Q&A: WGN Radio’s Steve Grzanich

Steve Grzanich hosts “The Opening Bell,” one of WGN Radio’s most popular segments. He regularly interviews CEOs, but features anyone with something intriguing to teach about the “life of business and the business of life.”

He’s also loves dogs, can’t get enough of Adler Planetarium, and cherishes life and work on Chicago’s lakefront and water ways — as I learned during my interview with Steve on Oct. 30.

I think you will enjoy learning from Steve through this Q&A too.

Steve-Grzanich

Steve Grzanich

Susan B. Noyes: How do you describe yourself and your show?

Steve Grzanich: The positioning statement or slogan for “The Opening Bell” says it’s a broadcast that focuses on the “life of business and the business of life.” Rather than be a show about numbers and stats including stock prices and trends, we try to put business news in perspective for all audiences, not just business types. We select compelling guests with compelling stories, covering just about every industry and/or organization you can think of. Topics abound, from the business of agriculture, business of politics, business of science, business of education, business of religion, and on and on and on. We’re moving into the third year of the broadcast and can proudly boast it’s become one of the most listened to shows on WGN. As for me, I describe myself as a lifelong learner, always curious and always challenged to ask the kinds of questions that make listeners react with “Wow” or “I never knew that.” My goal going into every broadcast is to make sure listeners hear something they didn’t know before and help them.

How long have you been interviewing CEOs and other business leaders?

I’ve been interviewing newsmakers including business leaders for most of my 35-year career in broadcast journalism. We’ve been doing the CEO segment on The Opening Bell for two years now. The feature airs every Monday on the broadcast but we have business movers and shakers on the program almost every day and sometimes two per show.

What are some of your favorite interviews? 

Some of my favorite interviews are with CEOs of startups and a couple stand out. One was with Ramses Alcaide from Neurable.com. Ramses is barely out of college and has developed a brain-computer interface (plus software), which allows people with disabilities to interact with the world in many ways including with prosthetics. Even though his creation will eventually be used by everyone, he’s been passionately guided by helping people regain independence and not be left behind by society.

Another memorable interview was with Alex Niemczewski of the voting app Ballot Ready. She’s helping citizens become more informed voters. Her passion for making sure the citizenry is informed before they cast their ballots is only surpassed by her knowledge of coding and information presentation. I firmly believe her company will be at the forefront of digital voting someday.

Another memorable interview was with Marc Gyongyosi from IFM Technologies. He too created his company with fellow students at Northwestern University utilizing the school’s tech incubator. The company was featured on TechCrunch’s “Disrupt” in San Francisco. It involves using drones to perform inventory inside large warehouses, which is currently a difficult and almost impossible process. As I asked questions about his company, it was just obvious that his generation will help us find the answers to some of our big problems as a society. There’s no doubt his creation will someday make him a billionaire. I knew him when.

Have you observed any common characteristics of CEOs in Chicago?  If so, what are they?

The successful CEOs I’ve interviewed have all gotten to where they’re at because they understand the importance of having successful teams of employees below them. These are CEOs who make sure their workers are inspired, equipped, and happy, like Amanda Lannert of Jellyvision and Tom Gimbel of LaSalle Network. Both companies always make the lists of best places to work. Many of the successful CEOs I’ve interviewed also share qualities that include having a personal routine that begins their day including exercise, meditation, not hitting the snooze button, and even remembering to make the bed.

Chicago is known for the success of its public/private partnerships and civic support by business leaders. It also ranks as the most philanthropic city in the U.S., according to a study published by Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. How have your guests reflected this sensibility (if at all)?

I always ask CEOs about civic support and corporate philanthropy and almost every one of them is involved personally in some way with one group or another (and often multiple groups). But there are many who bring this into their organization as well. Instead of holiday parties, they make sure employees get involved in the community by volunteering at food banks or other charities. They get their employees involved with helping local schools too. And several companies give part of their profits directly to charity. Flowers for Dreams is a perfect example of this, where they focus on locally crafted flowers and free flower delivery with each bouquet benefiting a local charity. These CEOs also understand that millennials are more loyal than other generations to companies who do good things. They’re not doing business with companies that aren’t socially conscious.

What advice do you have for people aspiring to business leadership positions, based on your interviews with CEOs?

My advice is don’t exist in a bubble. Search out and learn as much as you can about as many CEOs as you can. Study what works and what doesn’t for those CEOs. Also, get out there and network as much as possible and make yourself for mentorship. Welcome being mentored or pay it forward to someone you might be able to mentor. I’d also recommend that aspiring business leaders learn how to communicate effectively with interviewers like me. There’s very good chance a journalist is going to interview you someday, so be ready. Be informed about your industry, your company, and your community. If you struggle with this kind of thing, do some practice interviews with yourself or a colleague. The most engaging CEOs I’ve interviewed have mostly mastered this. I say mostly because there might always be a journalist like me who asks a question you weren’t prepared for. Handle this successfully and you’re genuine… the real deal.

What are your Chicago favorites — places, restaurants, things to do, ways to give back?

My favorite places to play and learn include Adler Planetarium, The Field Museum, Chicago History Museum. I’m a member of Adler and can’t get enough of science and astronomy. I spend free time along the lakefront with my dog (Edward Rover Murrow) and enjoy mountain biking and hiking. My favorite organizations to donate time and/or money to include Anti-Cruelty Society, Lutheran Charity Comfort Dogs, and Gilda’s Club. Me and Murrow have volunteered together at Gilda’s Club to play with children battling cancer.

Thanks to Steve for his time and thoughtful answers — it’s a true pleasure to work with him.

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