Beazley Graduates to Retirement

After four years as CEO and 38 years total with the Orange County Fair, Steve Beazley leaves Costa Mesa, Calif.

  • by Jessica Boudevin
  • Published: May 2, 2012

Steve Beazley (left), former CEO of Orange County Fair and Events Center, has one foot out the door of his old office with new incoming CEO Jerome Hoban.

Change is in the air at the Orange County Fair and Events Center in Costa Mesa, Calif. Steve Beazley, a staple at the venue for 38 years, has retired from his post as CEO. Beazley spoke with Venues Today after his "goodbye" luncheon.

“We need to get this done quickly because I have a nap scheduled in about 20 minutes,” Beazley joked. “It’s been exactly four years as CEO and I didn’t plan it this way, but isn’t that when you’re supposed to graduate anyway?”

During his 38-year career at the O.C. Fair, Beazley has served in a number of capacities. He began his first job at the age of 12 as part of the cleanup crew and ended up as CEO. “I think my greatest value as CEO is that I’ve done just about every job on these fairgrounds, so when I ask someone to do something, chances are that I’ve done it,” said Beazley. He said the same of his successor, Jerome Hoban, who began his career mucking stalls. “There’s something about coming from humble beginnings that brings a great influence and leadership from both Jerome and myself because people know we’ve worked our way up.”

Beazley’s biggest challenges while at the fair came from issues surrounding the possible sale of the fairgrounds. There were differing opinions both in the company and community regarding the sale.

“We didn’t have a chance to think it through at all because one day Governor Shwarzenegger just announced that the fair was up for sale and there was no time for discussion about it,” said Beazley. “I wasn’t so much a champion of the idea of property being sold, but I’ve always believed — even prior to this — that fairs should not be state run.”

The O.C. Fair is government-operated in that all of the employees are government employees. The fair is restricted by strict government regulations; however, they do not receive any form of monetary subsidy from the state. “We’re completely self-supported, but we’re regulated by state rules that handcuff us from being entrepreneurial,” said Beazley. He believes the most successful form of governance for a fair is to run as a nonprofit, like the Los Angeles County Fair where the county owns the land, but Los Angeles County Fair Association nonprofit operates the fair in a public-private partnership.

“I wouldn’t have supported a sale for private operation because I believe that the fair should not just be bottom-line driven, but the hybrid between government and for-profit is nonprofit; you still have to make money, but there’s a social bottom line too,” said Beazley.

As of now, the sale of the government-owned-and-operated land is off.

Beazley said his largest leadership challenge also ties into the fact that the fair is a government entity. Last year, the fair budgeted to net $4-million profit; it exceeded that and actually netted an $8-million profit. “The employees didn’t share in any of that; they get paid the same amount of money whether we make $8 million, $1 million, or if we lose $6 million,” said Beazley. “It’s really challenging as a leader to try and get people to go the extra mile when there isn’t really that incentive, because we get to celebrate our financial successes, but not really.”

Any profit is used solely for capital improvements to the fair and fairgrounds as well as bringing in programs. “We’re one of the few fairgrounds in the state that’s profitable, so fairgrounds are deteriorating because they’re not making enough money to put back into their capital campaigns and the state isn’t giving them any money,” said Beazley. He said that California’s fairs are ideally trying to get the government to restore fair funding, but that either the communities will have to come out and start supporting the fairs so they can become self-sustain, or the fairs will go away and we’ll see the sale of fairgrounds.

Beazley said he considers his biggest success at O.C. Fair to be turning the Pacific Amphitheatre into a profitable venue. “My first year as CEO the Pac Amp lost something like $400,000, and last year we made $1.6-million profit, so that’s a huge turnaround,” said Beazley. He said the single show that made him think the venue could become a huge success was Duran Duran. “We had them the first year it reopened in 2003 and it was the first time they had been reunited in eight years,” said Beazley. “It was the first time that I felt the buzz of a show not just the day of, but even when it went on sale and I knew that these were the types of shows that were going to put us on the map — and they did. We even went to number one in the country on your Venues Today Top Stops Chart for the summer.”

The chart appears in Venues Today’s September 2011 issue, in which the 10,500-capacity Pacific Amphitheatre is listed as grossing just over $4.4 million with 22 shows.

He listed his other favorite memory and accomplishment as the Al’s Brain exhibit, a 3-D attraction written, directed and starring ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic. “We had it in 2009 and 2010, and it was one of those ‘World Fair’ types of exhibits where you blend education and entertainment that really is just not tried any more,” said Beazley. “I hold that as one of the greatest ventures that I’ve done here because I think it really did encompass what we’re all about: to educate while we entertain.”

Beazley said he knew that Hoban would take over as CEO from the moment he stepped into the role May 1, 2008. “With 19 years here, there’s nothing he doesn’t know, so back down the line when we look at the ‘interim’ word, we’re going to see that we didn’t really need to do that,” said Beazley. “It’s just a function of the newness of the board.”

Hoban’s short-term plans center around enjoying the recent construction of the Main Mall. The buildings in the Main Mall will be renamed from numbers to historic monikers.

“It’s one of the takes on our ‘Home Sweet Home’ theme,” said Hoban. “This generation thinks of the fair as just in Costa Mesa, but we’ve been in other California cities like Los Alamitos, Huntington Beach, Anaheim and Santa Ana. In fact, this location used to be the Santa Ana Army Air Corps Base in World War II, so there’s a big tie to be patriotic and to celebrate our history.”

Long term, Hoban will oversee the completion of the current master plan and work with the board on developing a new one that addresses the next 10-15 years.

“To finish the current plan we have a big project plan for the Pacific Amphitheatre that hasn’t been approved yet,” said Hoban. The project will add nearly three acres of space by reconfiguring a berm and constructing an entryway from the fair area to the amphitheatre. “This will let the venues work more synergistically,” said Hoban.

“That’s a lot of syllables for a new CEO,” said Beazley. “He’s using CEO words already.”

Interviewed for this story: Steve Beazley and Jerome Hoban, (714) 708-1543

  • by Jessica Boudevin
  • Published: May 2, 2012