John Fithian, the president of the National Association of Theatre Owners, is stepping down from his post on May 1, 2023 after a lengthy term running the top lobbying and trade association.
NATO’s Executive Board has begun a search process for Fithian’s successor.
Fithian’s retirement marks the end of thirty years of service to NATO. Initially engaged as outside counsel to NATO in 1992, Fithian assumed the presidency in 2000, at the beginning of a period of profound change in the industry as digital emerged.
More profound changes would come — most notably, the COVID-19 crisis, which prompted unprecedented theater closures and brought the box office to a full stop.
“It is nearly impossible to sum up a career of three decades in a few sentences,” Fithian said in the announcement. “I will leave that to others. But my highest goal was always to leave this organization and this industry stronger and more effective than I found it – and more importantly – to ensure that it remains strong and effective after I am gone. The professional and experienced staff I leave behind and the culture of service we have built together is a legacy to be proud of.”
Added NATO Chairman Rolando Rodriguez, “John’s impact on the movie theater industry is profound and lasting. Whether in Hollywood, Washington, D.C., or internationally, NATO’s reach and effectiveness as an advocate for the movie theater industry has grown and sharpened under John’s leadership. We have big shoes to fill, and we offer John our profoundest thanks for all his years of service.”
Other key accomplishments: Fithian, who is based in Washington, D.C., helped establish CinemaCon, the annual gathering of theater owners and Hollywood studios in Las Vegas.
Known for his smart speeches and retorts, Fithian was also a fierce proponent of theatrical windows.
Under the leadership of Fithian and others involved with NATO, the board, staff and members developed a substantial nest egg for the eventual “rainy day” that came when the COVID pandemic hit in 2020. Between 2000 and 2020, NATO’s reserve fund and other net assets grew by 1,200 percent by operating consistently with surplus budgets and by investing wisely.
The NATO team worked tirelessly to help exhibition survive and recover from the pandemic. The reserve fund was an essential component, and millions were spent on employees in need, developing safety protocols backed by epidemiologists to aid in the re-opening of cinemas, and lobbying state and local governments on tax and grant relief for exhibitors of all sizes. Fithian — who is no stranger on Capitol Hill, where his late father was a U.S. congressman — also led the efforts to lobby the federal government to protect tax benefits as well as the creation a grant program for smaller and mid-size companies.
Fithian’s long tenure also included grappling with piracy, protecting the movie ratings system, which it administers in tandem with the MPA, and growing NATO’s reach internationally.