Truly great cities offer a forum where the intellectually curious come to engage with thought leaders and provocateurs alike. Boston offers the Ford Hall Forum, the Commonwealth Club attracts huge crowds in San Francisco, and Chicagoans pack the Executive Club. The Economic Club of Indiana feeds that appetite for Central Indiana. The roots of the Club trace back to 1974 when a small group believed that launching a speakers forum would be an amenity to the city, provoking thought and “enlightening its membership on important governmental, economic and social issues.” Three members of the Penrod Society led the formal organization of the Economic Club on September 16, 1974: David S. Orr, then an Indiana Bell executive; John Medveciks, an investment broker; and Theodore R. Boehm, an Indiana Supreme Court Justice. It was important to the organizers as it remains today that participation be open and affordable for the entire community.
Original officers included president Thomas H. Lake, then president of Eli Lilly & Company; vice-president Henry Goodrich, then chairman of Inland Container; treasurer Frank E. McKinney Jr., then president of American Fletcher National Bank; and secretary Robert Greenleaf, a business professor at IUPUI, who directed much of the club’s activities for the next 20 years.The first program was a November 4 speech by Elliott L. Richardson, the former Attorney General of the United States and one-time Secretary of Defense. Richardson was a year removed from his role in the so-called “Saturday Night Massacre,” when President Nixon dismissed him for his refusal to fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox during the Watergate investigation. A crowd approaching 900 people turned out for that first luncheon – and the rest, as they say, is history. Since its founding, the Economic Club has acquired a status which attracts speakers wanting to address a significant Midwest audience. Still operating on Theodore Roosevelt’s thesis that “Indianapolis is America’s most representative city,” speakers frequently want to test their new ideas before what many perceive to be one of America’s most typical audiences.
The Club has had a diversity of speakers over the years including prospective presidential candidates, such as George H.W. Bush, cabinet officials, including Treasury Secretaries Robert Rubin, John Snow, and Hank Paulson, ambassadors from Germany, France, and Canada, foreign dignitaries such as former South African President F.W. de Klerk, Nobel laureates, including three-time speaker Milton Friedman, a Supreme Court justice, business leaders such as Roger Penske, Eli Lilly’s John Lechleiter, and General Motors president Mary Barra, public policy makers including former Governors Mitch Daniels and Evan Bayh, political commentators such as George Will, Gwen Ifill, Peggy Noonan, Juan Williams and David Brooks. The Club hosted revered Hoosier and coach John Wooden, renowned authors and explorers, the president of the World Bank, the chairman and several governors of the Federal Reserve System, the heads of United Way Worldwide and American Red Cross as well as prominent local business and nonprofit leaders.