Cal Expo CEO, who led for 10 years and helped bring back State Fair after COVID, will retire

California Exposition and State Fair CEO Rick Pickering will retire at the end of the year, culminating a decades-long career in the state’s fair industry.

Pickering announced his retirement in a statement Friday, saying he will redirect his expertise toward international fair based organizations. Chief Deputy General Manager Tom Martinez will be appointed the Interim CEO.

“No one accomplishes much on their own, but on the combined efforts of the team, friendships and partnerships that come into their lives,” Pickering said. “I will greatly miss working with dedicated leaders in the Capitol region, but my trust in Tom as the Interim CEO is deep and his work over the past seven years has been transformational.”

During Pickering’s 10 years at the helm, the State Fair began its California Bear Cup E-Sports Gaming competition, statewide youth Mariachi competition in partnership with Univision, inaugural United States National Drone Racing Championship and the first state-recognized cannabis competition.

Cal Expo also became the home field for the Sacramento Republic FC and opened the Rock N Brews family restaurant.

Cal Expo CEO Rick Pickering describes the features of September 11 Memorial Plaza at Cal Expo during the 9/11 memorial ceremony held on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, the 20th anniversary of the attacks.
Cal Expo CEO Rick Pickering describes the features of September 11 Memorial Plaza at Cal Expo during the 9/11 memorial ceremony held on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, the 20th anniversary of the attacks.

Pickering is credited with expanding horse racing activities at Cal Expo to a level that generated more than $100 million in annual wagers and reinvesting $44 million in upgrades to the facility’s infrastructure.

More recently, he led a team that served several emergency roles for the state and Sacramento region, including vaccinating and testing millions of Californians. Pickering also orchestrated the return of the 2022 California State Fair after a two-year COVID-forced hiatus.

“We cannot thank Rick enough for the legacy he has left behind for Cal Expo through all his hard work and dedication as Cal Expo’s fearless leader and CEO,” said Jess Durfee, Cal Expo’s chair of the board of directors.

Martinez, who also helped lead Cal Expo’s response to the pandemic, thanked Pickering for his mentorship.

“I look forward to building on everything we have accomplished under Rick’s leadership, and I am incredibly energized by the opportunities ahead” Martinez said. “By continuing to improve our execution, we will deliver tremendous value for the state and our region.”