The Interview: Peggy Williams-Smith

Learn more about:

Peggy Williams-Smith
President and chief executive officer, VISIT Milwaukee
648 N. Plankinton Ave., Suite 220
Employees: 36

Peggy Williams-Smith recently assumed her new role as president and CEO of VISIT Milwaukee. The former senior vice president of Marcus Hotels & Resorts was selected from a national pool of 100 applicants to replace Paul Upchurch, who left the organization after nine years to pursue other opportunities. Williams-Smith takes the helm of the convention and visitors bureau right before one of the biggest tourism years ever for the area, which will include the 2020 Democratic National Convention, the 2020 Ryder Cup in Sheboygan County and a handful of other large-scale events. BizTimes reporter Maredithe Meyer recently caught up with Williams-Smith about her expectations for 2020.

You’re onboarding at the end of a big year for local tourism with Milwaukee’s 2020 DNC win. How will you continue that momentum?

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“By making sure that we’re capitalizing on it, that we’re talking about ourselves, that we’re out there at the table. That we’re at every single event that will allow us to talk to people, bring them to the city and get them in here to sign contracts so that we continue. (The DNC) has already done wonderful things for the city. We’ve had site tours for groups that had never looked at us before just because we’re the host for the DNC, and I think that will continue to happen. And it’s not just the DNC. We’ve got a summer chock-full of national events that put us on a national stage.”

What’s your vision for VISIT Milwaukee ahead of a jam-packed year?

“My vision for the organization is to make sure we are supporting all of our partners by making sure that we have conventions and leisure travelers filling our hotels and our convention center. It’s the mission of the organization and it will be my mission as well to make sure that we get as many visitors and as many eyes on this city as we possibly can during this extremely busy summer, being on a national stage.”

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How will your past leadership experience guide you in this new role?

“We have an amazing 2020 and that didn’t happen by accident. It happened with strong leadership from the board as well as the team that’s in place here at VISIT Milwaukee, so getting acquainted with them and making sure that I listen to everything they did right and how we can capitalize on that is going to be huge in any success that I’ll have … My first order of business is to meet with every single person who works at VISIT Milwaukee to understand what they do, what they’ve done successfully, what they need to do their jobs better, what the city needs to do, what help I can provide to them. And having been in the city for such a long time, I have quite a wide network of colleagues that can help.”

What does it mean to be the first woman to lead the organization?

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“It’s quite humbling to be the first woman. I am proud of the search that they did, which was full of diversity and inclusion to make sure they brought all of the candidates to the table. It’s part of my DNA, it’s part of who I’ve been since I first joined TEMPO Milwaukee nearly 15 years ago – making sure that women have a seat at the table and it’s exciting for me to have that seat. However, what I’ve quickly learned is that there are other women who lead organizations like this, and I will be reaching out to them to lean on them to make sure I can be successful in this role – not just as a woman, but as a leader – by utilizing the experiences that they’ve had to ensure that I don’t make any missteps. I’m sure there will be mistakes, but that I can recover quickly from them.”

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