Henry Vicary is the guest and community relations director at Caterpillar Inc., responsible for fostering critical relationships and serving as a delegate for strategic initiatives throughout the region. A Peoria native and second-generation Caterpillar employee, he serves on the boards of the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce, Greater Peoria Economic Development Council, Downtown Development Corporation of Peoria and CEO Council. He was a member of the 1997 class of 40 Leaders Under Forty—and even met his wife on that magical November evening! iBi caught up with Vicary to discuss the duties and challenges of his current role, the future vision for downtown Peoria, and advice for young professionals seeking to make a difference in their community.
Tell us about your early years growing up in Peoria. Did your father’s longtime employment at Caterpillar inspire your future career path?
Central Illinois is a great place to live and to raise a family. I grew up in Peoria, and I am part of a second-generation Caterpillar family. My dad was a proud Caterpillar employee for 34 years. He built engines for much of his career at our Mossville facility. I remember how proud he was to be part of this great company, and this, in turn, had a big impact on my life and my desire to join Caterpillar as an attorney in 2002.
What influenced you to become an attorney?
I had wonderful teachers at Kellar and Lindbergh in District 150, Peoria Christian and Bradley University. I always enjoyed the history, government and law classes throughout my education, leading into Drake University Law School. The study of law and government was always a passion of mine.
You met your wife, Jill, at the 40 Leaders Under Forty ceremony in 1997. Describe that experience.
We both were receiving the award that evening, and I ended up being placed next to her in the group photo. That’s how we met. She is my strength, my best friend and the best mom to our beautiful children, Connor (13) and Olivia (10). I am very lucky to have her in my life. Jill and my family mean everything to me.
Did you have a mentor in the early stages of your career?
Justice Daniel Schmidt, who serves on the Third District Appellate Court for the State of Illinois, has been a mentor to me. Dan is a great judge and has one of the best legal minds in the country. Early in my career, I had the privilege to work for Dan in private practice. He taught me so much—how to be a lawyer, how to try jury cases and how to provide excellent client service at every turn. Dan was a great mentor during the early stages of my career, and he continues to be one of my very best friends today.
How has your work for Caterpillar differed from your previous experience in law?
I joined Caterpillar in 2002 after eight years of private practice. Caterpillar has given me the opportunity to stretch my career into so many great experiences. I originally joined Caterpillar as a workers’ compensation attorney. In 2004, I was named senior compensation attorney over our workers’ compensation insurance portfolio. In 2008, I served as corporate legal counsel for our Product Liability group. Later, in 2012, I was asked to return to the workers’ compensation group as senior corporate legal counsel to lead the WC litigation group. Recently, I was asked to serve as Caterpillar’s guest and community relations director. I feel very fortunate to have been able to serve Caterpillar in these capacities. I have learned so much, and Caterpillar has given me so much more than I can ever give back.
How have the positions you’ve held at Caterpillar helped you grow as a leader?
The most challenging leadership role I’ve had at Caterpillar so far is my current role as guest and community relations director. In September, Caterpillar announced significant restructuring and cost reduction actions. This is a reflection of some of the most challenging times in our company’s history. There will be impact felt in central Illinois, and as the company’s guest and community relations director, it’s my responsibility to play a role in helping the area understand Caterpillar’s continued commitment. As individuals and as a company, we will continue to contribute resources to support the health, welfare and sustainability of communities around the world and where we work and live.
What are some of your duties and objectives in your current role?
Recently, my role expanded to be Caterpillar’s guest and community relations director. In this new role, I will continue to serve our executive office as a delegate for many Caterpillar strategic initiatives throughout the region. I’ll also manage the Caterpillar Visitors Center, our Corporate Customer Services and Corporate Archives, overseeing the strategies for customer and dealer tours and relationships. I am also on the boards of the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce, Greater Peoria Economic Development Council, Downtown Development Corporation of Peoria and CEO Council. A big part of my job is fostering—and cementing—critical relationships in this region. Those business organizations are essential to moving this region forward. Everyone needs to be on the same page if we are going to have a vibrant community for the next generation. It’s imperative for Caterpillar, as well as other large employers in the area, to play a role in shaping the future.
As the headquarters project takes shape, what is the next milestone?
We remain committed to Peoria and central Illinois. However, as we announced in February 2015, we won’t break ground on the new headquarters until global economic conditions improve. Clearly, now is still not the time. Our vision and plans for a new headquarters in downtown Peoria still stand. However, we are unable to predict when visible project work may get started.
Describe Caterpillar’s vision for downtown Peoria… five, 10, 20 years from now.
Downtown Peoria will transform into a true live/work/play experience for all of us, particularly for our young professionals. It is important for many reasons, including our efforts at attracting the next generation of bright young minds who will eventually lead our company. We must offer the types of amenities and opportunities in our downtown that are attractive to young professionals. Our city and county leaders are working very hard to foster this growth and development. Caterpillar will be a big part of this effort.
What advice do you have for young professionals who seek to get involved and make a difference in their community?
I advise young professionals to find their passion and work hard each day to learn and grow as a professional. If you are a doctor, strive to learn and improve your skills each day. If you have a passion to be a golf coach, work hard to be the best. You will succeed if you find your true passion and give it 100 percent each day. Be confident, but humble. Learn and find great mentors along the way. Be patient and work hard. The formula is not complicated, just hard. Get ready and go for it! iBi