Don Smiley to retire as CEO of Milwaukee World Festivals next year

COO Sarah Smith Pancheri promoted to president

Don Smiley, president and CEO of Milwaukee World Festival Inc.

Last updated on June 6th, 2022 at 10:43 am

Longtime Summerfest leader Don Smiley will retire at the end of 2023.

Smiley has served as president and chief executive officer of Summerfest operator Milwaukee World Festival Inc. since 2004. He announced his retirement at a MWF board meeting Friday morning.

Sarah Smith Pancheri, chief operating officer and vice president of sales and marketing at MWF, has been tapped to take over the role as president of the 501(c)(3) organization. Smiley will remain CEO through December 2023.

“Don will continue to provide overall leadership for Henry Maier Festival Park, Summerfest and Milwaukee World Festival Inc. in fulfillment of our non-profit mission,” said Howard Sosoff, chairman of MWF.  “Don’s contribution to our organization, the Milwaukee community and the state of Wisconsin is remarkable given his vision and execution of rebuilding Henry Maier Festival Park, making it possible to invest more than $160 million, culminating with the redevelopment of the American Family Insurance Amphitheater. The organization will continue to benefit from his leadership.”

Smiley also served as chairman of the

Pancheri first joined MWF in 1999 as director of corporate sales and left seven years later for leadership roles at Marquette University’s development department and later at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee. She returned to MWF in 2015 as vice president of sales and marketing, responsible for sponsorships, partnerships, advertising and public relations. She was promoted to COO in 2019, which added oversight of operations and event management to her responsibilities. During her current tenure, Pancheri has been involved in more than $150 million in capital development on the grounds, said Sosoff.

“Sarah is one of the most talented executives I have ever hired and promoted,” said Smiley. “She has played a crucial role in our success, building an all-star team that continues to create value for our sponsors, partners, and fans. She has forged relationships locally and nationally with a variety of stakeholders who recognize the value of Henry Maier Festival Park and associating with Summerfest presented by American Family Insurance, the World’s Largest Music Festival.

Going forward, Pancheri will work closely with Smiley as MWF continues to manage Henry Maier Festival Park, Summerfest (presented by American Family Insurance) and an increasing number of concerts and events. The organization is the midst of the busiest concert season in more than 15 years at Henry Maier Festival Park, with 38 shows scheduled from May through October.

“I have had the good fortune to grow with this organization and am excited to have an opportunity to further enhance our mission,” said Pancheri. “In partnership with Don, I look forward to continuing to deliver a diverse calendar of events which represents the world’s top talent as well as festivals which consistently engender significant civic pride.”

The news of Smiley’s retirement follows an earlier announcement that Bob Babisch will step down from his role of vice president of entertainment at WMF at the end of the year. Babisch, who joined Milwaukee World Festival in 1976, has been in his current position of vice president of entertainment for most of those years, leading the team that handles booking and production for all concerts during Summerfest and non-festival shows held at the American Family Insurance Amphitheater and BMO Harris Pavilion. Babisch will retain a consulting role with MWF after the 2022 season.

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Maredithe has covered retail, restaurants, entertainment and tourism since 2018. Her duties as associate editor include copy editing, page proofing and managing work flow. Meyer earned a degree in journalism from Marquette University and still enjoys attending men’s basketball games to cheer on the Golden Eagles. Also in her free time, Meyer coaches high school field hockey and loves trying out new restaurants in Milwaukee.

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