VISIT Milwaukee’s Peggy Williams-Smith on changing culture amid a pandemic│Ep.43

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When Peggy Williams-Smith started as chief executive officer of VISIT Milwaukee in November 2019, she knew the organization was going to need to change. She had seen VISIT lose some of its luster during her more the two decades of experience working in hospitality in downtown Milwaukee.

“It was a pretty fractured culture, it was pretty siloed and there were people who, unfortunately, I think were just fighting to stay afloat and starting to stay alive which caused the organization to be really damaged when I got there,” she said.

Williams-Smith joined Beth Ridley of The Brimful Life on the BizTimes MKE Podcast. VISIT is a Brimful Life client and the two discussed their experience working together. Ridley noted that many of her clients stopped working with her when the pandemic hit and Williams-Smith was one of the first to come back.

“Investing when things are tough is the hardest thing to do, but it’s also the best thing to do, because it helps you look outside of your own four walls and have that person who can then tell you what you’re doing right and wrong,” Williams-Smith said.

She also discussed how she approached her first few months at VISIT, including meeting with everyone on a staff that at the time was around 50 people for 30 minutes each.

Staff members were allowed the first 10 minutes of their conversation to complain about past problems, but the next 20 minutes needed to focus on what the organization needed to do to improve.

Williams-Smith was also careful to set expectations for what was going to come from those initial meetings.

“I wanted them to know during that timeframe that although I wanted their input, that not everyone was going to be intimately involved with every decision and I was not going to take immediate action,” she said.



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Arthur Thomas
Arthur covers banking and finance and the economy at BizTimes while also leading special projects as an associate editor. He spent also five years covering manufacturing at BizTimes. He previously was managing editor at The Waukesha Freeman. He is a graduate of Carroll University and did graduate coursework at Marquette. A native of southeastern Wisconsin, he is also a nationally certified gymnastics judge and enjoys golf on the weekends.