February 21, 2019. Louisville, KY – Mike Berry, the longest serving President and CEO of the Kentucky Derby Festival, will retire at the end of 2019. Berry started his career with the Festival in 1986 as an Event Coordinator and worked his way up to overseeing the entire Festival. He’s been at the helm now for more than 20 years, guiding the Festival in its role as a pivotal player in the city’s entertainment landscape and one of the world’s most renowned civic celebrations. For the Louisville native, his more than 33-year career with the Festival has been a true labor of love – one that started when he was a child aboard the Delta Queen in the Great Steamboat Race.
“Growing up in Louisville, the Kentucky Derby Festival has always been a part of my life. That’s not going to change,” said Mike Berry, Kentucky Derby Festival, President and CEO. “I’ll always be one of the Festival’s biggest fans, and we’re planning one of our best Festival’s yet for 2019.”
Berry has worked alongside the Festival’s 22-person staff and over 4,000 volunteers to constantly improve the Festival’s programming, position it for further growth and ensure its economic impact, now at $128 million annually. He has always been committed to helping the organization grow and prosper.
“The Festival is now positioned for our next 65 years. I look forward to seeing a new generation of leadership take it to even higher levels,” said Berry.
Berry served as the Governor’s representative on the Festival’s Board of Directors from 1984 until joining the Festival staff in 1986. As an Event Coordinator, he managed events such as the miniMarathon, They’re Off! Luncheon and Great Steamboat Race. In 1988, Berry became the Director of Marketing and Corporate Relations where he grew the Festival’s sponsorship base to more than 300 strong and worked with some of the nation’s most recognizable brands like Delta Air Lines and Cadillac. Following 6 ½ years as the Vice President/Managing Director under then-CEO Dan Mangeot, he was named President and CEO in 1997. Berry served as 2004 Chairman of the International Festivals and Events Association and was inducted into its Hall of Fame in 2008. During his tenure, the Festival has received the Gold Grand Pinnacle for Best Overall Festival eight times.
“Mike’s passion for the Festival is unmatched and he will leave very big shoes to fill,” said Marita Willis, Chair of the 2019 Festival. “We are indebted to him for all his years of service not just to the Festival, but also to the community. We hope everyone will join us in celebrating the upcoming Festival with him.”
As for his next chapter, said Berry, “I’ll be taking time to enjoy family and look forward to getting reacquainted with the spring season next year. Whether it is through consulting, involvement in the tourism industry or a second chapter in my community service career, I can’t imagine not being involved in the life of my hometown.”
About Kentucky Derby Festival: Since 1956, the Derby Festival has worked to bring the community together in celebration. The Festival is an independent community organization supported by 4,000 volunteers, 400 businesses and civic groups, Pegasus Pin sponsorships and event participation. This involvement has made the Festival the largest single attended event in Kentucky and one of the leading community celebrations in the world.