Awards and Recipients

Financial Executives International (FEI) is the premier association for CFO’s and other

senior financial executives in the United States and Canada.

Jeff Brown

Navy Pier Inc

As Chief Financial Officer of Chicago’s landmark Navy Pier, Jeff Brown is responsible for all finance, accounting, risk management, and legal functions for the largest pier in the world and one of the Midwest’s most important tourist destinations. His career spans 20 years of progressive nonprofit leadership.

Brown works closely with Navy Pier President and CEO Marilynn Gardner and a volunteer board of 34 civic and business leaders, to oversee a $67 million operating budget and $200 million in assets for Navy Pier, Inc. The 501(c)(3) nongovernmental nonprofit receives no regular tax support, relying instead on earned and contributed income to carry out the daily operations, business affairs, programming, development, and upkeep of the iconic landmark, on property owned by MPEA.

One of Brown’s greatest achievements was steering the Pier away from economic collapse when earned income completely dried up during the pandemic shutdown in 2020. Despite budgeted revenues of $67 million, visitation generated just $15 million. Navy Pier faced permanent closure. With the board and leadership team, Brown proved instrumental in securing emergency grants; negotiating the largest relief package afforded by NPI’s lender; providing rent relief to 70 small businesses while balancing its impact on Navy Pier’s coffers, reducing staff and expenses, and managing the first true test of the nascent nonprofit’s fundraising powers with the highly successful “Save the Pier” campaign, to close a $20 million gap.

As attendance rebounds, Brown is working closely with his C-suite colleagues to restructure debt, right-size staffing, define new business models reflective of current economic realities, and implement a comprehensive deferred maintenance plan for the century-old, 50-acre facility.

“The People’s Pier” serves as a trusted port of entry to Chicago’s cultural scene, attracting up to 9 million guests annually to more than 250 free arts and culture programs throughout the year. In 2021, Brown helped launch Navy Pier’s signature event, Chicago Live, with major funding from the Pritzker Foundation. The annual two-day performance festival uniquely unites all the city’s marquee companies and emerging artists in free back-to-back performances. 

In addition to its mission as Chicago’s cultural hub, a port of entry to the city’s vibrant cultural and culinary scene, the organization serves as an economic engine, sustaining 70 entrepreneurial businesses, employing more than 3,000 people, and generating more than $140 million in on-Pier sales and about $20 million in state and local taxes.

Brown began his career at Navy Pier in 2017 as Director of accounting, and within six months was promoted to his current position, as a first-time CFO. Prior to joining Navy Pier, Brown proved an effective leader of nonprofits as controller of Lyric Opera of Chicago, United Way of Metro Chicago, and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. He volunteers as treasurer on the Board of The Cradle, one of the premier adoption organizations in the nation. 

Registered in Illinois as a Certified Public Accountant, Brown earned an MBA in Accounting and Human Resources from the University of Illinois, Chicago, and a BA in Arts Management and French Horn from Indiana University, Bloomington. 

Music remains a passion for Brown, who lives with his husband Jake and son Evan in Evanston. 

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