Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Baker Tilly CEO Admits He Wasn’t “Civically Involved” Enough for Chicago

Man, and I thought Washington was a tough town to break into:

Tim Christen, chairman and CEO of accounting firm Baker Tilly Virchow Krause LLP, moved the company's U.S. headquarters to Chicago from Madison, Wis., five years ago, but when he set out to join one of the city's elite civic clubs, he was rejected.

“This is an ultra-welcoming business community as long as you're willing to participate civically,” Mr. Christen says. “I don't say that with a sneer. It's a good thing. But it's unusual. There's a definite positive peer pressure to participate in civic affairs.”

Wait, Crain's, did you mean to say he moved to Chicago from Madison? Whatever.

Having spent a good chunk of my youth in both Madison and Chicago — and anyone else from that area is welcome to confirm this — the only things the two cities have in common are rough winters and liberal politics (I'd say funny accents too but anyone from the Holy Empire of Packerstan knows we sound nothing like those people from south of the border).

Tim wasn't swayed by Chicago's tough social market, though, and sought a few doors to be opened:

Mr. Christen felt [positive peer pressure] when he met with Eden Martin, of counsel at Chicago law firm Sidley Austin LLP and, at the time, head of the Commercial Club, which is dedicated to civic issues. Greg Case, now CEO of Aon PLC, already had agreed to sponsor him.

“Eden said, 'Greg can submit an application, but you won't be approved. You don't have civic involvement,' “ Mr. Christen recalls. “I thought, 'Wow, that's sort of direct.' I had been involved in Madison, but that didn't count.”

Dude, putting a Paul Soglin bumper sticker on your Ford Escort doesn't count as far as Chicago is concerned. Like the heat in winter, you gotta turn it up a notch.

Eventually, Tim elbowed his way in and now seems more than happy in the Windy City:

“We didn't get any tax breaks. We don't need any tax breaks,” Mr. Christen says from his Michigan Avenue office, which is quiet this day even as his team works with clients to prepare for Tax Day. “You read all the gloom and doom about the finances of Chicago and Illinois in general, and they're true. But this is still the capital of the Midwest, and if you want to have a big business in the central United States, Chicago's the place to be. The business opportunity for us far, far outweighs the civic finance issues.”

What a feel good story about overcoming social obstacles. It just goes to show, it's all who you know, not which NFL team you root for.