The Windy City. The City of Big Shoulders. That Toddlin' Town. Whatever you call it, it's best known to me as my hometown. Growing up in America's second city (which it still was back then; LA has now taken that title), I didn't realise that so many things I encountered on a daily basis would be such a major part of my world today. Family and family values are important in the midwest, and that is reflected in the fact that so many iconic brands are still owned by Chicago families.
I recently did a little experiment to try to see how many of my Chicago memories involved a family-owned product. Aside from making me realise that I need to start doing some mind-improvement games to offset the imminent approach of old age, it was a fun exercise that made me really proud to be a Chicagoan. Whether it was eating Vienna Beef hotdogs fresh off my family's Weber barbecue; walking into town to buy a pint of Oberweis ice cream; taking a Wendella Sightseeing Cruise on the Chicago River for my best friend's 12th birthday; walking to work and smelling the chocolate being made at Blommer's; watching the Chicago Bears and Chicago Cubs lose miserably year after year; selling World's Finest Chocolate bars to raise money for my swim team; learning to make paper chains from Wrigley's gum wrappers at summer camp; or eating Eli's cheesecake every Christmas – family business was a part of my everyday life in Chicago.
But one of my fondest memories is spending every single summer day at my town's swim club, owned by a local family. Unless it was raining, every day at 1pm for about 10 years I got on my bicycle and rode the half-mile to the pool to meet my friends. There was no formal plan – you just showed up and five or 10 friends were already there, ready to dive in when one of the lifeguards yelled "Bombs away!" over the loudspeaker. We stayed until 5.30pm, dragging our tired, sunburnt bodies out of the pool when Adult Swim started. Everyone then got back on their bikes and stopped at the corner shop to buy sweets (we needed a quick burst of energy for the uphill ride home) – and inevitably bought Lemonheads, made by family-owned Ferrara Pan Candy Company. I can still taste the sugary sweetness combined with the underlying sourness that sent shooting pains up the sides of my jaw.
This issue of Families in Business takes a look at two other famous American brands based in Chicago, and led by two very powerful and successful women. Linda Johnson Rice is the second-generation leader at Johnson Publishing Company, publisher of iconic African-American magazines Ebony and Jet. Her father, John H Johnson, was a pioneer for Black Americans, and Linda is now taking his dream to the next level, by expanding the company well beyond its bindings.
Christie Hefner has been in charge of Playboy Enterprises for the past 30 years. While her father, Hugh Hefner, founded Playboy magazine, it has been Christie who has developed the company into an international, multi-media entertainment company, raising that famous rabbit to new heights.
I hope you enjoy reading this issue as much as I enjoyed putting it together, though it has made me a bit homesick. I must put in a call to my parents to send me a care package. Lemonheads are first on the list!