Northern Trust’s CEO & Chairman both share a passion for art and making it accessible to the community.
Since opening its doors in 1889, Northern Trust has had a strong connection to the arts. The bank’s founders, the Smith family, were not only avid art collectors but fervent supporters of art and its creators. Support of the arts has steadily remained over the last 128 years said Rick Waddell, chairman of Northern Trust.
“The DNA of our commitment to the arts came from the Smith family,” he said. “We’ve maintained that interest and support over the years not just because many art organizations are our clients, but because we truly want those organizations to be successful.”
"Our objective is to be the most trusted financial partner for our clients. So anything that relates to wealth, which includes art, we want to provide the service, knowledge and expertise to them."
Chief Executive Officer, Northern Trust
Like his predecessors, Waddell — who served as CEO from January 2008 through December 2017 — is also an arts enthusiast. During his time as an undergraduate student at Dartmouth College, it was a required art history class that sparked his interest.
“I learned about Greek and European art,” he said. “I really enjoyed it, and it provided a strong foundation and started my appreciation for art.”
That appreciation only grew stronger upon marrying his wife, Cate. As young newlyweds fresh out of college, the Waddells began collecting art to decorate their first apartment together. With their limited budget, they purchased mostly posters from the Art Institute of Chicago and a few small paintings from lesser-known local artists. But as their careers and family grew, so did their art collection, which now includes various oil paintings, watercolors and photography. One of his favorite pieces is a photograph of Niagara Falls by world-renowned photographer Annie Leibovitz. The photograph’s subject is not only where the Waddells visit several times a year, but it is also where the young couple went on one of their first dates.
“My wife and I have certain galleries and artists we like, but we want art that we can connect to,” he said. “We’re always looking for pieces that say something to us and who we are as a family.”
Waddell’s appreciation for art deepened in 2003 when the Art Institute of Chicago asked him to join its board as a trustee.
“Being on the board is not just about approving art acquisitions or going to openings, it’s about strategizing, planning and budgeting,” he said. “I’m not there as an art collector but as someone who realizes the tremendous value of the Art Institute and who wants to make sure it’s around for another 100 years.”
Waddell is not the only senior Northern Trust member to serve on the board of a major Chicago art institution. Mike O’Grady, CEO and president of Northern Trust, has served on the board of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (MCA) since 2011.
While traveling and when time permits, O’Grady enjoys visiting local museums and galleries. Favorites include: the Tate museum in London, the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, the Musée Picasso in Antibes, and the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Closer to home, O’Grady and his wife, Claire, visited Marfa, Texas — a small city in west Texas that has become an American arts destination — and were impressed by minimalist artist Donald Judd’s large-scale art installations in the town.
“Seeing something as simple as 100 metal boxes arranged in multiple warehouses was incredible and very different from what I was once drawn to,” he said.
Though he still appreciates traditional paintings and sculpture, his interest in contemporary art — such as that in Marfa — was piqued upon accepting his position on the board of the MCA.
“I thought it would be an interesting opportunity because of my interest in art, but it’s been even more fulfilling than I thought it would be,” he said. “They are as passionate about their business as I am about ours, and I enjoy being a part of their mission and vision.”
That passion for art is often found in Northern Trust clients, who from time to time seek financial advice related to significant works.
“Our objective is to be the most trusted financial partner for our clients,” he said. “So anything that relates to wealth, which includes art, we want to provide that service, knowledge and expertise to them.”
Northern Trust’s involvement in the community is not limited to the arts, nor does it only involve our top executives. All employees are offered two paid days off for volunteer activities with approved nonprofits, including arts organizations.
“Our strategy has always been to give back and make sure the community is well supported,” Waddell said. “We want to make sure that where we live and work and where our clients live and work are all thriving communities.”