Don Smiley will step down as Summerfest chef at the end of 2023


The Big Gig is undergoing a big change in management as it announced a major succession plan on Friday.

Don Smiley said 2023 will mark his final year as president and CEO of Milwaukee World Festival Inc., the organization that oversees Summerfest.

Smiley, who has run Summerfest since 2004, announced the move at the band’s board meeting, saying, “It’s been a fantastic ride.”

In a vote, the board chose Smiley’s successor, longtime Summerfest leader Sarah Pancheri.

Pancheri, who is chief operating officer of the Milwaukee World Festival and vice president of marketing, was immediately elevated to president.

Smiley will retain the role of CEO until the end of his term.

After:Summerfest general manager Don Smiley received $1.292 million in compensation in 2020

After:Summerfest president Don Smiley bought a $1.6 million home on Lake Pewaukee

“The opportunity to serve in this role is incredibly meaningful,” Pancheri said. “We are just thrilled as a team to move forward.”

The transition marks the Big Gig’s biggest change since Bo Black’s long tenure completed in 2003.

Smiley is a Racine native who rose to prominence in sports and marketing in South Florida.

After:Summerfest’s most talented booker Bob Babisch retires after 46 years

He worked for businessman Wayne Huizenga, who founded video company Blockbuster Entertainment. When Huizenga ventured into the sport, Smiley followed, serving as president of the Florida Marlins baseball team.

In 2004 he was hired to join Summerfest. Smiley leveraged its strengths by fostering relationships with major sponsors. And he oversaw the long-term reconstruction of the Summerfest stages, which culminated in the redesign of the American Family Insurance Amphitheater.

Summerfest will take place over three weekends, June 23-25, June 30-July 2, and July 7-9.

Guns N' Roses headlines the American Family Insurance Amphitheater during Summerfest on September 18, 2021.

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