BY ALEX SKJONG | November 15, 2011 | People
|Wirtz in his office enjoying his favorite beverage, Crystal Light lemonade|
|Wirtz’s Chicago Blackhawks brought home the 2010 Stanley Cup|
|Wirtz breaks for lunch at Erie Cafe|
Whether it’s your preferred drink, your preferred sports team or your big-city dwelling, there’s a good chance that Rocky Wirtz has played a part in your Chicago experience. For the president of Wirtz Corporation (which oversees, among many other endeavors, national distribution of premium wine and spirits brands) and chairman and owner of the Chicago Blackhawks, most days are a rock-star swirl of hockey, business, and events. But Wirtz puts his pants on one leg at a time just like the rest of us; he just heads a multibillion-dollar corporation afterward.
It’s the crack of dawn in Winnetka. Wirtz flips through the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times, checks the Internet for any pressing wine and spirits news, and visits the Wirtz Beverage blog. His five-year-old beagles, Queenie and Bernie, who often pop up in random Wirtz employee conversations, are given their morning walk by Wirtz or his wife, Marilyn. “I want to be reincarnated as one of those dogs,” he says.
After a short commute in his Cadillac DTS—with Radio 720 WGN, WLS 890 AM and WBMB Newsradio 780 providing the sound track—Wirtz arrives at his office building at 680 North Lake Shore Drive. His office, filled with Blackhawks memorabilia, surprisingly hasn’t changed much over the years. Every piece of furniture, including a massive wooden desk, is the one that was chosen by his grandfather, Arthur Wirtz. The early morning is spent sifting through e-mails and fielding calls.
After a short trip out to Cicero, Wirtz pulls into the uneven and rocky parking lot of the future location of Wirtz Beverage Illinois headquarters. When the construction is complete (slated for August 2012), the four current beverage warehouses will be consolidated into the enormous Cicero location, which will house offices, training facilities, and approximately a million cases of wine and spirits. Wirtz examines the progress, talking soil, drainage and other details with a geo-engineer who just happens to be a former aerospace engineer for NASA. When asked how extensive the multimillion-dollar beverage warehouse will be, Wirtz answers with a question: “Do you know that final scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark?”
Just across the street, construction of a full-sized ice rink is well underway, also being built by Wirtz and donated to the community. A quick stop reveals only a skeleton of a rink—no scoreboard, lights or warming house—but it’s all in the works. Wirtz chats with the on-site workers and then it’s back to the city.
Wirtz enters 3240 North Lake Shore Drive, a Wirtz Realty Corporation apartment property, to a chorus of hellos. He meets John Carbone, director of operations for the company, to discuss renovations and walk through a sprawling model unit. The hot topic is the recent change in building protocol to allow dogs, something that Wirtz’s grandfather was against.
Wirtz’s drink of choice is largely situational. He enjoys a good glass of Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay or anything with Ketel One vodka. But it’s early, and after returning to his office, he breaks out his daytime go-to—Crystal Light lemonade. Four bottles of water, each paired with a packet of Crystal Light, sit next to four lowball glasses filled with ice and proudly displaying an engraved Blackhawks logo.
At a Chicago Blackhawks game, Wirtz stands and applauds
|John Carbone welcomes Wirtz on a scouting tour of a new property|
Wirtz heads to Erie Cafe for a lunch meeting with Blackhawks president and CEO John McDonough, senior vice president of Wirtz Beverage Group Ed Callison, and president of Res Publica Group Guy Chipparoni. In between bites, the crew talks family, a little business, and pokes fun at themselves and each other in banter that plays like a scene from Cheers. After finishing the meal with a cup of black coffee, Wirtz heads back to the office, ready to tackle a flow of e-mails and attend meetings through the rest of the afternoon.
Wirtz spends nearly 200 nights each year out working—hockey games, supplier meetings, and events take up much of his evening hours. But tonight his schedule is clear. After arriving home, he settles in to catch up on the Drudge Report and any sections of the paper he might have missed. The Bears aren’t on tonight, so, in the absence of Chicago sports, he flips to Turner Classic Movies to see if any Jack Nicholson films are on.
As the nightly news wraps up, so does Wirtz’s day. “The highest compliment you can pay anyone you work with is, ‘he gets it,’” McDonough says. “Nobody gets it more than Wirtz.” After a final e-mail check, Wirtz settles into bed, ready to “get it” all over again in the morning.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY BRUCE BENNETT/GETTY IMAGES (WIRTZ WITH TROPHY); JIMMY FISHBEIN (OFFICE); jimmy fishbein (carbone, erie cafe); bill smith/getty images (blackhawks)
January 4, 2019