“There’s this big building in Chicago called the Sears Tower. You heard of it?” Joseph Plumeri, chief executive of Willis Group Holdings, asked graduating seniors in June at the College of William & Mary in Virginia.
That’s also the way Plumeri would tell people how he planned to rename that skyscraper the Willis Tower. They would say his idea was impossible, that the building had its name since 1973, and who was he to change it?
To which he responded that Sears hasn’t even been there since 1993, so why not?
Plumeri negotiated a price for 2% of the space. The owner asked if they had a deal.
“Not exactly,” Plumeri said.
“What do you want now?” the owner replied.
Plumeri told him the tower’s name was a jinx, that it needed a new, vibrant, forward-looking name.
“When we dedicated that building, I was on the evening news with Brian Williams and he said to me, ‘How, Joe, after so many years it was called the Sears Tower, how did you get them to change the name to Willis?’ And I looked into the camera and I said, ‘I asked.’ ”
— Adapted from “Words of Wisdom: Commencement Speakers,” The New York Times.