AZA News Releases

Executive Leadership Development Program Candidates Announced at AZA Directors' Policy Conference

The successful program will be renamed in honor of the late Ted A. Beattie.

Silver Spring, MD (January 26, 2023)Nine exceptionally talented aquarium and zoo professionals have been selected for the prestigious Association of Zoos and Aquariums' (AZA) Executive Leadership Development Program (ELDP), which is now in its ninth year. The ELDP develops executive competencies and leadership in individuals who demonstrate the ability and interest to advance to the role of Director at an AZA-accredited facility in the next five years.

Following an extensive candidate selection process, AZA is excited to announce the 2023 AZA ELDP cohort:

Dr. Stephanie Allard, SVP/Chief Animal Welfare Officer – National Aquarium

Adam Huston, Director, Guest Experience – Toronto Zoo

Liz Larsen, Vice President of Programs – Utah's Hogle Zoo

Utpal Passi, Deputy Director, Operations – Oregon Zoo

Mellissa Reed, Chief Business Officer & SVP – Akron Zoological Park

Lisa Smith, Interim President and CEO/Chief Zoological Officer – Buffalo Zoo

Theresa Wilson, Manager – ZooAmerica

Andy Wood, Chief Operating Officer – The Florida Aquarium

Dr. Anna Young, Director of Education Engagement – The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens

"When this program began nearly a decade ago, the goal was to develop the next generation of leaders capable of shaping a bright future for our profession," said Dan Ashe, President and CEO of AZA. "The results speak for themselves. Of the 83 ELDP graduates, three-fourths have advanced inside or outside their organization. This includes 27 graduates who now serve in a Director or CEO role and four who currently serve on the AZA Board of Directors. I look forward to seeing how these nine new professionals will help lead and shape our community in the future!"

AZA is also excited to announce the renaming of the program to the Ted A. Beattie Executive Leadership Development Program. Beattie was widely known as a champion of professional development within the AZA Community and is credited as one of the founders of the ELDP.

Ashe added, "We were all saddened to learn of Ted's passing. A committed advocate for professional development, he saw the potential impact ELDP could have on the zoological community. He envisioned it as a path to recognize, support, and advance the next generation of global zoo and aquarium community leaders. I would say his vision is being realized."

The kick-off session for the 2023 class program was held virtually in December. The first in-person work session will be at the AZA Directors' Policy Conference on January 23 and 24.

AZA recognizes the need to be proactive in identifying and training its next generation of leaders and remains committed to the executive development of identified senior leaders. To learn more about ELDP and the application process, visit

Background on the Executive Leadership Development Program

The focus of the Executive Leadership Development Program is on the development of executive competencies, or the knowledge, skills, and behaviors needed to be most effective in the role of a zoo or aquarium director. The competency model emphasizes three tiers that include:

  1. Executive Leadership Behaviors, which define the heart and values of an effective leader and the leadership approach to Inspire, Model, Challenge, Enable, Encourage others to deliver on the facility's mission.

  2. Executive Focus, which defines skills and knowledge needed to sustain a viable institution, be an effective executive participant in AZA forums and advance the mission.

  3. Executive Oversight for Zoo/Aquarium Operations, which defines the skills and knowledge needed to provide executive oversight for the operations at the Institutional level.

A variety of experience-based learning methods are used to develop the key competencies program developers have identified as necessary to influential directors. Participants will also benefit from leader and mentor relationships and build competency through on-the-job training and shadowing opportunities.

The development of this custom program, which launched in 2014, was a collaborative effort between the AZA Board of Directors, top executive consultants, and many current zoo and aquarium executives.

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 12 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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