It’s probably safe to say that most people don’t make a midlife career switch from being an economist in the antitrust division of the Department of Justice to become a hotelier in the Hudson Valley. But that’s exactly what Bert Smiley did in 1990, leaving Washington, D.C. behind to come home and manage the family business in New Paltz: Mohonk Mountain House, built in 1869 by Albert Smiley, Bert’s great-grand-uncle.
From the beginning, Mohonk Mountain House has been managed by successive generations of the Smiley family. That is, until the 1980s, when the resort had been turned over to management outside the family for the first time. And it didn’t go well.
Bert, who’d held a seat on the board of directors since 1969, was enlisted to become president and chief executive officer of the National Historic Landmark, and his wife, Nina Feldman-Smiley — who left her position in a Washington, D.C. public relations firm to join her husband — became director of marketing and later director of mindfulness programs at the resort.
The couple joined forces with other Smiley family members and took on major renovations of the property, installing air-conditioning and upgrading the culinary services. A skating rink in an open-air pavilion with a 39-foot-tall fireplace at one end was designed to look like it had been there a century, and a spa was built with a curved wall of windows facing the Catskills.
The Smiley family was named “Legendary Family Historic Hoteliers of the Year” by Historic Hotels of America and Historic Hotels Worldwide in 2017.
Now Bert is retiring after 28 years. But his shoes will be filled by the next generation: Tom Smiley has been appointed chief executive officer and Eric Gullickson president. They will share equal authority over management decisions at the property. Both men are fifth generation Smiley family members. Bert will remain involved in retirement as a member of the Smiley Brothers Board of Trustees and as treasurer of the board of directors.
Tom Smiley has been a member of the Mohonk Mountain House management team since 2003. Prior to that, he was a member of the board of directors. For the past eight years, he has led the properties and project management teams as director and was appointed vice president in 2016.
After a decade-long career in journalism and public relations, Eric Gullickson joined the Mohonk management team in 2010 as the director of hotel operations. He was promoted to general manager in 2014 and appointed vice president in 2016. Throughout his life, Gullickson has been involved with the resort operation in a variety of ways, ranging from seasonal jobs in his teenage years to serving on the board of directors as an adult.
The year 2019 will mark the 150th anniversary of Mohonk Mountain House. Around the turn of the last century, Mohonk hosted major conferences on the fate of Native Americans and international peace. Hotel guests have included John D. Rockefeller, Arturo Toscanini and naturalist John Burroughs. Over the years, Mohonk grew from 280 acres in 1869 to 7,500 acres 100 years later. In the 1960s, the Smiley family set aside more than 5,000 acres as a forever-wild preserve, leaving more than 2,000 acres for the resort.