The former top executive at Philip Morris USA has been named president and CEO of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

Clifford B. Fleet will become the ninth president and CEO of the living history museum when he starts the job on Jan. 1, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation announced late Friday.

Fleet replaces Mitchell B. Reiss, who left Colonial Williamsburg in late October after serving as the foundation’s president and CEO since late 2014.

“Cliff brings a lifelong passion for Colonial Williamsburg’s mission and its importance to the national debate about America’s revolutionary principles,” said Thurston R. Moore, chairman of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation board of trustees who is a lawyer with Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP in Richmond.

“That, combined with his demonstrated leadership and business success, makes him uniquely qualified to build on Colonial Williamsburg’s reputation as a leading voice in the story of America’s beginning.”

Fleet has a lot of connections to the Richmond region and to Virginia.

A native of Charlottesville and a graduate of the College of William & Mary, Fleet joined Philip Morris USA in 1995 and held a variety of management and leadership positions in investor relations, sales, operations, market information and finance.

He served as president and CEO of Philip Morris USA from November 2013 to June 2017. Fleet led two of Henrico County-based Altria Group Inc.’s operating units — Philip Morris USA, the nation’s largest cigarette manufacturer, and cigar maker John Middleton Co.

After leaving Philip Morris USA, he advised numerous businesses and nonprofits as a managing partner at SIR, a strategic management consultancy based in Richmond.

Most recently, Fleet served as president and CEO of 22nd Century Group Inc., a publicly traded biotechnology company based in Williamsville, N.Y., that is focused on technology to decrease the level of nicotine in tobacco plants and to modify the level of cannabinoids in hemp/cannabis plants through genetic engineering and modern plant breeding. He held that position since August.

He also is vice chairman of ChamberRVA.

Fleet has served as president of the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation since 2014 and as a board member since 2009.

He earned four academic degrees from William & Mary, including graduate degrees in history, business administration and law, a distinction shared with about 14 other alumni since the college was established in 1693, said the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

Fleet joins Colonial Williamsburg at a time when the living history museum tries to stem declining or flat attendance and declining revenue that have been draining its endowment.

The foundation said he will be charged with elevating its mission “with new and diverse audiences while improving its financial health through philanthropy, visitation and commercial profitability.”

“Colonial Williamsburg’s future is bright, with compelling opportunities to pursue our core educational mission and expand our reach as we lead up to the nation’s 250th anniversary and the foundation’s centennial in 2026,” Fleet said in a statement.

“We are uniquely positioned to shape the national dialogue in important ways that bring us together as a people by commemorating the important events related to our nation’s founding that occurred in Williamsburg,” he said. “I look forward to working with Colonial Williamsburg’s talented staff and board, dedicated donors and others across the nation to share America’s enduring story.”

Established in 1926, the foundation operates the 301-acre Colonial Williamsburg site, which includes 88 original buildings and 500 buildings reconstructed according to architectural research.

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