Vision Shaping the Region
Photo by Brian Ambs
John F. Barrett, Western & Southern’s chairman, president and CEO, could look back on a long list of accomplishments, but he chooses to look forward and is excited about the future of his hometown.
“We have such a unique city,” he says. “A very diversified group of businesses in a beautiful, convenient, affordable and historically rich setting, which all combine into a first-class package that is rich in the finer qualities of life.”
Growing up in Walnut Hills and Hyde Park, Barrett has degrees from St. Xavier High School and the University of Cincinnati.
“My education was as good as it gets,” smiles Barrett. “St. X trained us to be ‘men for others,’ and at UC’s business school I learned the basics necessary for a real career in business. I also made lifelong friendships and took full advantage of all of the experiences from both schools. After graduating UC, I felt prepared to enter the workplace.”
Although Barrett first found success in his 16 years in New York City, he jumped at the chance to move back to Cincinnati.
“I enjoyed the fabulous experience I got in New York, but I was ready to come home,” he says. “But when I returned some 30 years ago, downtown had lost its mojo. I had the desire and vision to work on turning it around and, fortunately through the hard work of our team and many other like-minded people, we have rekindled people’s interest and investment in downtown Cincinnati.”
Western & Southern was the first large corporation to develop in Over-the-Rhine – 28 years ago. Today, the company owns and manages more than $68 billion in assets.
“We still have a considerable investment there, but we have redeployed much of our real estate investment money into the southeast quadrant of downtown,” says Barrett. “We built the Great American Tower at Queen City Square, three hotels and several restaurants.
“Our feeling was once we got others involved in Over-the-Rhine, we could focus on the job creation part of the equation in the central business district.”
Barrett sees Cincinnati as a great home for businesses.
“Businesses will continue to relocate here as long as we continue to do what we have been doing,” he says. “Cincinnati-based businesses enjoy the ideal place to be headquartered as we have well-educated people who want to live here. Our rents are low, commutes are short and housing is reasonably priced compared to other cities.
“We have nine – and I believe soon to be 10 – Fortune 500 headquarters here and within 100 miles of downtown there are approximately 10,000 companies that do between $10 million and $50 million in sales. It is truly an incredible market.”
When he moved back, Barrett and his team had two goals: make Cincinnati desirable for people to relocate and for those already here to stay.
“We wanted to attract our children back home after college or a first job,” says Barrett. “But when I stated this as a goal back then, many people said ‘You’re dreaming.’ They were right. But so were we. I think we’ve done a pretty good job so far. I am proud of the role our company has quietly played in our city’s renaissance.”
As long as Cincinnati stays its current course, Barrett predicts further success.
“Much of the business world is experiencing disruption due to new technologies which makes it hard to make accurate predictions,” he says. “However, if we stay on the ball as a community, we should be able to adjust appropriately by anticipating future needs and then invest in them before everyone else does.”
Cincinnati’s expanding medical research and clinical practices are part of that equation.
“I see a huge amount of new investment occurring on Pill Hill (the medical complex near UC),” says Barrett. “It has already started. The newly renovated area around the MLK (Martin Luther King) interchange will provide the ideal place for startups associated with medical research. What an exciting growth opportunity.
“We have a fabulous city. Let’s not blow it with huge investments with negligible returns. Let’s make sensible investments for our future that the next generation will thank us for.”
Western & Southern is located at 400 Broadway, Cincinnati, OH 45202. For more information, call 866.832.7719 or visit www.westernsouthern.com.