Taking Care of Business Conference Showcases Top Speakers, Workshops, Cedar Rapids’ Resilience

March 13, 2023 | Taking Care of Business Conference Showcases Top Speakers, Workshops, Cedar Rapids’ Resilience Emery Styron, Corridor Media Group, news@quadcitiesbusiness.com

If you’re looking for guidance on steering your enterprise through challenging seas, don’t miss the Iowa Association of Business and Industry’s information-packed “Taking Care of Business Conference,” slated June 13-15 in the extraordinarily resilient community of Cedar Rapids. 

“We are excited to get it back there. It’s a few years late, but we’re coming,” said ABI Chair Kim Augspurger, explaining that Cedar Rapids was scheduled to host the annual meeting when COVID hit in March 2020, just months before a historic derecho’s 140 mph winds wreaked upwards of $133 million in damage to the community’s homes and businesses, destroying 75% of the tree canopy. 

Lessons In Recovery, Red Carpet Rollout 

Community leaders will share lessons learned during a panel discussion, “Derecho Rebuilding — Cedar Rapids Story,” on the first day of the conference. Winery and brewery tours, a fun run/walk and after-hours exploration times will give attendees other opportunities to see how the community has rebounded from both the devastating 2008 flood and the derecho. 

“I am excited to welcome the 2023 Taking Care of Business Conference to Cedar Rapids,” said Mayor Tiffany O’Donnell. “As a city built on innovation and entrepreneurship, we are eager to showcase our community to the attendees of this premier business conference and work together to grow and strengthen Iowa’s business climate.” 

Ms. O’Donnell noted that the Cedar Rapids Tourism Office is working with ABI on an array of events for attendees, including tours of International Paper and Collins Aerospace and a chef demonstration at The Hotel at Kirkwood Center. At The Hotel, “participants can live out their inner food network dreams,” according to Julie Stow, associate executive tourism director. 

A golf outing will take place at Ellis Golf Course, one of the oldest and most challenging courses in the state, and will showcase the new, modern Ellis Clubhouse and Event Center. 

Both evening events planned for attendees will highlight historic buildings that have been repurposed into venues. One is the HarMac space in the historic Harper and McIntire building, originally a warehouse and shipping facility for industrial hardware. Features of the space include exposed brick walls, natural light and original metalwork. The other venue is EASTBANK, located in the iconic Smulekoff’s building in the heart of downtown. It also highlights exposed brick walls and beams with floor to ceiling windows. 

Cedar Rapids ABI Members TrueNorth, UFG Welcome Attendees 

Two ABI members based in Cedar Rapids are also looking forward to bringing the conference to their hometown. 

Kevin Leidwinger, who was named president and CEO of multi-billion dollar, publicly-traded insurance carrier UFG in August 2022, said “At UFG, doing business isn’t our only passion — we’re also passionate about our Cedar Rapids community.” The company views its business “as a people business, specializing in commercial insurance, excess and surplus lines, surety bonds and assumed reinsurance, said Mr. Leidwinger, who serves as only the sixth leader in the company’s history. UFG partners with approximately 1,000 independent insurance agencies across the country. 

With its assumed reinsurance business, UFG’s geographic presence extends coast to coast and around the globe. Nearly 1,100 employees report to UFG’s Cedar Rapids headquarters and branch offices in Arizona, California, Colorado, New Jersey and Texas. 

“As part of our mission, we strive to provide funding to educational, community and human services organizations annually — carrying forward the legacy of giving that UFG was founded on more than 75 years ago,” Mr. Leidwinger said. “Whether our employees are teaming up to help a local nonprofit or we’re sponsoring an important event, UFG is proud to support community partners who share our passion for getting involved, going beyond and giving back.” 

Though a relative newcomer, Mr. Leidwinger said he’s learned to enjoy the wide variety of restaurants within walking distance of UFG’s corporate headquarters. “I can share that a favorite among our UFG employees is Deb’s Ice Cream, which we treat our employees to on a monthly basis as a small token of our appreciation. If you happen to stop by during our monthly ‘ice cream week,’ you’ll find Deb’s full of UFG employees.” 

TrueNorth, one of the first downtown businesses to announce its return after the flood of 2008, has a lot of experience with resilience and recovery. The risk management and insurance brokerage firm worked with the city of Cedar Rapids to “swap” buildings with the Cedar Rapids Public Library to create opportunity for transformation and growth for both organizations and Cedar Rapids. In the wake of Iowa’s Derecho in 2020, TrueNorth worked with its carrier partners and the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation to donate $150,000 toward local recovery efforts. 

“With ‘community’ in mind, TrueNorth has a long history of engagement and commitment to being a resource,” said Jason Smith, TrueNorth CEO. “Our headquarters is a symbol of that commitment to Cedar Rapids, as we continue to grow as a privately held organization and contribute to the vibrancy of our community. Our original Founders established themselves as local community stewards, and that commitment still rings true today as we aspire to positively impact millions of lives. 

“Whether we’re facing challenges together or supporting causes and organizations that advance positive initiatives, TrueNorth continues to deepen its commitment to Cedar Rapids by providing value to our local businesses, charities and members of our community.” 

Headquartered in Cedar Rapids with other Iowa offices in West Des Moines and Ames, TrueNorth also has locations in Denver, Colorado and Rosemont, Illinois, with 565 colleagues working across more than 20 states. According to company officials, the organization is designed to maintain its closely and privately held business model supported by an organic growth and internal perpetuation strategy. 

In early 2023, TrueNorth announced a series of leadership advancements and transitions with the intention of securing TrueNorth’s future as a legacy company and broker of choice. 

“We have taken executive-level stability to heart as we prepare TrueNorth for everything the future holds,” said Mr. Smith. “It’s a privilege and an honor to share significant leadership advancements that will serve to fuel and strengthen TrueNorth’s planned trajectory in the years and decades to come.” 

In January, several officer appointments took effect to join Mr. Smith and Trent Tillman, President and Chief Revenue Officer, on the Executive Team: 

  • Matt Rathje, TrueNorth’s Senior Vice President of Client Operations has assumed the role of Chief Operations Officer.
  • Chad Thurm, Senior Vice President of Transportation was appointed TrueNorth’s Chief Financial Officer.
  • Bill Teubel, TrueNorth’s former CFO, remains on the board as Senior Strategy Officer.
  • Max Smith transitioned from Executive Vice President of Risk Management to assume the role of TrueNorth’s Chief Commercial Officer. 

When asked, TrueNorth’s executive leadership team shared their “must-visit” favorite spots for the benefit of conference attendees: 

Trent: “For an after-conference refreshment, checkout Lion Bridge Brewing Co. in Czech Village for some excellent local craft beers and tasty pub fare! Also, Need Pizza is another excellent local choice for tremendous thin crust pizza and a deep rotation of craft beers from across the state!” 

Jason: “For a mid-week charge up, Brewhemia is my choice. Great coffee beverages. Great food. Great service.“ 

Chad: “If the weather is nice and you’re looking for a little exercise, a stroll along the 16th Ave bridge from Czech Village over to the NewBo City Market is sure to please with many food, drink and unique local shopping options along the way.” 

Matt’s Choice: “Black Sheep Social Club. There’s a good chance you’ll bump into a few TrueNorth colleagues when enjoying a meal or cocktail! Another favorite would be Local Pour with the outdoor patio and ice cream from the Scoop Coop.” 

Top-Flight Keynoters, Diverse Array of Workshops 

In addition to her excitement at bringing the conference to Cedar Rapids, Ms. Augspurger speaks with enthusiasm about the top-flight line-up of keynote speakers and workshops slated for the event. “We live in times of uncertainty and chaos. We wanted to bring some unique perspectives on how we best navigate that,” she explains. 

The top keynoter, Cy Wakeman, “is unique in herself and has a unique approach to leadership and work,” Ms. Augspurger. said. “We’re excited to have her kick us off.” 

Ms. Wakeman, a drama researcher, New York Times bestselling author and global thought leader, founded Reality-Based Leadership in 2001 and has been deemed “the secret weapon to restoring sanity to the workplace.” She will discuss the art of asking questions that halt venting, encourage self-reflection and cultivate accountability, while offering “actionable ways to move more skillfully through the world, ditch the drama and experience more effortless work while achieving incredible results.” 

Other keynoters are Ryan Anderson, vice president of global research and insights at MillerKnoll, and Brandon Williams, founder and owner of Lead Tac. 

As head of commercial furniture and design manufacturing, Mr. Anderson’s role is “to study the concept of work and where and how we work. His approach is the physical aspect of work, the space,” Ms. Augspurger said. 

Host of MillerKnoll’s Looking Forward podcast on the future of work, Mr. Anderson regularly speaks at public events about MillerKnoll’s historical and current research and has been featured in a wide variety of publications such as The Wall Street Journal, NPR, the BBC, Fortune and Bloomberg. He will talk about how the places we inhabit can be better designed and managed to support positive, productive experiences. 

Mr. Willliams is a leadership business speaker, leadership coach, and technical expert with experience managing cross-functional teams and organizations, including service as a United States Air Force F-15E Fighter Pilot and officer. He will discuss his Human Factors Leadership methodology. 

“I really appreciate people with military backgrounds and unique training. What Brandon Williams has to say will be incredibly relevant and meaningful,” said Ms. Augspurger. 

The conference features a long list of workshops for the diverse group of some 600 expected attendees to choose from, with topics ranging from intellectual property to human resources issues to sustainability and productivity. “It’s a really nice compliment,” said Ms. Augspurger. 

Workshop topics include: 

  • Leadership is Personal: Creating Conditions of Trust in Today’s World
  • What’s Your “Wow”? Hint: It’s Much More Than Culture
  • Data Security: How to View a Potential Vulnerability as a Valuable Asset 
  • A Mid-Year Review: Top 5 Human Resource Issues in 2023 
  • Supply Chain Strategies: Near-shoring Trends and Site Selections 
  • Mergers and Acquisitions: The State of the Market 
  • The Intersection of Occupational Health and Employee Well-being
  • Technology is Calling: Preparing Your Business for Tomorrow’s Opportunities
  • From The Great Resignation to The Great Recession and Everything In Between 

The conference also includes a tradeshow, networking opportunities with exhibitors, Leadership Iowa graduation and presentation of the Leadership for Iowa award. Registration details and a complete conference schedule is available here.