Richard Price, chairman and CEO, Mesirow Financial
Big loss thrusts 39-year veteran into new role at Mesirow
Price shifts from behind the scenes to front row after Mesirow Financial rocked by death of CEO James Tyree
Richard Price, chairman and chief executive of Mesirow Financial at company's office in Chicago in June. (Zbigniew Bzdak/ Chicago Tribune)
"There seemed to be a magnetic pull to Richard's office," Dennis Black, Mesirow's general counsel, recalled. "Richard pulled out a bottle of vodka that a client had given him, and we passed it around the crowd as though we were sitting around a campfire."
Initially, it was a hushed scene. Then, stories about Tyree, a charismatic leader in Chicago's business community, began to flow, along with tears.
"Richard encouraged the sharing, and everyone who stopped in left knowing that we were all going to be all right," Black said.
For Price, the loss was deeply personal. Tyree was his best friend as well as his boss.
Two days later, the 64-year-old Price was named CEO, charged with helping guide the staff through the mourning process while also keeping the Chicago-based diversified financial services company on track.
Professional services firms are people businesses, and when a larger-than-life leader like Tyree is lost, missteps can be difficult, sometimes impossible, to repair.
"Emotionally, it has been a challenge for us," Price said, noting that some employees are still "overwhelmed" by the loss of Tyree, who had led the company for two decades.
Tyree, 53, had been seriously ill with stomach cancer, but his death was unexpected. The Cook County medical examiner ruled it an accident, due closely with Tyree. If the employee's insurance doesn't cover counseling, Mesirow picks up the cost.
"I'm encouraging them to seek help when they need it, and, for people who don't believe they need it, I'm encouraging them to do it anyway."
Price has followed his own advice. He has seen a counselor to help him better cope with his grief.
The differences between the two men's styles also have meant Price has had to make adjustments at Mesirow, which has $55 billion under management, more than doubling since 2007
In contrast with the about-town Tyree, who served on numerous boards and relished being in the spotlight, Price was the consummate Mr. Inside at the firm where he has worked for 39 years.
Named president in 2006, Price was Tyree's right-hand man, the behind-thescenes operations guy with a sharp pencil and a focus on profits. Insiders also say he is a strategic thinker, collaborator and delegator.
Tyree networked at scores of business group meetings and at civic events. To try to fill that void, Price has asked a dozen Mesirow executives to step up their community involvement, including speaking engagements, writing articles and serving on charity and civic boards.
"All the things that Jim was doing -- no one person can do that," Price said. "I'm not even sure three people can do it."
A firm doesn't need just one public face, said Price, who also plans on becoming more visible. The important thing is to "personalize a firm," whether it's through one or a dozen people, "and not institutionalize it."
He specifically mentioned four people he wants to become better known: private equity chief Marc Sacks, hedge fund leader Marty Kaplan, currency manager Gary Klopfenstein and institutional trading director Dominick Mondi.
"These people have built sensational businesses here, but I'm not sure the business community easily identifies them as being Mesirow Financial," Price said.