Photos by Adam Ryan Morris It was in May 2003 that Milwaukee Art Museum officials met with Sheldon Lubar and asked him to take the lead in bailing out the museum’s crushing $30 million debt. He and his wife, Marianne, had already given generously for the construction of the $125 million Calatrava addition, and she […]

Photos by Adam Ryan Morris

It was in May 2003 that Milwaukee Art Museum officials met with Sheldon Lubar and asked him to take the lead in bailing out the museum’s crushing $30 million debt.

He and his wife, Marianne, had already given generously for the construction of the $125 million Calatrava addition, and she didn’t like the idea of her husband taking on more responsibility. So the Lubars said no.

But overnight, Sheldon stewed about it. Somebody had to take charge.

“Goddammit, I’m gonna do it,” Lubar decided.

His first call went to Michael Cudahy, another major contributor to the museum. Cudahy, though, had gotten into a very public war of words with museum director David Gordon over an early design of what would become Discovery World, Cudahy’s latest project.

Undaunted by this, Lubar pressed Cudahy for help.

“If I can get you to contribute $3 million that would really be symbolic,” Lubar told the crusty philanthropist.

“Well, how much are you giving?” asked Cudahy.

Lubar paused. He had already given three times to the Calatrava. “I was thinking of another million.”

“You’re giving a million and you want me to give three?” Cudahy chuckled. “I’ll tell you what: If I give 3 million, you give 3 million.”

Lubar thought for a moment then answered in a word: “OK.”

Sheldon Lubar has a long history of take-charge leadership. He served government appointments under three presidents, Nixon, Ford and Carter, and chaired countless committees and task forces from Milwaukee to the state capital. He sat as president of the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents and helped push to build the Downtown convention center 14 years ago.

With his wife, he donated a record-smashing $10 million to UW-Milwaukee to improve its business school, which was renamed the Sheldon B. Lubar School of Business. He also spearheaded the turnaround of the near-desolate Bradford Beach by paying the cost of hiring lifeguards.

Last year, he leaned hard on political neophyte Chris Abele to run for Milwaukee County executive, urging him to drastically cut the size of county government.

As founder and chairman of Lubar & Co., the 82-year-old investment capitalist is still at it, pushing for causes like public transit and education reform while overseeing vast holdings in oil and gas, real estate and food production, medical equipment and the Milwaukee Brewers baseball club.

“You’re talking to a risk-taker. That’s been my business,” he says.

But ask him to name other risk-takers in town, and the names don’t exactly trip off his tongue. Lubar sees a dearth of leadership.

“There has to be some boldness,” he complains. “We have to do things. I think that has to be the byword: We’re not going to talk about it, we’re going to do it.”

Across the community, in both the public and private sector, influential Milwaukeeans echo the sentiment: This city badly needs better leadership. The intensity of their complaints is stunning. Some blame a polarized political climate. Others blame corporate leaders and corporate boards afraid to take risks. Others say older leaders aren’t opening the doors to the next generation.

The leadership issue has taken on a greater urgency as Milwaukee wrestles with the still-bleak economy. In the midst of record unemployment and declining household incomes, people want answers and action. Instead, what they get from elected officials and business execs alike is gridlock and missed opportunities – on issues from the
Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter rail to black unemployment to the fate of Downtown’s Grand Avenue Mall.

“If our execs are going to be scaredy cats, we might as well all give up right now,” says Cudahy. “It takes courage. But everybody is sort of waiting for somebody else to step forward. I lead as much as I can. But it’s pretty hard to do at 87 years old.”

Who are the city’s most capable leaders? And why aren’t there more?

We put these questions to more than 40 influential Milwaukeeans in government and business, higher education and the arts, social services and foundations.

The topic touched a nerve. No one was without an opinion, a complaint or a theory on what needs to change.

Milwaukee has faced other periods when leadership was lacking. At the end of World War II, the city was sadly behind the times. Little new construction had been built Downtown since the late 1920s. The city had no symphony orchestra, no repertory theater, no ballet. “This town had few major contributors,” recalls Bob Zigman, a longtime public relations executive and civic activist. “People didn’t feel that obligation.” And the city’s socialist mayors opposed borrowing any money for big capital projects.

“Attitudes began to change with out-of-towners moving to Milwaukee after the war,” Zigman recalls. “A lot of people threw themselves into the community.”

Dissatisfied with the lack of civic progress, a group of elite businessmen in 1948 formed the nonprofit Greater Milwaukee Committee with the slogan, “It can be done.” Throughout the 1950s, the GMC backed construction of the freeway system; County Stadium (which attracted a major league team); a new zoo (helping it achieve a reputation as one of the country’s best); a new public museum; an arena; and an airport.

Business leaders associated with the GMC continued leading the way on quality-of-life projects. In the late 1950s, Zigman helped create the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. In the 1960s, Journal Co. Chairman Irwin Maier and Northwestern Mutual Life CEO Edmund Fitzgerald headed a private fund drive that built the Performing Arts Center (now the Marcus Center). Attorney and bank exec William Randall headed the effort to create the United Performing Arts Fund, which quickly became one of the nation’s most successful arts funds. And when Marquette University closed its medical school in 1967, Fitzgerald and the GMC took over and created the Medical College of Wisconsin, which grew beyond all expectations into the state’s second-largest research institution.

As recently as the 1980s, Milwaukee’s leadership was small and elite. Downtown’s Grand Avenue Mall was largely put together by Mayor Henry Maier, NML CEO Francis Ferguson, financier John Kelly of Marine Bank, and Bill Drew, commissioner of city development. The mall became a booming success that helped transform Downtown. In the last 15 years, however, it has slowly declined, underlining the question of whether today’s leaders are willing to take on such a challenge again.

“Thirty years ago, we had real leaders who were willing to be bold and get things done,” says T. Michael Bolger, former head of the Medical College, recalling corporate CEOs like I.A. “Tiny” Rader (Allen-Bradley), Joseph Heil Jr. (Heil Co.) and Jack Puelicher (M&I Bank). “It was a joy to work with these people. They were smart, they had power, and they used it for the good of the community.”

But as the 1980s progressed, things began to change. The GMC began to focus more on harder-to-solve social issues such as education. And its membership, once all men, all white and almost exclusively corporate executives, gradually became far more diversified and less unified.

The old style was “too closed,” says Tim Sheehy, president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, and people today would not accept it. “Leadership now is defined by our ability to get more citizens to participate, which is counter to the days of smoke-filled rooms.”

Meanwhile, the pool of potential private sector leaders is much smaller because of the loss of Milwaukee-based companies. Milwaukee was once headquarters for banks such as First Wisconsin and Marine, manufacturers such as A.O. Smith, Allis-Chalmers and Cutler-Hammer, brewers such as Pabst, Schlitz and Miller – all bought out or defunct. Last summer alone, two pillars – Bucyrus International and M&I Bank, each with Milwaukee roots dating to the 1800s – were purchased by non-Wisconsin corporations.

“All that has diminished the gene pool,” says Bill Drew, now executive director of the Milwaukee County Research Park. “The number of people available to handle civic leadership roles is stretched, simply because there are not many left. This changed our capacity to do stuff.”

Consolidation has taken a toll on certain sectors, particularly banking, says GMC President Julia Taylor. “But surprisingly, there are still a large number of CEOs who were born in Wisconsin,” she notes, including Steve Roell of Johnson Controls, Jeff Joerres of ManpowerGroup, Gale Klappa of We Energies and Bill Bertha of U.S. Bank-Wisconsin. Moreover, she says, Milwaukee still ranks fourth among North American cities for the number of corporations with global headquarters.

In truth, every city is losing home-based corporations and dealing with the resulting loss of leadership. Sheehy points to Bucyrus as an example: Before Tim Sullivan stepped down as CEO, he was a major force in civic projects. Bucyrus donated $1 million to Discovery World, and Sullivan chaired the United Way of Greater Milwaukee campaign that raised nearly $44 million while also serving on the boards of Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metro Milwaukee.

But the new head of Bucyrus, Caterpillar’s CEO, is headquartered in Illinois. “Ain’t no way he’s going to cut the path that Tim did,” Sheehy says. “He will fly in from Peoria.”

In the 1990s, when the business community backed the construction of Miller Park and MMAC helped bankroll it, CEOs Bob O’Toole of A.O. Smith, James Keyes of Johnson Controls and Jack McDonough of Miller Brewing stood at the microphone and took charge, says Sheehy. Now, two of those three companies are no longer based here. And even among companies still headquartered here, their leaders may not be as willing to step into the spotlight.

“Most corporate chieftains don’t want to become a lightning rod,” says Ed Zore, chairman of Northwestern Mutual. “Their boards don’t want them to be media figures. Back in the old days, you could roll up your sleeves and get into issues.”

A generation ago, nearly all the workers and customers of the old Marine Bank or First Wisconsin were local. Any civic projects the CEOs undertook were likely to win applause. Today, most companies have global dealings, and Milwaukee is only a small part of their markets. Their business execs travel constantly, on call seven days a week. And their board of directors may not want the distraction or potential controversy caused by a CEO’s
civic activism.

Perhaps no company in Milwaukee personified civic leadership more than Northwestern Mutual Life, with leaders like Fitzgerald, Ferguson and Donald Schuenke. NML “still had a big foot” when Zore ran the company (2000-2010), he says. “But even as president and CEO, I didn’t have the bully pulpit that they did years ago.”

CEOs engaged in bold leadership must be willing to handle criticism. Four years ago, when Rich Meeusen proposed the creation of a water industry hub in the metro area, he was roundly criticized by talk radio and this magazine, among others. His idea, some critics charged, was just a ploy to sell more water meters. Today, the Milwaukee Water Council is the darling of elected officials and business leaders, and is winning grants and
making strides.

“I’ve had CEOs say you’ve got to shut up and keep a low profile in this city,” Meeusen says. “I don’t think that’s right. The question is, are you willing to stand up and take the criticism?”

Increasingly, they aren’t. Today’s CEOs, says Sheehy, often avoid speaking out and let him be the spokesperson: “I don’t think [civic projects] are less in the interest of corporate leadership today. But they’ve transferred the voice.”

It’s the fear factor, says Bolger. “If you’re afraid to lead, you become reliant on a bunker mentality. You just hunker down and weather the storm rather than finding a way out of it.”

Reluctant to go public, execs instead work behind the scenes, raising money through campaigns such as the United Way or the United Performing Arts Fund.

“I don’t see any speaking out on politics or things beyond their limited roles,” says Lubar. Critical issues such as unemployment, transportation and consolidating government services need to be addressed and debated, he says. “Tim Sheehy’s a tremendous, capable person. But [MMAC corporate members] ought to be more vocal. They reflect the voice of the business community.”

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Lubar, a longtime member of the GMC, was behind the creation a year ago of a separate legal arm of the nonprofit that can lobby government for desired changes. That may be the biggest change in the GMC’s 64-year history.

The reality is, the old separation between civic and political projects may not be as clear as it once was. When the GMC pushed to build freeways, for instance, labor unions and both political parties supported the plan. By the late 1970s, Democrats such as then-state Rep. John Norquist began to attack freeways as helping the suburbs and harming the city. Once, any kind of
infrastructure improvement – from a new baseball stadium to high-speed rail – was widely seen as good for the community. Today, the parties are far more polarized on such issues.

Daniel Bader has run the Helen Bader Foundation since it was formed in 1991. Named for his mother, the local foundation gives grants to programs for Alzheimer’s and aging, economic development and low-income youth. Bader has been involved with the GMC (he is a past board chairman) and other leadership efforts, and he worries about the current political climate. “We’re at a real crossroads in this country,” he says. “We’re struggling with who we want to be” – a system driven predominantly by free markets or one that provides a “socially responsible safety net” for vulnerable citizens. The increasing polarization, he says, makes leadership harder. “It is very stifling for all of us.”

Perhaps no place is more stifled than Wisconsin. An analysis by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Craig Gilbert found no governor was more polarizing than Gov. Scott Walker, who has huge support among Republicans (86 percent) and little from Democrats (8 percent).

“Nobody’s undecided anymore,” says Mordecai Lee, a UW-Milwaukee professor of governmental affairs. “Parties aren’t trying to appeal to moderates. That’s why compromise doesn’t work.”

In a 24/7 news cycle, a leader’s every move is second-guessed, amped up by right-wing talk radio and online blogs, both liberal and conservative, all of which blurs the line between fact and opinion. The result is a volatile, endless season of political campaigning.

“The voice of the moderate middle gets drowned out,” says Rob Henken, president of the Public Policy Forum. “It’s Packers-Bears. It’s not diplomacy and statesmanship.”

This can make it more difficult to build bridges across the community, with suburban Republicans at odds with city-based Democrats. Milwaukee County is the state’s second-most Democratic county, surrounded by three of the most Republican redoubts – Waukesha, Washington and Ozaukee counties.

“We’re getting to the point where we’re almost tone deaf to it all, we’re just so polarized,” says Neil Willenson, vice president of community relations for KAPCO Inc. and the founder of One Heartland, an AIDS advocacy group.

“Public officials view decisions through a lens of what the next attack ad will be,” says Henken. “Taking a public stand on a controversial issue can backfire.”

For the business sector, working with politicians has always been a risky proposition. The old GMC leaders preferred working behind the scenes, letting elected officials deal with the public on a given project. In today’s polarized environment, business leaders are even more gun-shy.

“County officials and private sector business groups have not sat at the table together,” says Milwaukee County Supervisor Lynne De Bruin. “There’s been a lot of distrust.”

Much of that may be because the county has been weakened by the pension scandal and the bickering between board members and former County Executive Scott Walker, she says.

Yet it’s not just county-related issues that business leaders are avoiding.

Wisconsin Avenue’s retail strip, including Grand Avenue, has declined for more than 15 years. But until Mayor Tom Barrett’s recent appointment of a business task force on this, there were no efforts to address the issue. The future of the Milwaukee Bucks, including a new arena for the team to call home, has been discussed for more than a decade with little progress.

“You can’t even get people together to talk about replacing the Bradley Center,” says Joe Volk, executive director of Community Advocates, which works with the poor and homeless. “Now, it’s all about stuff at the margins, nothing big and bold.”

When politicians disagree, business leaders are even more unlikely to take on an issue. A case in point was the clash between Mayor Barrett and former County Executive Walker on transportation, with Barrett pushing for a city streetcar, Walker pushing for more funding of buses, and both vacillating on the proposed Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter train. Business leaders largely stayed quiet.

Ellen Gilligan, who moved here from Cincinnati in 2010 to head the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, says she has seen leaders in other cities who are better at working in harmony than Milwaukee’s. “In times of crisis, people either come together or turn on each other. Today, you see a little of both,” she says.             

“There are so many people in leadership roles who are risk-averse, whether they’re running for office or running a corporation,” she adds. “But whoever said leadership doesn’t have risk associated to it?”

Gilligan’s father, John Gilligan, was governor of Ohio. In 1971, he enacted the state’s first income tax and survived a resulting recall election. “He was a fearless leader,” his daughter says. “He would not have survived in politics today.”

One day in August, Mike Lovell and Dr. John Raymond walked into Marquette University’s Alumni Memorial Union. They passed racks of blue and gold T-shirts at the MU Spirit Shop and took the elevator to the top floor.

Lovell, the chancellor of UW-Milwaukee since just October 2010, and Raymond, president and CEO of the Medical College of Wisconsin since July 2010, had dropped by to welcome the latest newcomer to town – the Rev. Scott Pilarz, the new president of Marquette University.

The three sat down to lunch and, within minutes of unfolding their napkins, a bond was formed. By their last cup of coffee, they had agreed to collaborate on ways to curb health care costs.

“It all clicked,” says Tom Luljak, a UWM vice chancellor who watched the lunch hour unfold. “There was no jostling for power, no sense of one-upmanship. These guys thought, ‘This is cool. Let’s work together.’ ”

A month later, they announced the formation of a new health care consortium made up of their three institutions, Froedtert Health and Children’s Hospital.

“This is not about our individual influence,” says Pilarz. “It’s about what we can do together. That sense of selflessness is really important.” Drawing on the vast expertise of faculty at each institution – from economists to engineers to nurses and doctors – the consortium will work to create new models to manage health costs.

Lovell, 44, the second-youngest chancellor in UWM’s history, was impressed by the willingness of his new partners to jump into the fray feet-first. “Milwaukee leaders tend to talk a little too long before they move forward,” he says.

Gilligan is another newcomer quick out of the gate. Barely a year after taking charge of the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, she helped launch “Milwaukee Succeeds,” a collaboration between 38 organizations – from business to education to philanthropic – aimed at tracking early-childhood to postsecondary education. Patterned after a similar program she helped start in Cincinnati, the initiative will create specific metrics to measure improvement and set funding levels. If childhood hunger is found to contribute to low test scores, for example, funding would be sought or new programs created to address the problem.

Back in 1980, when civic titans like Ferguson and Rader were running things, they were unlikely to consult with the leaders of places like UWM, then a low-profile commuter college, or MCW, then a near-bankrupt institution.

But the power of Milwaukee’s top academic institutions and nonprofits has grown enormously. In the last 30 years, Marquette’s endowment mushroomed from just under $20 million to $401 million; Marquette’s total assets today exceed $1 billion. MCW
attracted $161 million in external research dollars in 2010, second only to UW-Madison. The GMF grew from assets of $13 million to $569 million, making it one of the nation’s top 30 community foundations. The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, which didn’t exist in 1980, now has an endowment of about $600 million.

“There’s a lot of transition, a lot of reshaping of the private sector,” says Milwaukee attorney José Olivieri, a former member of the UW Board of Regents. He points to the unprecedented $125 million fund drive led by former UWM Chancellor Carlos Santiago. The university’s biggest previous drive had been $11 million, which chugged along for three years, 1986-1989.

Santiago recruited six CEOs – each a UWM alumnus – to chair the campaign: Gale Klappa of We Energies, Dennis Kuester of M&I, Keith Nosbusch of Rockwell Automation, James Ziemer of Harley-Davidson, Ed Zore of Northwestern Mutual and Sheldon Lubar. The campaign surpassed its $100 million goal by $25 million and did it a year sooner than anticipated. “The CEOs were receptive,” Olivieri says, “but somebody else [namely Santiago] had to put that into motion.” The goal of UWM’s next campaign is expected to double.

Lubar, who gave $10 million to the campaign, credits Santiago for raising the bar at UWM financially. “I think Mike Lovell will follow,” he says.

Clearly, there’s been a shift in who’s pulling up chairs at the civic leadership table. “It’s very different today,” says Eileen Schwalbach, president of Mount Mary College since 2009. “The loss of corporate headquarters has changed the landscape. The time is ripe for collaboration rather than single-rule, authoritarian order; for leadership that is more transparent and more inclusive.”

GMC’s membership once came exclusively from corporate boardrooms and a couple of elite law firms. Today, among its 185 members are leaders from foundations, academia and public

Meanwhile, a whole new batch of nonprofit and academic leaders has arrived within the past three years – besides Schwalbach, Lovell, Pilarz, Raymond and Gilligan, the list includes Michael Burke, president of MATC; Gregory Thornton, superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools; Mary Lou Young, president and CEO of United Way of Greater Milwaukee; James Hall Jr., president of the Milwaukee NAACP; James Loftus, president of Cardinal Stritch University; and Peggy Troy, president of Children’s Hospital.

Schwalbach points to a remarkable collaboration led by two nonprofits: In 2008, the local United Way and Serve Marketing teamed up with the city’s health department to reduce Milwaukee’s teen birth rate, which had been among the highest in the country. In the last two years, the rate of teen births has dropped by nearly 24 percent to its lowest level in decades. “Think about how contentious that issue could have been,” says Schwalbach. But a broad array of groups backed the campaign, from the faith-based community to Planned Parenthood to MPS.

The high teen birth rate had long been seen as an inevitable outgrowth of poverty that simply couldn’t be changed. The reduction will have a far-reaching impact on many problems: Teen pregnancy is more likely to result in premature births and infant mortality, while the teen mothers are more likely to be high school dropouts and welfare recipients whose daughters become pregnant teens, perpetuating a cycle of poverty.

Nonprofit and academic leaders may have a better chance at leading the way on such issues, which have never been the forte of business leaders.

“The old guard was all about bricks and mortar,” says Volk. “They didn’t have to think about dealing with issues such as teen pregnancy and infant mortality, homelessness and record unemployment among the black community.”

Today, those issues are paramount, says Margaret Henningsen, a co-founder of the now-defunct Legacy Bank. “I live in the central city. I see the devastation when I’m driving around. I see lots of young people on the streets. They don’t have a job, they’re not in school. There is no concerted citywide effort saying, ‘Here’s how we should attack these problems and make things better.’ ”

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“Where are the goals? Where’s the accountability?” asks Danae Davis, CEO of PEARLS for Teen Girls, a teen pregnancy prevention program for inner-city youth. “I’m hopeful [Milwaukee’s leaders] will find the courage of an employment strategy. But there’s not a vision or a strategy that I see. And meanwhile, Rome is burning.”

Just five years ago, the Rev. Willie Brisco knew little about the Milwaukee Inner-City Congregations Allied for Hope. Now, he runs the group and confronts a host of problems. “Someone needs to stand up in the tower and shout out as loud as they can, ‘We’re not going to take it anymore!’ ” he says.

“So many people come up to me and say, ‘I respect what you’re doing.’ I say, ‘Don’t congratulate me. Pick up the mantle and let’s go forward.’ We have got to stop applauding the Good Samaritan and realize that the Good Samaritan needs some help.”

Tina Chang was well-traveled and ambitious when she moved here at age 28. Raised in New York City, she got a business degree at UW-Madison and studied at the University of Copenhagen before founding SysLogic, an IT consulting firm in Brookfield.

Chang, now 39, is impressed with how Milwaukee’s corporate leaders anchor community projects through charitable giving. But she faults them for failing to identify and mentor younger potential leaders.

“They need to grow the leadership of Gen X and Gen Y better and faster,” she says. “There should be more of me, more young entrepreneurs, especially women and minorities. The current leaders don’t necessarily know who that next generation is.”

The problem can be seen both in the majority and minority communities, says Davis, who served on the UW Board of Regents. “There are some who’ve been around for a while who are still fiery and inspiring. But some are irrelevant in terms of helping produce change. There’s an overabundance of ‘letting the world go by.’ That is true regardless of race but is particularly the case in the African-American community.”

Case in point: the bitter battle over control of the Milwaukee NAACP that pitted an entrenched 10-year president against a popular challenger. Dissatisfied members in 2009 petitioned the association’s national office, asking that Jerry Ann Hamilton, the aging branch president, be suspended because they claimed she mismanaged the group. In a prolonged power struggle, Hamilton’s hand-picked successor, Wendell Harris, was defeated by reform candidate James Hall Jr. in November 2010.

The fight for power can be more intense in a community that is often marginalized, Davis says. “When you have very little of it, you fight for it. The individuals that I know hold on for dear life. They’re not grooming the next wave of leaders.”

The traditional leadership role is to “control and command,” which can subvert the common good, says Richard Pieper, a Milwaukee businessman and philanthropist. “You don’t need power to get things done,” he says. “Today’s more effective leader serves others, whether employees or customers. Unfortunately, many people are attracted to command and control.”

Abby Ramirez, 31, co-founded Schools That Can in July 2010 as a way to “change the dialogue” among Milwaukee’s public, charter and choice schools. Working with educators at 25 schools, the group’s aim is to boost the number of high-performance schools serving low-income families. To that end, she helped recruit Rocketship Education, a California-based charter school network, to Milwaukee.

Growing up in Wisconsin, Ramirez worked at businesses in Chicago and San Francisco before returning here in 2008. She says she’s learned from “those who came before us,” including her father Gus, founder of Husco International, a Waukesha-based manufacturer. “Prior generations of leaders have created a foundation,” she says.

Yet she’s been in meetings where established leaders “want you to never speak.” Ramirez says her generation won’t be constrained by the status quo. “We’re young and naive enough to believe that anything is possible. And as a result, more significant progress than we had ever imagined starts to happen.”

“This generation is so different,” says Corry Joe Biddle, executive director of FUEL Milwaukee, a young professionals group affiliated with MMAC. “When I think about leadership, I think about that desire to lead across all barriers. That’s the model now.”

At 32, Biddle says her generation has grown up without some of the divisions that impede change, and that questions of race, gender and sexual orientation are nonissues. “It’s that whole global thinking of this generation, X and Y,” says Biddle, the former executive director of America’s Black Holocaust Museum.

Her husband, Eyon Biddle, was elected to the Milwaukee County Board in 2011, one of three supervisors under age 35 elected in the past two years. Still, Corry Joe says, Milwaukee is stuck in a generational limbo: The younger generation is not yet in a position to lead and the older generation is not able to grasp what needs to change. “They don’t know what they don’t know. It’s like we’re writing in Chinese, and they ask, ‘What is this?’ ”

Rather than waiting for a seat at the table, young leaders are creating informal groups and networks through social media and grassroots organizing. A handful of people with a passion can mobilize dozens through Twitter and Facebook for an event. “These are the breeding grounds for younger leaders,” Biddle says.

As the leasing director in the rental department at Zilber Ltd., Michael Kleber gets invited to a lot of fancy, $100-a-plate fundraisers. About a year ago, Kleber, 28, decided to throw one himself, but on a much more modest scale. With a few friends and business associates, he organized an after-work party to raise money for Christmas gifts for low-income families. The InterContinental Hotel donated space, the Milwaukee Brewers and Milwaukee Bucks pitched in as sponsors, and guests ponied up $10 apiece to attend.

Held on a snowy Thursday night, the event drew 550 young guests and raised $6,000. Kleber and his fellow Santa Clauses donated 1,000 toys to inner-city kids.

Inspired by the experience, Kleber and three others set up a nonprofit, the Young Milwaukee Charitable Organization. With the help of a long list of sponsors, the group had another fundraiser, raising $14,000 for a youth football program.

“Young people want to do good things. They just don’t know where to go,” says Kleber. “They probably feel more connected to us than United Way.”

“I definitely see something different about this generation,” says UWM’s Lovell. “It’s a breath of fresh air. They have a big appetite for change. They want to make a difference, and they’re not afraid to take a risk.” They’re also likely to resist the old top-
down rules.

The old model might be gone for good, says Meeusen, co-chair of the Water Council. “In the future, instead of individual leaders, we may see pods of leaders, organizations run by four or five people, where no one person is in charge.”

Groups such as the Young Milwaukee Charitable Organization. Or Newaukee, an affiliation of eight “directors” who organize events for an online following of more than 5,000. Or Spreenkler, a creative design group run by seven people that uses social media to hire college grads and launch them into careers.

The possibilities are almost limitless – if the younger generation is let in the door.

“Today’s young people are masters of relationships,” says Meeusen. “That could be a huge future opportunity for our city. If we don’t beat them down.”

Given all the complaints about a lack of leadership, there was no clear consensus on Milwaukee’s most effective leaders. Still, 10 people emerged at the top.

Chris Abele | 44
Milwaukee county executive

“Originally a spoiled brat, but he’s matured about 50 years all in the course of two.”
– Michael Cudahy, philanthropist

“Has a chance to establish himself as one who can get things done. That’s something we need badly.”
–Mike Mervis, Zilber Ltd. vice president

Scott Walker |  44
Wisconsin governor

“I’d give him an A-plus. Tactically? Not so tactical.”
– Ed Zore, NML chairman

“I disagree with 98 percent of what Scott Walker does. But he’s a bold leader. He’s gotten a lot done.”
– Daniel Bader, Helen Bader Foundation president and CEO

Tim Sullivan | 58
former CEO and president of Bucyrus International

“He believes in community service.”
– Hector Colón, Milwaukee County Health and Human Services director

“A fabulous leader at Bucyrus. I hope he lands somewhere where he can really do some good.”
– Michael Cudahy

Edward Flynn | 63
Milwaukee police chief

“Not shy about getting out there and getting his message across. He has brought some techniques to bear that have had a positive impact.”
– José Olivieri, chairman of United Community Center

“We’re very lucky to have him.”
–Tina Chang, SysLogic CEO and chairwoman

Sue Black | 50
Milwaukee County Parks director

“Excellent vision and a willingness to stand up and take a position.”
– Rich Meeusen, Badger Meter CEO

“Talk about a leader!”
–Julia Taylor, Greater Milwaukee Committee president

Tim Sheehy | 52
Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce president

“His goal on closing the [education] achievement gap – Tim has got a ton of people wrapped up in that.”
– Danae Davis, Pearls for Teen Girls CEO

“He walks the talk.”
–Abby Ramirez, Schools That Can executive director

Michael Cudahy | 87
philanthropist and retired businessman

“Has a vision to benefit the common good.”
– Milwaukee Ald. Bob Bauman

“Fearless in terms of stirring the pot.”
–Tim Sheehy, MMAC president

Sheldon Lubar |  82 
philanthropist and founder of Lubar & Co.

“A catalyst. He certainly has enriched the debate. You don’t have to agree with him, but he’s serving the community by putting his thoughts out there.”
– José Olivieri

“A mover and shaker.”
– Bob Zigman, retired public relations maven

Rich Meeusen |  57
CEO of Badger Meter

“A visionary.”
– Paul Mathews, Marcus Center for the Performing Arts president and CEO

“He has a vision of the water industry in Milwaukee as an instrument of change.”
– Daniel Bader

Julia Taylor | 57
president of the Greater Milwaukee Committee

“Hitting her stride. On the Water Council and UWM’s School of Freshwater Sciences, Julia didn’t let go.”
– Danae Davis

“She tends to seek out individuals and organizations that are likely to collaborate rather than protect turf.”
– T. Michael Bolger, retired president, Medical College of Wisconsin


We didn’t seek out nominations for most disappointing leader, yet a choice emerged anyway:

Tom Barrett. Two newly elected politicians – County Executive Chris Abele and Gov. Scott Walker – got kudos for leadership even from those who disagreed with their policies. But Barrett, who’s served as mayor for seven years, is mostly damned with faint praise.

“Tom Barrett is extremely intelligent. He’s decent and honest,” says businessman Sheldon Lubar, who supported his mayoral campaigns. “I wish he was bolder and a risk-taker.”

“I don’t see Tom getting out there and being a lightning rod,” says Ed Zore, former CEO of Northwestern Mutual. “He’s not a strong leader. I said to him, ‘You’re the leader of the city. Tell me what you want business to do.’ ”Complaints about Barrett come from all sectors. He’s universally seen as a nice guy, but as one observer complains, “How far does nice get you?”

A minority opinion comes from Julia Taylor, Greater Milwaukee Committee president, who compliments Barrett’s day-to-day tenacity. “Sometimes what can make a big difference in government is not the big bold stuff but rather the smaller ideas.” And that is Barrett’s strength, she says.

Kurt Chandler is a senior editor at Milwaukee Magazine. Write to him at