Peggy Williams-Smith Is New CEO of Visit Milwaukee

Peggy Williams-Smith was the only candidate for Visit Milwaukee’s new CEO, jokes Omar Shaikh, chair of the CVB’s board of directors.

Peggy Williams-Smith Is New CEO of Visit Milwaukee

The truth is Williams-Smith was the only one right for the Milwaukee job.

What Williams-Smith may lack in experience at convention and visitors bureaus, she makes up for in leadership and business development skills, says Shaikh.

How does he know? Williams-Smith has been a Milwaukee staple since graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 1994. She most recently served as senior vice president of Marcus Hotels & Resorts, a national company based in Milwaukee that she worked for the past 13 years.

Her background was the difference in how a nationwide search landed on a local. Williams-Smith is fully vested in the community, having lived downtown for 15 years. The first woman to hold the CVB’s CEO title enters at a crucial and dynamic time. 

Milwaukee will host the Democratic National Convention in 2020, a mega event to make most destinations’ year. But the city will also host the Ryder Cup, USA Triathlon’s Age Group National Championships, the 140th Annual Meeting of Northwestern Mutual Agents and the largest travel writer convention in the world, the Society of American Travel Writers.

Some may squirm at the pressure of such big events. Not Williams-Smith, who replaces Paul Upchurch, who will pursue other interests. 

“Milwaukee is poised to step into the national spotlight,” she says. “I can’t imagine better time to take the lead.”

Williams-Smith is so familiar with Milwaukee that she’s stumped at first to say what would surprise visitors. The gorgeous lakefront and vibrant arts scene are common knowledge to her, but perhaps not to convention and event attendees.

“We are a very quiet city; we are unassuming;” she says. “We like to get things done but are not braggadocious.” 

Planners have certainly been impressed given the 2020 lineup. Williams-Smith will be coming at the events from a different perspective than she had in the hotel world, but understands what is at stake.

“This is something for us to capitalize on to make sure we get more business moving forward,” she says.

New hotels are coming online just in time and a large food hall will be ready in 2020. Other unusual venues are popping up that will serve planners years after the DNC.

While the DNC will likely produce the most headlines and room nights, Williams-Smith is quick to highlight other events. Before all the Dems arrive in August, Milwaukee will host the Moose International 2020 Annual North American Convention. Another huge event coming to Fiserv Center is The Jewish Community Centers of North America 2020 JSummit. Both occur in May.

“Peggy will have to hit the ground running,” acknowledges Shaikh. “She won’t have a year to get to know the key players.”

That’s why it was important to stay close to home. Williams-Smith has received several accolades. The Milwaukee Business Journal named her as a “40 under 40” winner in 2010 and a “Woman of Influence” in 2017. 

Shaikh is just one of many local businesspeople who has worked with Williams-Smith. Her personality and accomplishments impressed him throughout the search, which, in reality, was first narrowed down to six qualified candidates before narrowing down to two.

“I know she knows how to get things done; she is a known quantity,” Shaikh says.