France (Charles Rivkin) is from Chicago and went to Francis Parker High School," Tullman wrote.
Tullman is CEO of the Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy, a two-year school for digital media training. The French government has invited the academy's parent company, Tribeca Enterprises, to participate in a feasibility study for the construction of a cultural complex on the Ile Seguin, an island in the Seine River in the Paris suburbs and the site of a shuttered Renault factory. (The buildings were torn down in 2005.)
Tullman said the Ile Seguin project was "the second reason" he was going to Paris.
Melissa Harris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 312-222-4582. Twitter @chiconfidential