CEO- Dallas Zoo

Posted: 2 August 2023| Full-Time |USA


Founded in 1888 as the first zoo in Southwest USA, Dallas Zoo is the oldest and largest zoo in Texas. The 106-acre Zoo is home to more than 1,500 animals representing more than 300 distinct species and providesits guests with real-world opportunities to make memorable connections with wildlife and supplement their experience with education. Frequently listed among the top 10 zoos in the country and a beloved community organisation, the Zoo now regularly welcomes more than one million guests annually including more than 100,000 students via field trips. An accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the Dallas Zoo is dedicated to being a local and global conservation leader while continuing to provide unparalleled animal care and educational experiences.

Position Concept and Key Relationships

The Dallas Zoo seeks an experienced, results-oriented chief executive who will provide next-level leadership, shaping and actualising the future direction of the Zoo as it builds on its rich history as an exceptional, accessible destination and leader in conservation and education. The CEO will be a purposeful architect and consensus builder for the path forward, working closely with Board and staff to develop and implement organisation-wide policy decisions and strategic planning while representing the Zoo’s mission and brand. The CEO will be responsible for overseeing all aspects of the Dallas Zoo’s operations, including animal welfare, education, guest experience, fundraising, financial management, and global conservation efforts. This organisational champion and wildlife advocate will have a demonstrated passion for the Zoo’s mission, and a proven track record of results around building and leading high-performing teams, providing inclusive leadership, and managing complex divisions, issues, and budgets.

Reporting to the Board of Directors of the Dallas Zoological Society, the CEO serves as an ex officio, nonvoting member of the Board. The CEO leads the executive team and an organisation with more than 400 employees, 280 ofwhom are full-time. The CEO’s current direct reports include three executive vice presidents (the Chief Financial Officer, the Chief Mission Officer, and the Chief Operating Officer), a vice president of advancement, a vice president of marketing and communications, and an Executive Assistant. The CEO will work closely with the Director of the City of Dallas’ Park and Recreation Department and the Dallas Park and Recreation Board, as well as interact with a number of other municipal and state leaders. This inspirational and dynamic leader will serve as the organisation’s chief relationship officer, building bridges and forging personal ties with the Zoo’s neighbouring Oak Cliff community, members of the Zoo team at all levels, donors, city leaders, and global conservation partners.

essential functions

Under the direction of the Board of Directors of the Dallas Zoological Society and working closely with the executive team and key stakeholders, the Chief Executive Officer will implement the organisational vision to further the Zoo’s mission through programmes and outreach, and to ensure the organization is financially secure and able toserve all citizens of Dallas and North Texas. The CEO will sustain excellence at the highest levels, while further evolving and elevating a large, complex, expanding enterprise to greater levels of mission impact by continuing to advance the Dallas Zoo’s priorities, which include:

Organisational Culture and Leadership

  • Nurturing a mission-driven culture that supports staff excellence, leadership, and passion, reaffirming the underlying values of the Zoo, inspiring staff, and creating the infrastructure necessary to achieve the organisation’s vision. This includes:
  • Fostering and modeling a team-centered environment that honors individual contributions at all levels of the organization, reinforces a culture of care and connection, and supports staff training and leadership development;
  • Facilitating proactive communications and collaboration between the Zoo’s divisions to ensure maximum impact;
  • Utilising proactive and inclusive planning processes to enhance Zoo operations;
  • Assuring the Zoo strategically invests in and implements appropriate technology to increase operational efficiency and efficacy.
  • Energise, engage, and elicit buy-in from volunteer leaders across the organisation.
  • Initiate, cultivate, and develop ongoing productive relationships that foster win-win outcomes. Unite different interest groups and entities to facilitate, advance, and enlarge the success of the organization in the local community, as well as its visibility and prominence.
  • Provide continuing leadership for the Zoo’s commitment to a culture of diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion in its community life and across its offerings.
  • Lead a highly capable executive team to assess operations, financials, and personnel to coordinate the efforts of a willing team of professionals and volunteers.
  • Organise and streamline operations to achieve financial objectives while consistently balancing budgets.
  • Put clear methods for accountability in place, ensuring that they are applied fairly at all levels.
  • Assess the organisation under the surface to identify opportunities for change, improvement, and innovation.
  • Provide direction for land and facilities management to include preventive/predictive maintenance and provisions for adequate funding to support, maintain, advance, and enhance the property and facilities infrastructure.
  • Contribute to the development and implementation of physical security measures, park safety procedures, and plan and maintain appropriate insurance to manage risk for employees, volunteers, and patrons.

Conservation and Education

  • Elevate and grow the conservation and education programsme, increasing engagement with partners and audiences and fortifying the connection between the Zoo’s conservation and formal/informal education efforts.
  • Diversify and increase the Zoo’s resource base to bolster support for conservation objectives and grow the Zoo as a local and global leader in wildlife conservation.
  • The CEO will understand the urgent need to inform guests about conservation and wildlife issues, supporting initiatives that highlight these topics as a fundamental part of the visitor experience.
  • Expand the reach and depth of the Zoo’s formal educational programmes, focusing on four key audiences: early childhood, youth, families, and educators.

Sustainable Funding and Community Impact

  • Utilise a strategic and long-term approach in developing business plans that leverage market intelligence to boost engagement with members and visitors. Collaborate with Zoo colleagues to facilitate growth in attendance and membership, exposure to new audiences, and to increase mind share and market share within the local and regional community and throughout the national and international marketplace.
  • Lead the effort to raise private and public funding for the Dallas Zoo, planning, orchestrating, and implementing fundraising practices in conjunction with the Vice President of Advancement to render ongoing support and enhance the Zoo’s donor list. This includes spearheading the impending launch of a $100+ million capital campaign and inclusion in the 2024 City of Dallas general obligation bond referendum.
  • Facilitate and nurture effective communications with private and public stakeholders such as elected officials and municipal administrators, foundations, current and prospective donors, the press, and conservation-relatedentities in the United States and worldwide.
  • Expand the Zoo’s economic impact on surrounding neighborhoods and the City of Dallas, encouraging mission aligned partnerships and projects that allow the Dallas Zoo to serve and benefit the community.

Animal Welfare and Husbandry

  • Ensure the delivery of exemplary animal care and welfare, managing the Zoo’s animal collection with the highest standards of staff operations.
  • Assure continual improvement in the level of care by supporting opportunities to develop the team’s skill sets and for staff professional growth.
  • Provide leadership to the Dallas Zoo to be a model of best practices in animal care and welfare, measuring the Zoo’s impact in these areas and remaining up to date on trends and issues in the zoological community.

Guest Experience

  • In conjunction with executive team colleagues, plan, develop, and implement leading edge advancements in the quality of exhibits, collections, educational and entertainment initiatives, and events to continually energise and capture the attention and loyalty of longtime patrons and benefactors as well as increase the customer base to attract new supporters and enhance Zoo membership.
  • Encourage innovation, guiding the team to plan and execute “best day ever” experiences and cultivating a guest-focused culture that continually seeks to enhance visitors’ experience at the Zoo and their connections to conservation.

Organisational Excellence

  • Lead positive change in the zoo profession and community through organisational excellence in the governance and organisational structure; the communication of a clear and strong message about what conservation means and its importance to the Dallas Zoo; animal care and welfare, conservation, and educational programming that serves as a model for education in cultural attractions; environmentally sustainable operations; the master planning process, orienting all plans to increasing mission impact; and as a good neighbour and partner dedicated to supporting North Texas residents and visitors.


As the public face of the organisation and a champion for abetter world for animals, the CEO must possess and project the utmost integrity and highest standards of professional conduct. They must also be an individual qualified by accomplishment and experience to exercise the leadership of a capable, collaborative, and motivated group of colleagues. We seek an individual willing to make a meaningful professional commitment to the Dallas and North Texas community as an engaged and immersed citizen. While no one candidate will meet all the desired criteria, the successful candidate will bring most of the following qualifications and attributes:

  • Energetic, solutions focused, entrepreneurial, and forward- thinking leadership with a track record of progressively responsible management proficiency, which will include executive level experience with organisation-wide and multi- departmental oversight. Our client is open to candidates from a variety of environments including but not limited to a zoo, aquarium, theme park, or sports team, as well as the hospitality industry, entertainment sector, or a conservation/environmental stewardship organisation.
  • An individual who lives their values and demonstrates overt passion for animals and conservation. This mission champion will be committed to using the Zoo’s platform and existing community trust to advocate for all aspects of protecting our world. While experience with zoological operations is not required, the Dallas Zoo’s next CEO must demonstrate a sincere commitment to the protection of threatened and endangered species.
  • A visible, approachable, democratic, and compassionate individual. The Zoo’s next CEO will understand that the organisation can only flourish when staff at all levels are provided holistic support as individuals and as professionals. This unassuming and unpretentious leader will form authentic relationships and display the assurance and sense of self necessary to lead and be able to hold others accountable.
  • Successful management expertise gained in a complex organisation during a time of growth and change while maintaining fidelity to mission and fiscal responsibility.
  • Experience from organisations celebrated for providing exemplary guest experiences is valuable. An appreciation for and demonstrated understanding of the nuances of profitable, commercial recreation facility operation is also fundamental to achievement in this position.
  • A track record of being politically aware and astute, while remaining apolitical. This connector will be able to build coalitions, facilitate collaboration, and blend the interests and resources of disparate groups—from public officials to influential leaders and donors from the private sector, higher education, and other not-for-profit organizations to advance the mission and purpose of the Zoo.
  • The foresight and vision to help the Zoo see the way forward when it comes to philanthropy and its relationship to the advancement of the organization’s mission. This engaging communicator will be able to “tell the story”and will bring a record of success and proficiency at fundraising, cultivating relationships, and donor satisfaction.
  • Understanding of a “big picture” vision of how the Zoo’s operations and opportunities enrich the community’s resources for education and entertainment and propel its efforts at wildlife preservation, development, and revitalisation.
  • Emotional resilience combined with flexibility; this individual will be at home with the ambiguity that attends any enterprise committed to testing its limits.
  • The successful CEO will be an advocate for diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion with a history of impactful action that creates an inclusive environment and promotes diversity in visitors, staff, and volunteers, reflecting the demographics of the region. In addition to spearheading organisational initiatives, this executive will encourage community discussion and engagement around diversity and equity issues and will be a thoughtful spokesperson and sophisticated voice on issues of access, representation, and social justice, broadly. This includes a commitment to effecting sustainable community benefit in a historically under-resourced and underserved area.
  • This skilled listener will create consensus among constituencies with differing points of view. Forming connections that facilitate clear, collegial, and open communication with all team members, the CEO will acknowledge individual contributions and support mentorship and staff development.
  • Ability to further a genuine customer-centered attitude and the capacity to incorporate that into the philosophy of the Zoo such that attendees have recurring positive experiences. They will serve as a role model for staff toward this pursuit and lead in a hands-on manner, utilizing a shared leadership approach.
  • Clear focus on enhancing and strengthening existing programmes in order to ensure and advance the Zoo’s brand and mission, while possessing the creativity, vision, and business acumen to augment and develop revenue streams.
  • Demonstrated skill leading change by establishing and implementing the required systems, processes, and policies to advance a best-in-class approach across the organisation.
  • Ability to manage large and complex systems according to a broader view while still being attentive to key details.
  • The successful individual will bring sufficient financial knowledge to ensure the fiscal stability of the enterprise. Embracing innovation balanced by serious, practical stewardship, the CEO will bring vision and combine an appetite for the untried with the tough-minded calculation required to evaluate and act upon considered riskswhile being mindful of realities.

application process

We strongly encourage applicants from all cultures, races, educational backgrounds, life experiences, socio- economic classes, sexual orientations, ages, gender and gender expressions, and physical abilities to apply. As an Equal Opportunity Employer, it is our policy not to discriminate against any employee or applicant for employment because of race, colour, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, age, disability, familial status, marital status, predisposing genetic characteristics, actual or perceived domestic violence victim status, unemployment status, caregiver status, or any other category protected by law.

A search committee has been established to conduct this search on behalf of the Dallas Zoological Society Board of Directors. This committee is assisted by Shelli Herman and Associates, Inc., a retained executive search firm. Inquiries, nominations, and applications should be directed to the search firm; all contact will be held in the strictest confidence.

A review of applications will commence immediately, continuing until the position is filled. Interested individuals are encouraged to submit their credentials as soon as possible and no later than September 5, 2023, for full consideration.

Complete applications should be submitted electronically via email to Shelli Herman at and should include: a cover letter that addresses connection to mission and a current resume reflecting all work experience.

The World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) is the global alliance of regional associations, national federations, zoos and aquariums, dedicated to the care and conservation of animals and their habitats around the world.

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