Meet Steve Whittington
717 Forest Ave., Lake Forest
Lake Forest/Lake Bluff Chamber: What was your inspiration for opening LifeWorking Coworking?
Steve Whittington: I moved to the Chicagoland area about 4 years ago and was working for Grainger. I had worked 20-plus years with P&G. Long story short, I determined I was not going to be a 20-year veteran at Grainger. I started looking for new opportunities, and a colleague who was a native Chicagoan, said that this ‘networking thing’ is a big deal. He ended up sending like 40 introduction emails out and I started pulling at threads. I figured that I wouldn’t be going back to big corporate and thought I might do consulting. I started going out to cafes and coffee shops, places to eat, (which wasn’t something that I needed to be around…all that food!) and I would look around and see all these people struggling to be productive. That was the genesis for starting this concept of a work place that’s really community-centric, that’s close to where you live, [and] that resolves some
LFLBC: What is your business vision?
SW: When I started this, my background had been at P&G. I had 10 years of mobility, with an IT focus, and 10 years as an enterprise program manager. I would assess the scalability of somebody’s brilliant idea. You know…built with ‘scotch tape and string,’ but it’s going to be the next billion-dollar initiative. My job was to come in and assess if [the product] was scalable, and if so, to bring [in] the team to scale it. I brought both of those building blocks to LifeWorking CoWorking.
The majority of these [coworking facilities] are in urban centers. Very few companies have exploited them, professionally, in the suburbs. The market is wide open, and my vision is not only establishing this location, here in Lake Forest, but to expand into Chicagoland. We expect to have two more locations by this time next year and from there we could get to as many as six in Chicagoland. Then we’d like to expand regionally, looking for suburban markets that have urbanizing communities, transit-oriented design, highly walkable, close to rail, attracting the millennial market, and also provide assets and services for those that are in transition. That’s our business vision…not franchising (yet), but to really grow this company at a relatively aggressive pace.
LFLBC: What is one thing you want customers to know about your business?
SW: We are more than workspace. I don’t even like that word, ‘space.’ We are Work PLACE. The word ‘place’ has more of an emotional connotation. You come in and you can see that we are contemporary. We want you to come in and say “Wow!” If we took this downtown, we may not get as much of a wow factor, but there is a wow factor here in Lake Forest. We really want folks to know that we’re hospitality. If you are a member of ours, we don’t just treat you to a great space, but we have events focused on networking. We’ve done salsa nights here and comedy shows to benefit non-profits. We host the [Lake Forest/Lake Bluff] Chamber. It’s really more than just a space to work. We will be bringing amenities online and want to surround you with what is important. Our mission is to enable the best, most productive marginal minute, whether you are working, networking, or life-working. What that means is that you may be C-Suite (CEO, CFO, etc.) capable, but you happen to be running the household. You’re running foundations, or community organizing, and we are the place for you.
LFLBC: What is your most successful business initiative?
SW: We had a campaign just before the holidays last year that was called Get Your Spouse Out of the House. We had a spouse walk into the Mustard Seed and saw one of our little cards. She took a picture, sent it to her husband, and said “Here’s where you’re going!” Not, “You should check this out.” We had several of those new members join from that initiative.
LFLBC: Do you collaborate with other local businesses?
SW: We’re excited about our new collaboration with the Lake Forest Chamber of Commerce. It’s an innovative program that we just announced--a combined membership with the Chamber and LifeWorking Coworking called ‘ChamberWorking.’ This exclusive membership is for folks that want to join both organizations. You get meeting space, a Lake Forest business address, secure Wi-Fi access and print capabilities along with all the benefits of LF/LB Chamber membership, like networking opportunities, promotion, educational forums and more. We’re even going to launch a mentor program in conjunction with the membership.
We’ve also worked with the Chicago Comedy All-Stars and put on two LaughWorking events that benefited the American Cancer Society and Safe Haven Schools. We are a sponsor for Lake Forest College’s Relay for Life. We have local corporations that use us for professional meetings.
LFLBC: How does your business give back to the community?
SW: Our main goal is to find businesses that are maybe a little bit earlier in their life and help them grow. From a community perspective, it’s what we do with the Chamber of Commerce. Another event that we have every quarter is an art gallery. All the art that is in LifeWorking Coworking is from local community artists. We put together a wine and cheese shindig and meet the local artists. If they sell, great, it’s just an opportunity to help the local artists, especially in an environment where galleries are starting to close.
LFLBC: What is something that you can tell the community about yourself that makes you unique?
SW: I’m a startup entrepreneur at 50 years old and I never thought I would be! I wasn’t ready to do what I’m doing right now, until now. I was an exchange student in Sweden when I was 15 years old. I’m a veteran of the Armed Forces. I was in the army for a couple of years and then the national guard. I’m a graduate of Ohio State University. My children are both 4th generation Buckeyes as well. I worked for Proctor and Gamble with my wife, and we got to live all over the world. It was a great business opportunity but even better chance to show my kids the world.
This is where LifeWorking comes into play. I believe passionately that we live in a very complex world and everybody is working to ‘push the pea,’ to get ahead, to take one step forward in our complex, daily lives, no matter who you are or where you come from. I believe that very strongly and that’s why we are Life and Working combined.