A major force on the theatrical landscape for decades, Smith will also resign his duties as Chairman of The Shubert Foundation, the nation’s largest private foundation dedicated to not-for-profit theater and dance company funding.
Smith will be succeeded at both Shubert and the Shubert Foundation by Shubert’s current President and Co-CEO Robert E. Wankel. Smith will become Chairman Emeritus.
In a statement, Smith said, “The decision to retire feels exactly right at this time in my life. The current Covid-19 crisis has pushed the business of Broadway into uncharted territory. It seems an appropriate time for me to step down and turn over my leadership responsibilities to my friend and colleague, Bob Wankel.”
The many Shubert hits during Smith’s years at the company include Cats, Sunday in the Park with George, Dreamgirls, The Heidi Chronicles, Jerome Robbins’ Broadway, Amadeus, Children of a Lesser God, The Grapes of Wrath, Ain’t Misbehavin’, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Lucky Guy, Nice Work if You Can Get It, Spamalot, The Elephant Man, The Audience, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, School of Rock – The Musical and King Charles III.
Said Wankel, “The retirement of Phil Smith is a pivotal moment not only in the history of The Shubert Organization but also in the history of the American Theatre. His wisdom from years of experience has influenced every aspect of the professional theatre. From the ushers up to the greatest performers and creative talents of our time, he is one of the most admired and respected individuals the industry has ever known. It is a legacy to be very proud of and I salute him as a giant of the American Theatre and a most beloved member of the Shubert family.”
The Shubert Organization owns and operates 17 Broadway theaters and six Off-Broadway venues. In announcing Smith’s retirement, the company called him “a leading figure in the theatre community, shaping all aspects of production, theatre operations, management and creative development.”
Smith joined Shubert in 1957 as box office treasurer at the Imperial Theatre. He would eventually move through every department of the company before being named General Manager of all Shubert theaters in 1964.
Smith was promoted to Shubert Vice President in 1969, and oversaw the introduction of credit cards as a method of purchasing tickets to Broadway shows and, later, the creation of Telecharge. He also played a significant role in the establishment of the Times Square TKTS discount ticket booth.
As Executive Vice President of The Shubert Organization, Smith worked closely with Bernard B. Jacobs, President, and Gerald Schoenfeld, Chairman, succeeding Jacobs as President upon the latter’s death in 1996.
With Schoenfeld’s death in 2008, Smith became Chairman and Co-Chief Executive Officer of The Shubert Organization, and Wankel, Shubert Executive Vice President, was named President and Co-Chief Executive Officer.
Smith is a longtime member of the Executive Committee of the Board of Governors of the Broadway League, the national trade association, and serves as Vice Chairman of the Board of The Actors Fund. He took a lead role in the creation of The Shubert Pavilion, a four-story addition to The Actors Fund Home in Englewood, New Jersey, specializing in short-term rehabilitation therapy.
Smith also serves on the Board of Trustees of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. In 2011, he was honored with a special Lifetime Achievement Tony Award in recognition of his extraordinary contributions to the theatre industry. In 2015, he was inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame and honored as a Living Landmark by the New York Landmarks Conservancy.
“I’m proud of the fact that the only person who worked for The Shubert Organization longer than I did was J.J. Shubert who founded the company with his brothers in 1900,” said Smith. “I have loved every minute of my long career.”