CHICAGO, IL – 08.01.1997
By: J. Paul Beitler
I was Lee Miglin’s partner for 20 years. What I would like to share with you is the greatest gift that Lee Miglin had: the way he thought. He held three important values in his life and thought about them often.
The first was his work. Lee thought about work in a way that few of us do. For him it was a craft, something special that was always treated with seriousness, executed with precision and with the expectation that whatever he did would ultimately be held to the highest standard of excellence. He thought of his work not as a workaholic, as a vehicle for escape riddled with anxiety if he wasn t in his office, but instead as an avenue of enjoyment and pleasure filled with rewards that you don t measure in dollars. Work brought out the little boy in him. He made work play. For him it was a way to exercise the mind to challenge himself to reach beyond his grasp, to think the unthinkable thought, to see commonplace things with a new
No matter how difficult the crisis, or chaotic the opportunity, he always chose to frame his work in a positive way. For this former Air Force pilot, attitude was indeed altitude.
I remember one Saturday he came into my office with an unusual bottle of perfume in his hand, and he said: “You know Paul, whenever our architect friends run out of ideas for
the design of buildings we should go over to Marshall Fields and visit their perfume department. They have hundreds of bottles like this one that were inspired by the best designers in the world. I bet we could use one of those bottles as a blueprint for our next building.” In addition to making this creative connection, I suspect that he wasn t above saving the cost of some of the architectural fees either!
The second value that he held constantly in his thoughts was the responsibility of community. He would smile that unforgettable “Lee Miglin” smile when people would gather to look at things such as the Louise Nevelson art piece at Madison Plaza, or grouse at the statue over the door of the Chicago Bar Association Building, listening to people speculate whether the model for blind justice might really be Judge Abraham Merivitz.
In a very real way, he believed that he had to give back to the community a part of the rewards that came from working successfully within it. Many things that he did you will never know about because he had the courage to do them anonymously.
He thought of beauty often in all forms, from works of art, to the soaring architectural spires of the Chapel of the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, which he dearly loved. From the lines of a beautiful car to the gentle bow of an old apple tree in Bull Valley, where he loved to retreat and renew himself in the cradle of the hillside.
To achieve success, he also knew that conflict was a natural part of the process. I remember one time being really mad at Lee, and I said that I no longer wanted to be his partner. He came around my desk, took my hand and said that if I wanted to take my name off the door that was OK with him if that was OK with me, but it wasn t acceptable to him for me to leave the office angry at him. He said if anything should happen to either one of us, we would spend the rest of our years regretting words spoken in a moment of anger. From that day forward, though we had our differences, we never left the office without saying goodnight to each other as friends.
The third value that Lee held dear was success. He also thought of success much differently than most. For him it wasn t driving a fancy car, or living in a big house — he used to kid me that his house was only 17 ft. wide — or even building the world s tallest building. Lee s image of success was achieved with simple personal deeds. He loved to teach. He was reborn each time he would mentor someone. Success to him was measured in the quality time spent with his family, a sense of team with the employees of his company, intimacy with his friends.
I once asked him what he thought the real meaning of success to be. He never really answered me, but the next day I found a hand-written note and the following passage by Ralph Waldo Emerson on my desk.
His note read: “J. Paul, Hope this answers your question:”
To laugh often and much, to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children, to earn the appreciation of honest critics and to endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.
This was Lee Miglin!
J. Paul Beitler was president and CEO of Miglin-Beitler, a Chicago-based commercial real estate company. He was Lee Miglin s partner for 20 years.