AZA News Releases

AZA Launches Program for Potential Future Executives of Accredited Zoos and Aquariums

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) has announced the launch of AZA’s Executive Leadership Development Program (ELDP) to better prepare current leaders in the zoo and aquarium profession for future Executive Director positions.

ELDP’s inaugural group of participants consists of the following 10 individuals:

David Brady, VP of Marketing, Houston Zoo, Inc.

Harrison Edell, General Curator, Sacramento Zoo

Roger Germann, Executive Vice President, John G. Shedd Aquarium

Jo-Elle Mogerman, VP Planning& Community Relations, Chicago Zoological Society - Brookfield Zoo

Chris Pfefferkorn, Deputy Director of Living Collections, Oregon Zoo

Douglas Piekarz, VP of Planning& Conservation Programs, Akron Zoological Park

Megan Ross, VP of Animal Care,Acting VP of Education, Lincoln Park Zoo

Tommy Stringfellow , Chief Operating Officer, Riverbanks Zoo & Garden

Alan Varsik, Deputy Zoo Director/COO, Oklahoma City Zoological Park

Robert Wiese, Chief Life Sciences Officer, San Diego Zoo Global

“The individuals participating in AZA’s first Executive Leadership Development Program are recognized within the AZA community for their dedication, extensive knowledge, drive, and great promise in their leadership abilities,” said AZA Executive Director Kris Vehrs. “This program is designed to provide them with customized development to prepare them for the challenges of sustaining a viable zoo and aquarium operation.”

The goal of the ELDP is to develop the Zoo & Aquarium Executive Director Competencies, which are the behaviors, knowledge and skills needed to be most effective in this role. The competency model developed for this program emphasizes three tiers of competencies and includes:

Executive Leadership Behaviors, which defines the heart and values of an effective leader and their leadership approach to Inspire, Model, Challenge,Enable, Encourage others to deliver on the mission of the Institute. This 360-degree assessment of Leadership Behaviors was created by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner and is included in their book, “The Leadership Challenge,Fourth Edition.” The book is considered to be the gold standard for research-based leadership and the premier resource on becoming a leader. 

Executive Focus, which defines the skills and knowledge an executive needs to possess in order to sustain a viable institution and includes Animal Welfare/Conservation Development, Board/Committee Development, Business Acumen, Business Development, People Management/Development, and Planning.

Executive Oversight for Zoo/Aquarium Operations, which defines the skills and knowledge needed to provide executive oversight for each operational area reporting to the Zoo/Aquarium Executive Director. This includes Animal Care, Communications, Conservation/Science, Design/ Exhibit, Education Programs, Events, Finance, Government/Legal Affairs, Guest Services, Human Resources, Marketing, Member/Donor Management,Public/Community Relation, Safety, and Security.

A variety of experience-based learning methods will be used to develop the key competencies for the Zoo and Aquarium Executive Director role. Participants will benefit from leader and mentor relationships and build competency through relevant learning opportunities.  These experience-based development methods will include forming action teams to address real and complex issues; having informal dialogues with current executive leadership to transfer Institutional knowledge and lessons learned along the way, a comprehensive orientation to the AZA by the AZA Board of Directors; and creating a customized individual development plan.

The development of this two-year program was a collaborative effort between the AZA Board and many current zoo and aquarium executives who participated in an advisory group, or helped with the selection of candidates and content development for the program. The kick-off session for this program will be held on January 21, 2014 in Santa Barbara, CA, with many other development events being planned throughout the first year.

The executive development of identified senior leaders will be an ongoing effort, and a second ELDP group will be selected by early fall for participation in the 2015 program.

About AZA

Founded in 1924,the Association of Zoos and Aquariums is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of zoos and aquariums in the areas of conservation, animal welfare, education, science, and recreation. AZA is the accrediting body for the top zoos and aquariums in the United States and six other countries. Look for the AZA accreditation logo whenever you visit a zoo or aquarium as your assurance that you are supporting a facility dedicated to providing excellent care for animals, a great experience for you, and a better future for all living things. The AZA is a leader in saving species and your link to helping animals all over the world. To learn more, visit  

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