The residents, the citizens of this great land, have come to a great and historic consensus that “change,” investing in “the future,” and tough decisions, are all necessary to catapult the economy, and this country, into a prosperous, generationally relevant, age. In fact, the smartest among us have concluded that these general precepts are not only preferred, but necessary, to succeed as a country and as a people. Obvious, if not stridently loud, is this set of preferences and common agreement among hundreds of millions surrounding this march to greatness and optimism in the face of looming downfall. Only the media tries to hold us back. We believe we will prevail.
In spite of our embrace of change and resolve to move forward, we can’t seem to handle the most superficial sort of change imaginable: the change of the name of a building. As ludicrous as this point appears, like the eyes of an insane man upon imagining the apparition of a ghost in the night on All Hallows Eve, no prevarication or malicious intent is behind the declaration of this patently held sentiment among Chicagoans. It is true. Really! There is outrage.
Tens, likely hundreds, of thousands of people have banded together in a fight against the name change of the Sears Tower. In case you have been living in your mother’s basement for the past fortnight, you know that Willis Group Holdings, Ltd. (NYSE: WSH), the London-based global insurance broker, has acquired naming rights from the owners of the Sears Tower. As a result, the world’s third large insurance broker has decided to rename the building—you guessed it—the Willis Tower. So what is the big deal?
Chicago residents and residents of the surrounding counties have cited Macy’s and U.S. Cellular’s renaming of Marshall Fields and Comiskey Park, respectively, as parallels to the Willis takeover. In truth, the takeovers are similar. All of them involve one large corporation acquiring the naming rights of another large corporation. It’s business. It happens every day on a smaller scale. Companies consolidate in order to reduce cost, standardize products, market services and increase market share.
The original names of these “landmarks” holding so much weight is a testament to the corporate dominance of our society over the psychology of average citizens. But on a logical level, if one embraces Marshall Field and Company, then he should embrace Macy’s. By supporting one large, possibly multinational, corporation, one inherently supports the other. Maybe not from an accounting standpoint, but from a corporate cultural standpoint, the overall significance ascribed results in a prolonging and extending of the influence of the corporate titans, some of whom you are for, others you are against, for no particular reason. By then purporting to be noble by standing up for one side or the other via a Facebook group, the contradiction becomes stark. So does the hypocrisy, especially given the bandwagon mentality and fear associated with combating the status quo.
The philosophy of the outcry having been discredited on its own merit, let us now turn to the actual companies in question. Sears has not occupied the Tower for over a decade, and sold off the building over 5 years ago. This means that this major corporation and former center of retail corporate power is no longer investing in the city of Chicago, let alone the Tower itself, which is owned by a private holding company. Sears is not contributing to Chicago’s tax base; it has ditched the Windy City’s Loop, for Hoffman Estates no less! Sears could have at least picked Chicago Heights, North Chicago, the city of Chicago, or the South side of Chicago. Is it right that a company that named a building 35 years ago, then sold it, left it, and no longer has a viable business model in the new economy, be the poster child of North America’s tallest building? When was the last time you went to Sears?
Some argue that a big reason for the renaming issue being a problem is that the company in question, Willis, namely, is based out of London. Although this is true, the company provides thousands of jobs in the United States, and serves thousands of U.S.-based clients. Critics, in the rage of the day, also forget that the majority stake in most major buildings, airlines, and, you guessed it, the U.S. National Debt, is owned by foreigners. Treasury bonds, securitized debt instruments issued by the U.S. in order to secure short term reserves to keep the government going, are owned in large part by China. As a result, many informed skeptics are afraid that our government is in fact “owned” by the Chinese. Furthermore, if the U.S. Treasury note at some point became undesirable to the Chinese, the U.S. could face fiscal collapse. Surprisingly, civic outrage over the sale of our fiscal state of debt is all but muted. This is probably because the name of our country has not changed. But when a very large building gets a facelift, the rage is rage.
Willis Group Holdings, Ltd., has made an investment in Chicago. The broker is moving 500 associates from all over the state of Illinois to the Tower. By investing in the Tower, and owning the name, Willis Group is investing in Chicago. It will be contributing to Chicago’s tax base, rebranding the oft-forgotten building, ushering it into a new age, and bringing a surge of economic activity and global significance to Chicago. By renaming the building the Willis Tower, Willis has embraced hope, change, tough decisions, and an optimistic look to the future, especially Chicago’s future. Hey, the Sears Tower has never gotten so much publicity, at least in the past decade. Willis’ blockbuster news and bold move in the midst of a downturn, not to mention its investment in Chicago, should be welcomed in the spirit of our renewed national resolve; it should not end up a wasted opportunity criticized by whiners.