Jose Tolosa

New Meow Wolf CEO Jose Tolosa in the company's House of Eternal Return.

A high-ranking executive at one of the nation’s largest media conglomerates took the reins Tuesday as CEO of Santa Fe-based arts and entertainment company Meow Wolf.

Jose Tolosa, 46, spent 14 years at ViacomCBS, where since 2017 he was chief transformation officer of a company that includes the CBS Networks, Paramount Pictures, MTV and VH1, Nickelodeon, Showtime, the CW and more than 40 media outlets.

Meow Wolf has operated under a three co-CEO structure since company co-founder Vince Kadlubek stepped down in October 2019.

Meow Wolf leadership now returns to a single CEO heading an enterprise with three attractions attracting 1.7 million visitors.

Tolosa said he will be a COVID-era CEO — splitting time with his family in New York and working in Santa Fe and Meow Wolf’s other two sites in Denver and Las Vegas, Nev.

Tolosa has risen in the ranks at ViacomCBS since 2008 and was involved in the merger of the two media conglomerates. He had not heard of Meow Wolf when a corporate recruiter first approached him an unspecified number of months ago.

The initial Meow Wolf pitch intrigued him. Tolosa first visited Meow Wolf’s Omega Mart in Las Vegas, Nev., which opened in February, then the House of Eternal Return in Santa Fe, and he was at the September opening of Meow Wolf’s Convergence Station in Denver.

“They are amazing, extraordinary, mind-blowing,” Tolosa said in a 25-minute phone interview. “I was so impressed with how they draw you into the normal environment and throw you back into a world of confusion and getting you away from reality. I was mesmerized with the artists.”

Tolosa said he was willing to make the move because he saw the potential in the company, which now employs about 1,000.

“Their mission is extremely powerful. If you talk to the artists, you truly believe in their mission,” he said. “I was very impressed with their foundation and how they dream very big and make it a reality.”

Tolosa has a simple axiom to rationalize leaving a top five media company for Meow Wolf.

“Yes, the company is small today relative to ViacomCBS, but to me it’s about where you are going in the future, not where you are today,” he said. “There is exciting potential for growth.”

Meow Wolf has been tight-lipped about any future expansions, only saying a couple of potential cities are in play but no new sites have been nailed down. This is the first time in at least six years that no new major projects are in the works.

“We are absolutely looking to expand into new markets and spread our wings a bit, but there is nothing to announce,” said Kadlubek, who remains one of six company board members as well as a senior consultant.

Tolosa has met with all six Meow Wolf founders from 2008, the current management and some artists.

“I need to come in and listen and learn,” Tolosa said. “At the end of 90 days, I will have a much clearer vision. We want to have as much impact on people as we can. I don’t see Meow Wolf as three pieces of real estate. There is an opportunity to expand this beyond the four walls.”

Tolosa was born and raised in Puerto Rico and is a graduate of Harvard Business School with an MBA and a bachelor’s degree in finance from Georgetown University. Early in his career, he was a principal at the Parthenon Group, a financial services firm, and senior vice president and chief operating officer at HNMA Finance Co.

At Viacom, Tolosa served as senior vice president of strategy and business development, then executive vice president in the same areas before rising to chief operating officer and executive vice president of global strategies.

He took on the newly created chief transformation officer position in 2017, a role he continued as Viacom and CBS merged in 2019 with Tolosa reporting directly to ViacomCBS CEO Bob Bakish.

“Jose has an extensive résumé in the media world and storytelling world,” Kadlubek said. “Most important, he is someone who has incredible intelligence around strategizing for a big vision anchored to a social mission and integrating all the component parts of what makes Meow Wolf special. We were looking for someone who could integrate all the parts of the company and someone who is authentic and genuine and capable of running a large company.”

Meow Wolf started in 2008 as a collection of nonestablishment artists whose first large-scale venture was The Due Return, a more than 70-foot-long, two-story ship exhibited at the Center for Contemporary Arts. In 2012, Meow Wolf staged a precursor of its Las Vegas Omega Mart in a St. Michael’s Drive storefront.

Kadlubek became CEO in 2014 as Meow Wolf positioned itself for the opening of its interactive exhibition House of Eternal Return on Rufina Circle in March 2016 with financial backing of Game of Thrones originator George R.R. Martin. The Santa Fe site became an instant international sensation.

“As we grew, we knew we needed expertise from established industries,” Kadlubek said. “It was a huge value add to bring people in who could accomplish these huge projects.”

Carl Christensen, with a background at Goldman Sachs, became chief financial officer in January 2018, the same month the company announced its first expansions to Las Vegas and Denver. Jim Ward, with more than a decade at LucasFilm, became chief content officer in January 2019, quickly followed by Disney veteran Ali Rubinstein as chief creative officer.

Meow Wolf took an unorthodox route later that year to replace Kadlubek by creating an Office of the Chief Executive Officers with Rubinstein, Christensen and Ward serving as co-chief executive officers.

The trio shepherded the company through the construction of the massive exhibitions in Las Vegas and Denver plus announcing expansions to Phoenix and Washington, D.C., that have since been canceled.

“I don’t think we had a time frame of what is best for the company at the time,” Kadlubek said about how long the three-CEO structure would last. “We were rather focused on delivering Meow Wolf Las Vegas and Meow Wolf Denver. They did it with a pandemic. Now that we have Denver open, we are looking at the next phase of Meow Wolf. We had it in our sights when we knew the Las Vegas and Denver projects were going to open. It was when we saw how successful Denver was going that this process [to hire a CEO] picked up steam.”

Ward left Meow Wolf in April. Christensen and Rubinstein have returned to their original roles.

“Ali, Carl and Jim have been instrumental in building Meow Wolf into a strong, strategic business for the past two years and we could not be more grateful for their leadership,” Christopher Sobecki, chairman of Meow Wolf’s board, said in a news release. “We are excited for the new focus Jose will bring to the company as we continue to take Meow Wolf into new dimensions.”

Meow Wolf from the beginning has gone through continuing evolution from temporary exhibits, to the House of Eternal Return to out-of-state expansion.

“It’s a pendulum,” Kadlubek said. “We have big ideas and have to figure out how to execute them. Now we are more focused and strategic about the things we do.”

(31) comments

Jennifer Why

this is all very nice, but I don't get what the big deal is. It's just a fun house.

Jim Montevallo

Totally. Santa Fe always looks so provincial when it gets whipped over tiny little things that happen to be here. Is okay to have slow news days. Is why we are here. The more the better. Haven't been to funhouse in four or five years and no plans to go back ever.

jarratt applewhite

Au contraire, MW is a tangible validation of SF's biggest asset -- its creativity riches. It's a lot more than the remarkable payroll & tax collection stats, it's a realworld validation that humanity yearns for the arts and for creativity.

Here's hoping that Jose can continue this adventure. I''d feel a lot better if he and his family were moving here. We'll learn soon enough if he's the real thing or a phoney.

Andy Alsop

Thanks Jarratt! You're always the strong voice for reason.

Jim Montevallo

"Au contraire", yeah, right

Jim Montevallo

there was absolutely ZERO need to "validate" that humanity will consume entertainment to a fault, PT Barnum nailed that a while back and many others before him.

a few years ago there was a craze to ditch the cell phone and do something in whacky spaces for a change.. mw was onto something and had all the outside help in the world but then failed with a huge film division, failed with apps, virtual reality, a lame music festival etc etc and now has cancelled the DC project and the Arizona one, and of course toxic leader after toxic leader and lawsuits lost and situation just toasted the culture so bad to where ASTONISHINGLY an art collective disintegrated into a UNION..

this guy, with no real distinction, is their latest reach and yes, that he isn't committed enough to come here and captain the ship is something no serious investor would welcome....the fools who dumped some 100 million into before realizing the leaders weren't good, the projects weren't good, and the laying off half the staff wasn't enough are now going to go all out to break even before something else replaces whack spaces as the latest craze

John Gomez

It brought music here. Music that would skip over us it gave people under 78 a place to go after dark

Esteban Lucero

Meow Wolf received NM goverment funding for creating local NM jobs, and as soon as the check cleared they were all laid off. Where's your reporting on that? All of that money went to Denver and Las Vegas. That's the real story.

Jim Montevallo

Totally. They also called back the stock they sold to everyone "as a thank you to the community for supporting us."

Sleaze is as sleaze does. These people are ALL about the money and don't ever forget that.

Rachel Thompson

ViacomCBS will probably end up buying MeowWolf

Jim Montevallo

The meowies are dreaming of that, but no way. This guy won't even be able swing deals with Viacom, at least not meaningful ones.

Was a flash in the pan, right place right time with beyond belief support from George and Mayor Gonzales using all the levers to push it. Tourism was flying high, funneling thousands their way and there was zilch to do with kids anywhere.

Went viral for a time and they sold out and now, who cares?

John Gomez

Think whatever you want about Meow Wolf but with out them there would be nothing at all here for young people to do. Meow Wolf brings in acts that used to skip us cause all we had were old people bars. I mean all Santa Fe is, is old white people buying painting of brown people thinking it's cultural. I mean kids finally have a place that stays open past 5 pm on a friday night.

Otherwise it was just old people trying to stop the local youth from racing and having fun and playing music on the plaza.

I mean downtown Santa Fe has to be the most boring place on Earth. It for sure is the least New Mexican.

Fake Adobe fake culture over priced art yup all downtown Santa Fe is for super old white people who don't know culture.

Meow Wolf isn't perfect but it's something in this sea of Bengay and turquoise

Brad Doubles

Wow John, your comment is so insightful. You managed to disparage an entire race of people...maybe its time to look in the mirror and figure out that you have some serious issues. Hating on old white people isn't going to change your life for the better.

John Gomez

Not the whole race. I love my young white brothers and sisters. I love partying with them and learning from them. I even like the type of old white person who would go to burning man. It's just the old white people who move to Santa Fe. Just look how stale they made downtown. It just gets annoying that they move here for a fake culture and they keep that fake culture alive. Downtown Santa Fe is a parody of New Mexican culture. I honestly wouldn't even care if we lost our culture long as it was to white people under 50. If they made Santa Fe like Austin. Heck young white people saved Santa Fe with meow wolf

Mark Specter

I'm not into the whole southwest Disneyland vibe all the time either but Austin?! Just leave man. This isn't the place for you.

Jim Montevallo

"saved" Santa Fe?

What are you even doing here? Besides making a fool of yourself with hyperbole?

kelley mcclure

You should save your posts to read when you are “old”.

Mark Specter

There is still nothing around for young people to do...

John Gomez

I meant live shows at meow wolf not just going and yea Austin sucks with it's young diverse poo tons of music and comedy everywhere people out past 3 pm yup Austin terrible thank god I gave santa Fe and its fake adobe and over priced art

Priyanka Jonas

You should get a nice camembert to go along with your whine!😉

Travel some more and find a place where you really like the people and the culture.

Jim Montevallo

They are inside on their phones anyway.

Jim Montevallo

Would far rather go the New Mexico Museum Of Art, Palace of the Governors, O'Keefe, or just a table at Tia's than pile into that silly mishmash of objects and paint with a hundred screaming whining kids and tourists.

The "most boring place on earth"? You don't get around much, do you? Places aren't boring, certainly not city places, but people sure are, especially when they lack imagination.

John Gomez

Oh wow the museum the onkeef musuem some restaurant what a wild night full of energy and youth and adventure see old man you love it here cause you old and white

Jim Montevallo

trouble spelling Gomez? another uneducated troll here, you must be Soooooo exciting a person to know...I can just tell you are a wild and crazy guy

am not white, old ..... nor racist or ageist,... Santa Fe is boring, that's why I am here.. to be an artist, naturalist and honor God

when I do want to have good times, I make them happen, either by bringing friends together or going to a city, New York is favorite, as is New Orleans... cramming into foul meow with a bunch of boring posers overpaying for booze and middling to bad music is not living large nor living middling no matter how quiet the town is.... being young is no formula for culture or every city would be cool... with no university here and poor education, this place will always be a snooze

meow wolf is nothing, I love that people bend over to ignore all their failures and hypocrisy and play the fool to their boring shiny, object that RR Martin and the government funded

John Gomez

I haven't been to nyc or new Orleans i used to go over seas a lot before Covid. Im not the biggest fan of the art scene here. I like the music meow wolf brings but you are right its nothing compared to other clubs in other cities.

Priyanka Jonas

why don't you try being a part of the solution instead of part of the problem?

John Gomez

Cause I just troll here for fun leaving town soon too old too boring smells like bengay and turquoise too much

Mark Specter

Meow Wolf received significant economic development funds to hire New Mexicans in key roles. Was that successful? If not, was that money returned to taxpayers?

John Gomez

Even if they failed at this Meow Wolf was a gift to Santa Fe and I am happy my taxes went to it. Without it all people under 75 would have would be going to La Fonda to watch the dinos dance to Bill Hernie and go to sleep at 5 pm

Mark Specter

That's pretty offensive. I'm under 40 and have been plenty of times. If you're not going back for shows, it's pretty repetitive and now very expensive. I'm glad we have it too. But I do wish they were better to their employees at the outset. And they did sign a contract to hire New Mexican workers and that didn't seem to happen. Glad you think your money was spent wisely. Most of the rest of us actually like to receive what we paid for in return.

Jim Montevallo

Don't waste your time. People who bash Santa Fe are why it is more boring, shallow and provincial than it need be.

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