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Marshall Field V/photo by Erik Unger 0

Checking in with Marshall Field V

September 8th, 2012

Marshall Field V is a fanatic about fishing. He travels to Andros Island to catch bonefish and New Brunswick for Atlantic salmon. But of all the fish in the sea, his favorite conquest is carp from northern Wisconsin.

The irony that the patriarch of one of Chicago’s most venerable families finds satisfaction in such a lowly fish is not lost on him.

“They’re not fancy. They’re slimy and they fight like hell,” the great-great-grandson of the department store founder says.

But he’s in it for the challenge, relishing the care it takes to tie flies and cast for the peskiest of fish.

“It’s always been about the fishing. I work to fish,” Mr. Field says. “You’re looking at someone who’s on the way out.”

The hyperbole is convincing but for his schedule.

Mr. Field oversees a $500 million fundraising effort for the Chicago Community Trust endowment (it has raised $300 million so far); meets with officials at the Field Museum, where he’s a trustee; and is active with the Washington-based World Wildlife Fund, which is planning to open an office in Chicago.

Mr. Field also opens his own office, located on Wacker Drive and tastefully decorated with fish artifacts, to people seeking insight from his years heading the family business, Field Enterprises Inc. It’s here that I sat down to catch up with the 71-year-old philanthropist.

“Most people who come for advice secretly come for money,” he says. “I have fun with it.”

He detests what dollar signs can do to people, however.

He left the dog-eat-dog world of business in 1984 when Field Enterprises was dissolved and sold off. “I looked around and there were heirs of other private people who were busy suing and fighting each other,” he says. “I thought, this is an opportunity to change my life.”

 

He focused on buying stocks and bonds, investing in small companies through his Old Mountain Co. and raising money for charities.

It was an adjustment, says Mr. Field, who was an angel investor long before the phrase was common. He was among the first to put money into New World Ventures, founded in 1996 by J.B. Pritzker.

Mr. Field also brought stability to the Terra Foundation for American Art, an organization that struggled with an identity crisis after its founder died. Once a Chicago museum, the organization now uses grants and projects to educate on American art.

“I like the challenge of turning around a company or charity. It’s not about getting paid,” he says. “It’s because you want to see it succeed.”

Mr. Field and his wife, Jamee, split their time between homes in Lake Forest and Hobe Sound, Fla., a low-key town on the coast where old money goes to get away from it all.

He’s on his iPad during the evenings and tends to his art collection, which he plans to split up one day among his four children.

He’s confident they’ll carry on the family name, even if it’s not in the throes of industry.

His son, Marshall Field VI, is a horse trainer in upstate New York. His youngest daughter, Abby,lives just outside New York. Jamee, named after her mother, is a Field Museum trustee who is planning her wedding. And Stephanie, who married into the Harris family, juggles the activities of two children and work behind the scenes at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Chicago Children’s Museum.

“She and her husband lived in New York for a few years. Six months after she moved there, she was head of the junior board of the Metropolitan” Museum of Art, Mr. Field says of his daughter’s philanthropic and fundraising acumen. “She’s got it.”

Seems she knows how to reel them in, just like dad.



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