October 6, 2023 – Los Angeles-based Shelli Herman and Associates has been selected to find the next director for the Saint Louis Zoo WildCare Park, a $230 million, 425-acre zoo expansion project that is scheduled to open to the public in 2027. “The realization of the WildCare Park will offer a new and exciting tourist attraction in St. Louis and will uplift the role the zoo plays as an important conservation, economic, and social driver locally, nationally, and globally,” said the search firm. “It is at this exciting moment in its 113-year history that the Saint Louis Zoo seeks an experienced, results-oriented director of the Saint Louis Zoo WildCare Park, to spearhead the construction and opening of the WildCare Park and provide day-to-day operational leadership of the park and the zoo’s 325-acre, Sears Lehman Wildlife Reserve in Franklin County.”
The director will report to and partner with the Saint Louis Zoo’s new president and CEO, Dwight Scott, who has ambitious plans to continue the non-profit’s long tradition of conservation leadership and global impact. Working very closely with the director of the Saint Louis Zoo to ensure the organization’s overall goals are achieved, this executive will be a senior member of the zoo’s strategic operations group. In conjunction with Mr. Scott and the zoo’s vice president, philanthropy, the director of Saint Louis Zoo WildCare Park will play a leadership role fundraising for the new campus.
The director will also be expected to help drive and define institutional programming, said Shelli Herman and Associates. Ensuring that the zoo’s stature as a vibrant and influential cultural destination is constantly enhanced will be a critical part of the job. This leader must also develop nationally recognized exhibits, innovative education programs, and conservation and research initiatives that make a genuine difference for wildlife in areas of critical need. He or she must also maintain the highest standards of care for the institution’s plant and animal collection.
Promoting and facilitating the zoo’s tradition of cutting-edge conservation and scientific leadership will be essential. The director will be expected to direct and collaborate with external design and construction partners to complete the design and construction of the WildCare Park campus, delivering the project within the $230 million capital budget for its spring 2027 opening.
The successful candidate will hold a bachelor’s degree in biology, animal sciences, business administration, hospitality, or a related field or equivalent, specialized training and experience, said the search firm. The new director of Saint Louis Zoo WildCare Park must share the organization’s commitment to quality of service and innovation. This hands-on operator should be comfortable in a high-growth environment that is diverse, inclusive, and dynamic, where everyone plays a part in maintaining and fostering the culture.
A minimum of five to 10 years of senior leadership experience gained in an organization that is known for world-class operational acuity is required. This seasoned professional will have demonstrated experience in providing quantifiable results in a complex organization with a high growth trajectory; past success in a mission-driven, multi-site organization is preferred. Experience gained from a variety of environments including but not limited to a zoo, aquarium, or theme park, as well as executives within the hospitality industry, healthcare, higher education, or the private sector where operations and capital expansion has been a focus could also be acceptable.
Shelli Herman and Associates Recruits CEO for Omaha’s Zoo and Aquarium
Shelli Herman and Associates has assisted in the recruitment of Luis Padilla as the president and chief executive officer of Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium. “Our challenge was to find someone who could build on the legacy of Dennis Pate,” said Mogens Bay, chair of the board of directors, Omaha Zoological Society. “We are confident that Dr. Padilla is that person. He was chosen after an extensive and thorough process by the search committee and is the next right leader for Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium. Dr. Padilla is a mission-driven leader who values collaboration, innovation, staff development, resiliency, and wildlife conservation. His background as a veterinarian ensures that the highest quality of care for Omaha’s animals and their habitats will remain a top priority and commitment.”
Founded in 1910, the Saint Louis Zoo is home to over 16,000 animals, representing 500 species. It is recognized worldwide for its innovative approaches to animal care and management, wildlife conservation, research, and education. One of the few free zoos in the nation, the Saint Louis Zoo is the most-visited attraction in the region. Accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the Saint Louis Zoo is part of an elite group of institutions that meet the highest standards in animal care as well as provide fun, safe and educational family experiences.
Shelli Herman and Associates Inc. serves trailblazing clients across the corporate, nonprofit, and higher education sectors. The firm’s long roster of clients includes the Annenberg Foundation; the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation; BENlabs; The Capital Group Companies/American Funds Distributors; City Year, Los Angeles; the Fresno Chaffee Zoo; the Griffith Observatory Foundation; Jewish Family Service LA; Laguna College of Art and Design; Loyola Marymount University; Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium; P.S. ARTS; the Saint Louis Zoo; Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County; the University of California System; the Whitney Museum of American Art; and YWCA Greater Los Angeles.
Shelli Herman, who has more than 25 years of executive recruitment experience, has a strong record of leading searches and building upper management teams for a diverse clientele, including Fortune 500 companies. She has completed senior-level assignments in many industries, including consumer products, healthcare, high technology, and finance, as well as for nonprofit, conservation, and cultural organizations. Additionally, she brings an in-depth understanding of the unique cultural environment of academia that was gained while she held significant management positions at the University of Florida and Loyola Marymount University.
Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media