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Evan N. Zeppos
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Former Florida Marlins president, entertainment industry executive and Racine native will take
newly created top position with goal of moving Summerfest to the “next level”
MILWAUKEE, Wis. – The Milwaukee World Festival, Inc. Board of Directors today selected Donald A. Smiley – past president of the Florida Marlins Baseball Club, past chairman of Pro Player Stadium, a former executive with Blockbuster Entertainment and a 20-year veteran of the entertainment and special event industry – to fill the newly created position of chief executive officer.
Smiley, a Racine native who graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, will assume his new position on or before June 1. He will be paid about $225,000 annually, plus benefits, under what is expected to be a three-year agreement. Milwaukee World Festival, Inc. decided to make the new leader of its organization a chief executive officer because, according to Board President Howard Schnoll, the organization is moving forward to the next level, and the group believes Smiley’s talent and expertise will accomplish that goal.
“Don Smiley is an experienced chief executive and an outstanding choice to lead Summerfest and Milwaukee World Festival,” said Schnoll. “He not only has local roots and a connection to this community, but he also brings to the table a valuable national perspective, experience and contacts. We are excited to have Don in the newly created position of CEO, and look forward to the continued growth and success of Summerfest and Milwaukee’s renowned ethnic and cultural festivals under his leadership.”
Smiley was instrumental in starting the Florida Marlins franchise in Miami in the early 1990s. He served as the club’s president from 1994 to 1999 and led the organization to a World Series championship in 1997. He is the former chairman of Pro Player Stadium in Miami, where he was responsible for event management of the 1995 Super Bowl, the 1997 World Series, major college bowl games, concerts, Major League Baseball games and NFL games.
Prior to joining the Marlins, Smiley worked for Blockbuster Entertainment Corp. in various positions, including assistant to the Chairman of the Board. He led a number of the company’s early marketing and branding programs, and helped grow Blockbuster into a position of world leadership in the video rental and entertainment industry.
Smiley has also successfully served as executive director of the Honda Classic golf tournament, one of the top events on the PGA Tour, and vice president of marketing for Huizenga Holdings. Most recently, he was owner and president of Smiley/Chirkinian Golf Ventures, Inc., which organized and developed a junior golf championship tour.
In Florida, Smiley has been active with various community groups, including the Boys and Girls Club, performing arts organizations and the United Way. He was awarded the Outstanding Young Alumni Award from UW-Oshkosh in 1996 and has served as a board member for the Doral Rider Open golf tournament, the Orange Bowl and the selection committee for the ESPY awards.
“Don’s experience as a chief executive officer and his talents and background in the entertainment and event management field put him in a strong position to be successful in this job,” said Board member Dan Minahan, who chaired the Board’s search committee. “He will work well with the staff and forge a strong partnership with the ethnic festivals and others who use our spectacular lakefront grounds. Don also knows how to work with both local and national sponsors and understands that it takes literally thousands of people – entertainers, staff, vendors, volunteers and more – to make Summerfest the world-renowned music and entertainment festival that it is. We look forward to having Don lead our team.”
In September, the Board voted to conduct a national search for a new leader after deciding not to renew the contract of then-Executive Director Elizabeth “Bo” Black. More than 100 people applied for the job, Schnoll said.
“We had an incredible array of candidates from all over the country to choose from, which is a testament to the quality of this organization and the reputation of Summerfest and the ethnic festivals,” he said. “We had many excellent candidates for the position, and we considered a broad range of diverse and talented people, including women and minorities and local and national candidates. Throughout the interviews and the selection process, Don showed that he was the best person for the job.”
Schnoll said that among the priorities for Smiley would be finding ways to expand use of the festival grounds, keeping Summerfest and the ethnic festivals affordable and connected to the community, expanding the range of activities offered during the daytime and midweek at Summerfest and finalizing and implementing a new strategic plan.
“Don’s challenges are many, but we have a great staff already on board that has been busy planning this year’s Summerfest and schedule of ethnic festivals and other activities,” Schnoll said. “We are in good shape for the coming festival season, and Don is looking forward to working with and learning from the rest of our team.”