The CEO of a major health system in Illinois. A soon-to-be former secretary of commerce. An Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce executive on a mission to diversify the city’s tech scene. Each will take on new challenges in 2017 that make them among the Chicago businesspeople worth watching. Here are 10 local Chicago business leaders who deserve attention in 2017.
Sean Connolly, CEO, Conagra Brands
Among Connolly’s challenges in 2017 will be sprucing up the company’s stable of brands, including older products such as Slim Jim, Healthy Choice and Chef Boyardee. Conagra hopes to position its product line to better appeal to today’s consumers, many of whom are willing to pay more for food and drink they consider to be natural, healthy, sustainably sourced and generally higher in quality. By modernizing ingredients and products, Connolly is hoping his company will be able to sell more food without having to offer discounts. In June, ConAgra moved its headquarters to Chicago from its longtime home in Omaha, Neb. Expect the company and its executives to further settle into the fabric of Chicago’s business community in 2017.
The Bolingbrook-based beauty company’s most recent quarter was the best in its history as a public company. Sales in stores open at least a year grew 16.7 percent. The beauty chain is growing like crazy and recently announced plans to add hundreds more stores than previously targeted. Ulta has mostly been big in suburban markets, but it’s planning to push into urban markets too.
Omar Duque, CEO of the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
Duque is working to diversify Chicago’s tech scene. The Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce CEO recently launched a new incubator at tech hub 1871 aimed at helping Chicago’s Latino population tap into the city’s startup sector. The part-time program will last about 12 weeks and aims to accept 12 early-stage companies whose founders will participate in once-a-week daylong sessions on topics including finance, marketing, technology and funding. Duque’s goal is to expose, educate and begin to get more people from diverse communities employed in the world of technology.
Lee Golub, principal, Golub & Co.
The Chicago-based real estate investor and developer opened five apartment towers in 2016, including the 690-unit Marquee at Block 37 in the Loop, the 397-unit at 1001 South State in the South Loop, the 50-unit Sienna in the Gold Coast neighborhood, Moment at 545 N. McClurg Court and a $90 million, 21-story, 270-unit building known as Vantage Oak Park. In 2017, stay tuned for more developments, including, most notably, Golub’s planned redevelopment with Los-Angeles based CIM Group of the iconic Tribune Tower into mixed-use hotel and retail space and a redevelopment in Oak Brook that will include Michael Jordan’s restaurant set to open in the summer.
Eric Lefkofsky, former CEO, Groupon; current CEO of Tempus
In his quest to cure cancer, Lefkofsky has founded Tempus, a company that uses data and analytics to help doctors customize treatment for cancer patients. The startup recently has teamed with the University of Pennsylvania’s Abramson Cancer Center, Rush University, Northwestern’s Lurie Cancer Center, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network and the University of Michigan. In 2017, Lefkofsky plans to continue connecting with physicians and hospitals to give them access to Tempus’ tools. A spokesperson said new partnerships will be announced, but declined to be more specific.
Brian Nienhaus, recently named president and CEO of We Are Unlimited, a new Omnicom agency set up to market McDonald’s
It’ll be interesting to see what the former senior vice president at advertising firm BBDO and his team of roughly 200 do to support the fast-food giant’s efforts to bring in more customers and modernize its marketing campaign. In 2016, Omnicom, which owns DDB and BBDO, won a monthslong competition to control McDonald’s nearly $1 billion advertising business. The global advertising firm then tapped Nienhaus, formerly of BBDO, to head the new agency it created to market McDonald’s.
Penny Pritzker, businesswoman, soon-to-be former secretary of commerce
Pritzker, a Chicago native, will wind down her post at the Commerce Department in January along with the rest of the Obama administration. She’s planning to take some time off before returning to Chicago to re-enter the private sector. There’s a lot of speculation about what she’ll do next. At least for now, Pritzker is keeping those details to herself.
Irene Rosenfeld, CEO, Mondelez International
The Deerfield-based snack and confectionary manufacturer tried — and failed — to acquire The Hershey Co. in 2016. What’s next for the company behind brands like Oreos and Chips Ahoy? Some say Mondelez itself is an acquisition target. And with President-Elect Donald Trump’s promises to clamp down on U.S. trade policy, where will Rosenfeld lead Mondelez in 2017, especially since the global firm has no qualms about moving some operations to other countries and selling products back into the U.S.?
Jim Skogsbergh, CEO of Advocate Health Care
If Advocate Health Care succeeds in pulling off a proposed merger with NorthShore University HealthSystem, Skogsbergh will spend 2017 integrating the two operations. As co-CEO of the combined entity — a title he and Mark Neaman, CEO of NorthShore, would share for a time — Skogsbergh maintains that the merger will benefit consumers by lowering costs while maintaining high-quality care. The merger has been tied up in the courts, but a ruling on whether it should be allowed to move forward is expected in early 2017. The merger would create the 11th largest health system in the country.
Pallavi Verma, senior managing director for the Midwest, Accenture
In 2017, expect Verma to focus on bringing innovation to clients, attracting top talent and strengthening the company’s impact in its local communities, including the major cities of Chicago, Cleveland, Minneapolis and Detroit. Verma was promoted to her current role in December. Based in Chicago, she will lead Accenture’s business in 12 states: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin.