Spotlight on Western & Southern
John F. Barrett, Chairman, President and CEO
Talk a little bit about the history and culture of W&S?
Our founding fathers started the business back in 1888 as a “human institution serving human needs.” That customer-centric focus hasn’t changed much since then. Today, we embrace 10 guiding principles that are the foundation of our culture and all we do to deliver financial solutions to our clients to help them secure their financial futures with peace of mind.
• These principles are:
• Create value for stakeholders.
• Favor the long-term outlook.
• Achieve top-notch performance.
• Be results-driven with a strong work ethic.
• Make sensible decisions.
• Operate with ethics and integrity.
• Keep egos in check.
• Collaborate effectively.
• Execute with proficiency.
• And be the ideal place to work.
How did W&S first get involved with supporting the arts?
Western & Southern has always had a deep commitment to helping make Cincinnati the city place in America. Much of that is rooted in our ongoing support throughout the community. We support causes that help advance health care, improve education, promote the arts and drive community vitality. In 2016 alone, the company, our associates and our corporate foundation invested more than $10.6 million in donations and sponsorships in the Greater Cincinnati area.
What inspired the company to start supporting the CSO?
The CSO has worked hard over the last 15 years to shore up its finances and prepare itself for a more competitive future. The management did a magnificent job of strengthening the finances and right sizing the organization without ever impacting the quality. We applaud those efforts and the results. The CSO is one of the oldest and best orchestras in the United States. And Cincinnati is blessed to have this gem in the midst of our downtown.
How does the company’s community involvement help with recruiting and maintaining talent? How does involvement in the community help a company grow and thrive?
Western & Southern strives to be the employer of choice. Prospective colleagues want to be part of something bigger – they want to make a difference and they want to work for a company that shares their passion for our community. Western & Southern’s efforts to be an impactful corporate citizen marries those goals and is an important framework for helping the community grow and thrive. Equally, giving back to the community shows our customers and clients that we not only want to provide them the products and services to they need to attain financial security, but we want to help make the communities they call home strong and vibrant.
Do you see the Orchestra as an asset to corporations based in Cincinnati? How?
Cincinnati is home to world-class arts and entertainment. The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, as well as the Pops, is at the top of that list and an undeniable asset to our community and to the businesses that help our economy grow. It is the sixth oldest symphony orchestra in the United States and the oldest orchestra in Ohio. You don’t earn those accolades without being integral to the fabric of the community.
Tell us a little bit about your background — where are you from, how did you get to W&S, etc.?
I was born and raised right here in Cincinnati. Growing up, my dad used to drive me and my siblings throughout neighborhoods across the city. He wanted us to see how people from all walks of life lived. He wanted us to truly understand the human condition. He encouraged each of us to follow our hearts and pursue success in life with the understanding that we would do whatever we could to help others do the same. It was because of my dad, the late Dr. Charles M. Barrett, and other important mentors I’ve had throughout my life that I am as passionate for this city as I am for my family and the team I work with at Western & Southern.
I joined Western & Southern in 1987 as its chief financial officer. I was named president in 1989, chief executive officer in 1994 and chairman in 2002. I am a graduate of the University of Cincinnati and before settling in Cincinnati, I spent 16 years with the Bank of New York before returning to Cincinnati to raise a family.
What is your personal leadership mantra or philosophy?
I am a dreamer, but I believe you can achieve your dreams through hard work and focus, never letting yourself be deterred. In terms of Western & Southern, we have achieved many of our dreams by sticking to our evolving corporate culture, which will soon be second to none.
Are you a CSO or music fan? If so, do you have any favorite composers or artists?
I am a CSO fan and I love music of all kinds. I have many favorites, so picking just a few is too difficult!
The CSO’s organizational mission is “To seek and share inspiration.” Where do you seek and find inspiration, both personally and professionally?
I enjoy people, and the brighter the better. I feel I benefit from talking with people who are knowledgeable in their fields. I thoroughly enjoy the learning, and the camaraderie, that comes from active discussions on a wide range of topics.
Anything else you would like to add?
Yes, I would like to add something about the role Western & Southern has played in the revitalization of Over-the-Rhine, including now the wonderful gem that is Music Hall.
Western & Southern began the renovation of Over-The-Rhine way back in 1989, well before it was “fashionable” or hip to do so. The renovation of Over-the-Rhine is going full speed. What used to be a beaten down neighborhood is now a vibrant part of Cincinnati.
I am sure many people have visited Over-the-Rhine during a Friday or Saturday night. And if they haven’t, they should. It is now a vibrant place, full of people of all ages, celebrating and having a good time.
Our efforts through the years—as well as those of other businesses and organizations—are paying off. We are proud to continue making a difference in our Greater Cincinnati community.