March 30, 2021 – New York City-based executive search firm Phillips Oppenheim has been retained by the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) to lead its search for a new chief executive officer. Leading the assignment are Sarah James and Becky Klein. NYBG seeks a leader of unusual vision, intellectual breadth, managerial experience and cultural sensibility to enhance the relevance, impact and appeal of the New York Botanical Garden, said Phillips Oppenheim.
Reporting directly to and working closely with the 71-member board of directors, the new CEO and William C. Steere Sr. president will be responsible for the strategic, programmatic, financial, and operational leadership of the organization. “This is a multifaceted role calling for a tested and confident executive to chart a compelling vision for the future; lead an expert, dedicated team accustomed to operating at the highest levels, and who has the ingenuity and charisma to attract strong voices and mobilize support for NYBG’s mission in future staff and new patrons,” said the search firm. “The CEO must be an enthusiastic champion of, and generate support for, all three of the Garden’s programmatic focus areas in horticulture, education and science.”
The CEO will lead fundraising. The individual must be a gifted partnership builder with a strategic approach to revenue generation and a talent for cultivating and maintaining relationships with existing donors while generating support from new constituencies and demographic segments. The new leader will be expected to possess the presence and sophistication to appeal to New York City donors, in particular, as well as their peers beyond.
“Accordingly, the CEO must have a deep appreciation for NYBG’s role as a signature destination and be able to think creatively about how to enrich the visitor experience and draw,” said Phillips Oppenheim. “Fostering and maintaining a strong relationship with elected and civic leaders is key to success and to ensuring the Garden continues to be an integral, visible part of the city’s cultural and social identity.”
Above all, the CEO will be a tested, disciplined, and decisive administrator able to establish and execute clear priorities, mobilize new resources, and expend them wisely. The leader must be an inclusive, generous individual who inspires the team and fosters a culture of collaboration and accountability among all.
Key priorities will include forging a productive relationship with the board of trustees, staff, and key supporters; working with board leadership to engage existing trustees and to recruit new and “next-generation” ones; and creating opportunities for them to share their passions and expertise in support of strategic goals.
NYBG wants its next CEO to possess the stature and credibility to lead an iconic New York institution and one of the foremost botanical gardens in the world, said Phillips Oppenheim. A track record of success as the CEO or executive leading a major division of a complex, multi-stakeholder organization is required, while previous experience in one of the programmatic disciplines of the Garden is ideal.
Candidates must have proven fundraising ability. A strong track record of bold and effective fundraising, and proven ability to operate in the unique New York City philanthropic world, or in another major market, said the search firm. An understanding of the full range of funding tools, including earned income from exhibitions and programming, foundation support, special events and patrons’ programs.
Founded in 1891, and now a National Historic Landmark, the New York Botanical Garden is one of the most highly regarded botanical gardens in the world and the largest in the U.S. NYBG’s three-fold mission to lead globally in science, education and horticulture, and the myriad ways that can be experienced and championed in the plant kingdom continues to distinguish it. Today the Garden is an urban oasis defined by living collections comprising more than one million plants, spectacular display gardens; cited science, conservation, education, and public programs; community partnerships that serve beyond its borders; and award-winning architecture across its 250-acre campus.
Finding Mission-Driven Leaders
Phillips Oppenheim, founded in 1991, provides mission-driven organizations with senior leaders from the business, public and non-profit sectors. It sponsors roundtable discussions, participates in workshops and conferences and acts as informal counsel to non-profit organizations and their boards. Among its many clients: New York City Ballet, the Museum of the American Revolution, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Arts Club, Table to Table, the African Wildlife Foundation and the Barack Obama Presidential Museum, and others.
Ms. James has been recruiting for local, national, and international non-profit institutions and corporations since 1996. A generalist, she has recruited chief executives for leading arts, aid, advocacy, education, environmental, faith-based, healthcare, philanthropic and social service institutions. Since joining Phillips Oppenheim in 2001, she has founded its visual arts practice, recruiting directors for more than one hundred art institutions.
Ms. Klein has combined search experience with the arts during her professional career. Becky joined Phillips Oppenheim in 1993, became a partner in the firm in 2000 and serves as the firm’s managing partner. While bringing a special focus on cultural institutions, Becky has worked with a diverse range of clients including foundations, social justice, advocacy organizations and academic institutions across the U.S. and internationally.
Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media