insight magazine

Get in on the Business Club Scene

Business club culture is alive and well in Chicago. And an increasing number of young pros are making the most of the professional and social one-on-one connections it offers. By Clare Fitzgerald | Spring 2016

business clubs

In this digital age, “Like” and “Share” buttons bring us information and connections with the click of a mouse, expanding our virtual networks in leaps and bounds. We tap away at keyboards and touchscreens to communicate with everyone, from clients and colleagues to family and friends. But the strength of a handshake and a meaningful face-to-face
conversation hasn’t been lost on us—at least not yet.

In Chicago in particular, bricks-and-mortar business clubs are thriving. Why? Because they offer a tangible place for workforce newbies and elite executives alike to rub elbows, take part in tailored programming, find mentors and mentees, and access exclusive facilities—all designed to give careers and
networks a major boost.

Here are just four of the many clubs enhancing Chicago’s business community right now.

Chicago Council on Global Affairs

Interested in international affairs? There’s a club for that.

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is a membership-based think tank serving as an independent, nonpartisan influencer of public discourse on critical global issues, such as agriculture, economics, energy, immigration and security. According to Tony Mitchell, vice president of communications, the organization is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders. “We bring information, ideas and people together,” he explains. “We educate and develop the next generation of global thought leaders.”

The Council, which dates back to 1922, hosts nearly 200 programs a year, and features speakers and thought leaders from all industry sectors and corners of the globe. “Our members gain the opportunity to hear and ask questions of world leaders, policymakers, business leaders, and national and international experts,” says Mitchell. Recent speakers have included former Senior Advisor to President Obama David Axelrod, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and former CIA Director Michael Hayden. Topics covered include everything from China’s foreign policy, the business of drug cartels and the migration crisis in Europe, to the health of the next generation, election funding and emerging markets. Private receptions, dinners, briefings and roundtable discussions also offer personal, in-depth experiences in an intimate setting.

What’s more, Crain’s Chicago Business recently listed the organization as “one of the best business clubs for ambitious Millennials.” And indeed, the Council’s programming for up-and-comers strives to attract and actively develop the next generation of thought leaders. For example, the Council operates a two-year emerging leaders program for mid- to upper-level executives who wish to gain exposure to a wide range of policy issues. For a program focused on national security issues, for instance, the group traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with government agencies and Congressional representatives.
With over 4,500 individual members and nearly 2,500 young professional members, Mitchell says the Council “generates a lot of interest and provides like-minded young people with a chance to talk about what’s happening on the international scene.”

Overall, the Council attracts a wide range of people from a wide range of industries and sectors—all of whom care about, and want to exchange ideas concerning, what’s going on around the world.

“You get access to ideas and influencers that you wouldn’t be able to get otherwise,” says Mitchell.

How to Join: Located in the heart of the Loop, the Council’s annual memberships start as low as $40 for students and $100 for individuals, and can stretch into the thousands for corporate sponsors. Find out more.

Professional Women’s Club of Chicago

Founded in 1998 by just nine women, the Professional Women's Club of Chicago (PWCC) has grown into a 350-plus force of female corporate executives, junior and senior professionals, business owners, entrepreneurs, self-employed professionals, artists and other professionals engaged in business- and community-facing roles.

What makes PWCC so valuable to this group? For starters, it prides itself on helping members form supportive and inspiring friendships and professional contacts as they build their careers and pursue personal goals. Women from all professional walks of life share their knowledge, experiences and resources to help their peers and potential successors overcome barriers, reach their potential, and advance in business and in life.

“Our monthly facilitated luncheons in particular offer a unique way to network,” says Holly Kleiman, vice president of both PWCC and USI Insurance Services LLC. Attendees are given a two-minute opportunity to introduce themselves—think of it as your elevator pitch. “The intention is for members and guests to walk away from events with numerous contacts that often lead to LinkedIn invitations, job offers, their next potential referral or sale, and lasting friendships,” she says.

In case the words “elevator pitch” just raised your blood pressure, Kleiman is quick to point out that new members and guests are first introduced to board and committee members to provide them “with a genuine connection with someone before walking into an event. Nothing is more intimidating than walking into a room full of 150 people that you don’t know,” she admits.

PWCC isn’t solely about gathering socially, however; there’s educational value here as well. The organization’s roster of speakers—which includes prominent, high-level female politicians, authors, CEOs and entrepreneurs—attests to that. Notable names include Chicago fashion designer Maria Pinto, Senior Advisor to President Obama Valerie Jarrett and, coming up this year, City of Chicago Chief Sustainability Officer Karen Weigert, former US Ambassador to the Netherlands Fay Hartog-Levin and Johnson Publishing Company Chairman Linda Johnson Rice.

In the same vein, and with an eye to the future, PWCC offers an
eight-month mentoring program that matches mentors with mentees for the purpose of sharing personal experiences and providing guidance on topics such as promotions, office politics, career options, preparing for interviews, changing careers, setting and achieving goals, and identifying strengths and areas for improvement.

“PWCC is an organization of members who understand the power of relationships,” says Kleiman. “We’re unique in that we’re very welcoming and focused on promoting women to the next level. Our members get better at promoting themselves and their businesses, and they get more comfortable in networking.”

How to Join: Located in downtown Chicago, PWCC’s annual membership dues of $185 or $485 offer different levels of access. Find out more.

The Metropolitan Club

In 1974, Arthur M. Wood, former Sears Roebuck & Co board chairman, championed the development of the Sears Tower along with its famed Metropolitan Club. While the Sears Tower now goes by the name Willis Tower, The Metropolitan Club, located on the 66th and 67th floors, still stands as one of Chicago’s finest business clubs, describing itself as the place to “meet Chicago’s ‘who’s who,’” and “the gathering point for elevating personal and professional success.”

In addition to gaining access to conference rooms and other private spaces to host events, entertain guests and rub elbows with Chicago’s top executives, the club also offers its members concierge, administrative, business and meeting planning services, amongst other perks. And because The Metropolitan Club is part of ClubCorp, the Dallas-based operator of more than 300 golf, country, business, sports and alumni clubs across the country, members also enjoy access to its family of clubs in the Chicago area and beyond.

According to John Benline, The Metropolitan Club’s member relations director, the Club adds value by partnering with hotels, spas, rental car companies, entertainment venues and more to offer special benefits to members. It also operates reciprocal memberships with other local and national private clubs, allowing members access to golf and dining privileges and invitation-only events at other venues.

Access to facilities and perks around town and across the country are only part of the allure. The Metropolitan Club also hosts 15 to 24 educational and social programs each month, which encourage professional and social networking, as well as participation in a variety of special events and committees. “Our programs, which can range from wine tastings and cooking classes to speed networking and business development seminars, are designed to address all aspects of business professionals’ lives,” says Benline.

Similar to other business clubs, The Metropolitan Club prides itself on offering a friendly environment in which to build the type of diverse, high-quality relationships that can help you advance professionally. “Our members are extremely outgoing. They like to meet people,” says Benline. “Social media is great for instant connections, but there’s something about face-to-face connecting that’s still extremely valuable and builds stronger connections. Networks grow more quickly and go beyond the superficial.”

How to Join:
The Metropolitan Club offers two membership levels, with rates for young professionals and seasoned pros that range from $196 to $316 per month. Prospective members can stop by or schedule a tour by calling 312.876.3200. Find out more.


Hispanic Alliance for Career Enhancement   

A national nonprofit dedicated to the employment, development, advancement and advocacy of current and aspiring Latino professionals, the Chicago-based Hispanic Alliance for Career Enhancement (HACE) has emerged as an authority on all things career for this vibrant, yet often underrepresented, community. Its membership currently boasts a staggering 42,000 individuals.

HACE focuses its efforts on a variety of programs dedicated to building and engaging the Latino talent pipeline. This starts with providing job-matching services and career resources, like coaching sessions, mock interviews, and action plans for students and professionals striving to reach the next level. On the employer side, HACE connects with organizations with the desire to attract, develop and retain Latino and diverse professionals through recruitment events, job-posting services, talent management programs and recognition as an employer of choice.

HACE then dives deeper with initiatives specifically focused on women, young professionals and students. Its Mujeres de HACE Women’s Leadership Program, for example, strives to empower high-potential Latinas through individualized coaching and assessments, leadership training sessions and mentoring.

“Mujeres de HACE helps Latina professionals understand their individual strengths and cultural identities, along with providing the necessary training to become powerful and visible leaders,” says HACE President Patricia Mota. “We help women better understand their strengths, possible blind spots, and how to best leverage and clearly communicate unique attributes to advance in their careers.”

In similar fashion, HACE’s Leadership Academy addresses Latinos’ unique cultural values and challenges, while using skills development to transform high-potential Latino professionals into high-performing leaders.

In order to keep the leadership pipeline fed, HACE’s Young Professionals Board uses networking and fundraising events to promote leadership and professional development, while its El Futuro program targets the advancement of high school students into the college ranks, with participating students gaining a better understanding of higher education and workplace options. The program also serves as a way for professionals to give back. HACE engages its members and local corporate partners to speak with students and provide them with career exposure though skill-building sessions, site visits, job shadowing, coaching and internship opportunities.

“HACE members understand the responsibility of giving back. They know it’s important to mentor others and pass the baton,” says Mota. “Professionals make up a small percentage of the Latino population, so we want to put them in front of the communities as much as we can so people can envision themselves in professional roles.”

How to Join: HACE has no scheduled membership dues, but some programming does have a cost associated with it. Currently, HACE offers membership levels specifically for high school students, college students and professionals. Find out more

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