These days, it’s not often one lands a lifelong career right out of college but in the case of Mark Stenning, CEO of the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, it led to a 35-year career.
Those years have been pretty good to Stenning – and to the Hall of Fame. He began working for the organization in 1980, just two years after he graduated from Rhode Island College with a B.A. in psychology. Starting out as an assistant to then-Executive Director Bob Day, a retired army colonel looking for a protégé, Stenning learned the business and worked his way up to tournament director and finally CEO in 2000.
He recently announced he would be leaving the post.
PBN: Why did you decide to step down from your current role and what do you want people to remember about your tenure at the hall of fame?
STENNING: It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a couple years. I don’t know anyone else that’s had the same job for 35 years. I wouldn’t mind finding a new challenge before I retire. I think I can still bring some value to another organization while maintaining a role with the hall of fame. It’s thriving at present. The museum just received accreditation from the American Alliance of Museums. We have a great team in place, a healthy endowment and operations are going well. I was told once if you’re thinking of leaving, it makes sense to get out while you’re on top.
I’ll look back on what we’ve been able to maintain. If Stanford White [architect of the Stanford White Casino Theatre] walked in here he’d say “Wow you guys did a pretty good job of keeping this place up.”
PBN: You’ve recently been appointed to the Davis Cup, Fed Cup and Olympic Events Committee – is this your first appointment?
STENNING: I’ve been involved for a number of years. I think it’s good for the hall of fame to collaborate with other governance organizations. It gives [it] a wider breadth and I’m pleased to participate. It’s a very exciting competition that involves well over 100 countries. In tennis there are not a lot of teams, but this is one of the few events that pits nation against nation. We assist staff in the promotion of events and venues. This is something I enjoy and I’ll continue to be involved with.
PBN: A portion of the museum’s current capital campaign is being allocated to improving visitor experience. How will the hall of fame’s board of directors use the funds to impact the museum’s visitor experience?
STENNING: Our intent is to secure $15.7 million before the end of the year to upgrade the campus. Three million [dollars] of that will be in the museum upgrading the exhibits to make them child-friendly, including touch-screen technology, edutainment and exhibits that are closer to the ground. In the museum anyone 16 and [younger] gets in for free. It’s important that juniors have the ability to see what we have here. [We’re] trying to find a happy medium in what we’re presenting [from] grandfather to [grandchild]. •