Samuel Thomas 
General Manager | McCormick Place

It doesn’t take long to realize that Samuel Thomas exudes enthusiasm. His joie de vive comes through as soon as he starts talking about taking on the general manager’s position for Oak View Group and McCormick Place, the largest convention center in North America.


Managing a convention center with 2.6 million square feet of exhibit space, all part of a complex in Chicago that includes the 10,000-seat Wintrust Arena and the 4,249-seat Arie Crown Theater, is a daunting task.

That’s where Thomas’ management philosophy, honed over 30 years in the industry, of not trying to invent the wheel but to add a layer of expertise, comes into play, adding to what OVG brings to the country’s third-biggest market.

“That’s the approach that I hope to bring with me, a collective work approach,” Thomas said. “It’s one another buying into it. Is everybody buying into each other, understanding the goals, the visions, and so forth?”

Strengthening a unified corporate culture is one of his goals, in a position he started in the beginning of September.

“I’m a very principle-based leader, meaning that, like a football team, if you don’t understand the playbook, and if everyone is not reading from the same playbook, then you’re all over the place,” he said. “I’m comforted to know that I’m walking into a venue, I’m walking into an organization that already is so (connected) with one another. They have a shared vision and that really gets me excited to be able to join an organization like that, because I believe in the principle of understanding culture, vision.”

Thomas, who started his career with Marriott Corp., relocated to Chicago from Washington, D.C., where he was executive vice president and chief operating officer of Events DC.
He is now reunited with Events DC’s former CEO and current president of venue management for OVG360, Greg O’Dell.

“Not only is he a great operator from a venue manager perspective, he also has incredible credentials and experience on the food side as well,” O’Dell said of Thomas. “The thing I love about him is he also is the servant leader, you know, and that’s something he lives by. He would never ask anybody to do anything he’s not willing to do himself. He leads by example and it’s just infectious.” — James Zoltak

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