A Reinvention Story
What caused Catalyst Ranch to suddenly appear in the West Loop back in late 2002, before it was the hippest neighborhood in the city? Because it did feel like it suddenly materialized within the shell of an industrial building from the 1880s that had previously been used for meatpacking and sausage smoking.
The idea for Catalyst Ranch was born out of necessity. Eva Niewiadomski, who had worked for The Quaker Oats Company for 14 years in a variety of capacities, suddenly found herself now part of the Pepsi organization after a merger. And as with every merger, there are frequent reorganizations and after a year of such tumultuous occurrences, Eva found herself missing from the newest org chart. What a shock! After all, she was working in New Product Development and had just launched two of the largest brand extensions in the Snacks Division after others had failed for so many years.
But sometimes we need that sudden shock to see new possibilities for ourselves. The significant severance package presented an opportunity to take a risky leap that otherwise would not have been possible, especially for a first generation Polish-American from a working class family without financial resources or business connections.
So, in a moment that truly exemplifies the power of disruption to create truly breakthrough ideas, the anxiety of figuring out what’s next led to the birth of the Catalyst Ranch concept, hours after getting the news of lay-off.
People ask Eva frequently – How did you come up with the idea for Catalyst Ranch? It’s like trying to explain an epiphany. The best she can do is to give you some of the components that were crucial, but the rest really can’t be explained.
- Eva was trained as a facilitator for Ideation Sessions and had created multiple-day innovation sessions held offsite at non-traditional locations. But those were a lot of work as you had to bring in all your own office supplies, creative prompts and product samples.
- Eva created two Innovation Hallways at Quaker Oats that turned unused space into something dynamic. They were low-tech, hands-on and invited everyone, irrespective of their individual roles, to share their ideas.
- Eva crafted a Creativity Room (an off-the-grid conference room) for her division out of an abandoned storage room, furnishing it with vintage items and lots of color. People absolutely loved working in the Creativity Room, to an extent that surprised Eva.
- Eva’s cubicle office was filled with art, toys and color that drew people into wanting to hang out at her desk.
- Eva’s home was decorated in a unique style utilizing a mix of vintage and ethnic furnishings and artwork that her friends loved to explore and managed to discover something new in each visit.
How the Idea Came to Life
Once the idea was shared with her colleagues and friends, the positive and supportive response propelled Eva to realize her vision. The conversion of a raw space of 9,000 sq. ft. into a creative meeting venue in a matter of 5 weeks was only possible through the collaboration of contractors, friends and family. Eva’s dad became her first employee at age 78. He repaired and refinished furniture, did reupholstery and anything else that needed his brilliant handyman touch. He continued to be the go-to guy for many years.
Catalyzing Creative Thinking
The creative environment of Catalyst Ranch continued to evolve and expand over the years as clients embraced this revolutionary concept. Nine thousand square feet grew to 15,000 sq. ft. and the staff grew accordingly. Our Ranch Hand alumni are all multi-talented individuals, many of them working in the arts. It is a joy to see them succeeding in their post-Ranch life.
Where We Are Now
The pandemic wreaked havoc on our industry and Catalyst Ranch was no exception. But we managed to continue innovating and to persevere. Our space may be smaller, but we did manage to add some new space (check out The Samba) and are more convinced than ever that a creative offsite venue is what’s needed to help foster new ideas and help them flourish.