Organization: Chicago Botanic Garden

Location: Glencoe, IL

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About the Chicago Botanic Garden: 

The Chicago Botanic Garden opened 43 years ago as a beautiful place to visit. It has matured into one of the world’s great living museums and conservation science centers. In 2013 and again in 2014, more than one million people visited the Garden’s 26 gardens and four natural areas, uniquely situated on 385 acres on and around nine islands, with six miles of lake shoreline, a renowned Japanese garden and bonsai collection, as well as world renowned visitor, education, and urban workforce-training programs, and plant conservation science leadership that extends to a joint graduate program with Northwestern University.

The Chicago Botanic Garden has 50,000 members — one of the largest memberships of any garden in the world. Year-round, people of all ages, backgrounds, interests, and abilities participate in programs, take classes geared for students from pre-K through Ph.D. and stroll the grounds. Within the nine laboratories of the Garden’s Daniel F. And Ada L. Rice Plant Conservation Science Center, scientists and graduate students conduct a wide array of plant research. The Garden’s Lenhardt Library contains 110,000 volumes — including one of the nation’s best collections of rare botanical books. On 13 sites throughout Cook and Lake Counties, the Garden operates Windy City Harvest, a national model for urban agriculture workforce training. The Garden is one of only 17 public gardens accredited by the American Association of Museums. In addition, the Garden is an example of a successful public-private partnership: the Chicago Horticultural Society manages the Garden on land owned by the Forest Preserves of Cook County.

The Chicago Botanic Garden traces its origins back to The Chicago Horticultural Society, founded In 1890. Throughout its existence, the Chicago Botanic Garden has developed gardens and programs with a meticulous eye toward its original mission.

The mission of the Garden is: “We cultivate the power of plants to sustain and enrich life” and is based on three core beliefs with an ongoing focus on fulfilling the changing needs of the Garden’s customers:

We believe: The future of life on Earth depends on how well we understand, value, and protect plants, other wildlife, and the natural habitats that sustain our world.

We believe: Beautiful gardens and natural environments are fundamentally important to the mental and physical well-being of all people.

We believe: People live better, healthier lives when they can create, care for, and enjoy gardens.

“Keep Growing” Strategic Plan

In December 2009, the Garden’s management team and Board set forth its “Keep Growing” Strategic Plan for the next ten years, 2010–2020. More than halfway through the plan, much progress has been made to achieve the vision. The Garden’s work is focused on four key program areas: Buildings, Gardens, and Living Collections; Visitor Experience and Business Development; Community and Education Programs; and Science. Goals for these “pillars” of the Garden’s work are supported by goals in Financial Sustainability and Risk Management; Staff and Volunteers; Marketing; Information Services; and Fundraising. The strategic plan can be viewed in its entirety at the following link:

Two major capital projects remain as part of the 2010-2020 plan: The Regenstein Foundation Learning Campus and the Kris Jarantoski Campus.

When completed in 2016, the seven-acre Regenstein Foundation Learning Campus will be a center of inspiration, education, and training for nature-lovers and the next generation of plant scientists, educators, and land stewards. It will function as a hub of social and educational activity for civic engagement, plant-based intergenerational learning, hands-on coursework, and a range of health and wellness activities. Most of all, it will be a gathering place, designed to connect people with plants and to generate excitement and curiosity about the natural world.

The beauty and wonder of plants are integral to a living museum such as the Chicago Botanic Garden. A new plant production facility and display garden on the Kris Jarantoski Campus will ensure the Garden’s ability to maintain and even redefine horticultural excellence, support advanced plant conservation research, and expand its highly successful plant-based education programs. The campus is named in honor of Executive Vice President and Director Kris Jarantoski’s guiding vision. Jarantoski’s honors include the American Horticultural Society’s Professional Award, the Honorary Life Member award from the American Public Gardens Association, as well as the 2015 Arthur Hoyt Scott Medal and Award. The Jarantoski Campus nursery opens in August 2015 and efforts are underway to raise the remaining $15 million necessary to open the Campus Greenhouses and Peter-Wirtz-designed Serpentine Garden by 2019.

For a complete list of projects comprising the Keep Growing strategic plan and their status, please visit

Governance of the Garden

The Garden is governed by a Board of Directors who actively oversee the Garden’s operations and make available their experience and expertise to Garden management. The President and CEO of the Garden reports to the Board of Directors and the Board Chair.

The Directors exercise their responsibilities through service on various administrative and operational Board committees.

There currently are 68 Directors drawn from business, finance, the professions, foundations, and philanthropy. The board reflects the Garden’s many constituencies and the Garden’s long-standing and deep commitment to diversity and inclusion in every aspect of its operations.  The Board includes members of the African American, Hispanic, Asian, and LGBT communities, and members fall across a broad age spectrum.  That same diversity is reflected in the Garden Staff. The Garden also has an aggressive MBE/WBE policy with respect to vendors and service providers.

For more information on the Chicago Botanic Garden, please visit

The Opportunity: 

The Garden today is in a very strong position.  It is on track to complete the goals set in its “Keep Growing” Strategic Plan two to three years ahead of its target date of 2020.  It has a menu of successful events and fundraising tactics that have been continually refreshed.  Its finances are in excellent order and it is close to completing a highly successful capital campaign.

The Garden’s next CEO will look with fresh eyes at a successful institution and will have the opportunity to inspire an international constituency to realize the importance of plants—their everyday importance and the necessity for their conservation.  The new CEO will devise a new strategic plan covering all areas of the Garden’s operations which starts where the current Keep Growing plan stops. S/he will bring a next chapter of creative and visionary leadership to all areas of the Garden’s operations and expand its footprint locally, nationally and internationally.

New avenues of expansion will be important to consider, including:

  • Increased role in conservation policy- and opinion-making world-wide;
  • Increased collaboration with other institutions, including international living museums/wildlife conservation organizations including zoos and aquariums; art and natural history museums, as well as Chicago cultural institutions.
  • Expanding the Garden’s horticultural therapy and veterans initiatives into additional area medical institutions;
  • Expanding the Garden’s urban agriculture, education, and jobs-training activities (both in urban agriculture and plant conservation biology) through collaboration with more educational institutions—local, national and international; and
  • Building on, and expanding, the Garden’s research and higher education programs with degree-granting institutions including Northwestern University.

However, maintaining and refreshing existing display gardens is critical to the Garden’s continued success in Glencoe. The Garden’s display gardens are at the core of the Garden’s mission and revenue-model, and are critical to serving its customers (members and visitors). In short, a new CEO must find new ways to serve its many constituencies that complement and do not diminish the Garden’s existing activities or tarnish its reputation for high aesthetic and customer-service standards.

The presence at the Garden of an extremely skilled, experienced, collaborative, and successful senior staff presents the new CEO with the opportunity to exercise vision and creativity from the outset, across the Garden’s present operations and its future. The new CEO should respect and embrace the Garden’s culture of collaboration, which includes the Boards, the Staff, Volunteers and Donors.

Key responsibilities of the next CEO include:

Collaboratively develop and lead the next 10-year strategic plan and bring strategic and tactical insights to implement the final phases of the current “Keep Growing” strategic plan:

  • Set forth key objectives and articulate tactics to meet institutional goals;
  • Measure and monitor progress in implementation;
  • Ensure that the mission and core values of the Garden are put into practice throughout strategic plan and annual operating plan execution; and
  • Build, through experience, vision, and consensus, the next strategic plan in 2019-20.

Be an outstanding ambassador and champion for the Garden:

  • Represent the Garden as an international leader in horticulture, plant conservation biology, public programs; and urban agriculture and horticulture jobs training and education (from pre-K through PhD), emphasizing programs for diverse and underserved communities at schools, hospitals, jails, universities, and rehabilitation centers;
  • Promote the Garden through frequent public speaking, media interviews, writing opinion pieces for Garden and social media and attending events throughout the world;
  • Work with elected officials and administrators of governmental units at the local, state, and national levels;
  • Provide leadership in international policy, conservation, and botanic garden alliances and associations; and
  • With the Chairman of the Board, lead four Board of Directors meetings per year and speak throughout the year at meetings of the Garden’s other three Boards.

Partner effectively with the Boards of the Garden:

  • Manage relationships with four boards — the Board of Directors, the Forest Preserves of Cook County, the Woman’s Board and the Guild;
  • Exercise best practices in governance, ethics and in all ways that will best serve the mission and goals of the Garden;
  • Utilize the expertise and relationships of the boards.  Be open to ideas, new approaches and outside assistance in select areas while clearly separating governance from management in order to allow the staff to effectively function;
  • Communicate in a timely and effective manner.  Provide accurate and timely financial and operating metrics; and
  • Become an expert in, and lead, with the Garden’s senior team, Board Chairman, and Board of Directors, the activities inherent in the effective practice of the following committees of the Board:  Executive, Audit, Personnel and Compensation; Finance and Investment; Nominating and Governance; Government Affairs; Science and Education; Buildings, Gardens and Visitor Experience.

Lead fundraising efforts to support all Garden programs and plans:

  • Develop a program to successfully complete the capital and endowment campaigns;
  • Ensure successful fundraising from individuals, corporations, foundations, and government for both operating and campaign (capital and endowment) support.  (In 2013, the total raised by Garden staff and Board members was $30 million; in 2014 this number was nearly $40 million.);
  • Oversee, with the Board of Directors, an endowment portfolio of over $80 million; and
  • Continue to grow operating, endowment, and capital revenue and support to sustain the Garden into the future.

Effectively manage the Garden’s operations:

  • Lead 270 full and part-time employees, 430 seasonal workers, and over 2,000 volunteers to serve over 1,000,000 visitors annually at the Garden’s 385-acre living plant museum featuring 26 gardens and 81 acres of lakes and rivers, as well as a 15-acre prairie and 100-acre woodland in accordance with the Garden’s values and goals;
  • Demonstrate outstanding financial management.  Successfully manage an approximately $50 million annual budget, including a $30 million operating budget; $4 million grants budget, and over $20 million capital budget.  Work with the Garden’s senior staff to ensure business practices and plans meet all financial goals;
  • Manage the successful completion of large capital projects on time and within budget.  Serve as the lead arbiter of the Garden’s aesthetic standards; understand the history of landscape design, architecture, and event-execution   to ensure that all aesthetic/design choices meet Garden standards and style and set ever-higher goals for the future;
  • Support the Garden’s culture of accountability by holding people accountable for achieving their objectives and delivering on key initiatives; and
  • Understand the Garden’s need to increase the diversity of its board, staff, suppliers, volunteers, and audiences, and demonstrate a commitment to this goal.  Utilize organizational development tools and methodologies to regularly assess and align organizational health, leadership team effectiveness, employee satisfaction and morale, to support and drive strategic objectives.

Retain, coach and hire the Garden’s management team and plan for succession:

  • Sustain an A-player management team.  Have the ability to quickly establish positive working relationships and lead the team to ensure near-term continuity;
  • Evaluate the quality and capabilities of existing talent and develop a plan to ensure high-quality leadership throughout the organization;
  • Plan for succession around key executives; and
  • Ensure there is a recruiting, assessment and ongoing development process in place to prevent gaps in key roles that would hinder execution and growth of the business.

Candidate Profile:

The ideal candidate will have the following personal competencies and characteristics:

A Strategic Leader:  The President & CEO will be an intelligent, innovative and enthusiastic self-starter who can think strategically about the Garden’s future.  S/he will be able to set the vision and develop a strategic plan for the Garden and work closely with the Garden’s various constituents on the plan’s successful implementation and evaluation efforts.  The President & CEO will seek partnership and collaborations with outside agencies and institutions to help advance the Garden’s mission and strategic priorities.  S/he will understand and deal with complexities with ease and be able to creatively overcome obstacles to achieve the Garden’s goals. S/he will actively engage with the Board, collaborating and leveraging their skills and talents to further the vision of the Garden.

An Ambassador for the Garden:  The President & CEO will be a high-energy, charismatic leader with the ability to develop a powerful sense of confidence and shared purpose in others. S/he will serve as an “Ambassador” for the Garden, sharing the mission and vision with the outside world and helping to expand the Garden’s role more broadly. The President & CEO will have exceptional interpersonal skills with the ability to build and sustain strong support across a wide range of stakeholders including staff, Board, donors and the public. S/he will be politically astute and attuned with a sophisticated personal presence.

An Inclusive Leader: The President & CEO will be an inclusive leader who supports a culture of collaboration and accountability among the Garden’s Board and staff. S/he will be able to work well with others and have a deep understanding of the complexities of the Garden. The President & CEO will be a mature leader who embodies humility, wisdom and strength of character. S/he will actively engage the Garden’s key stakeholders and will build trust among the Board and staff, supporting a culture of consensus building. The President & CEO will build and retain a strong team and will focus on talent development and succession planning.

Be Passionate about the Mission: The President & CEO will have a passion for the mission of the Garden. S/he will work to continually innovate with the goal of helping the Garden expand its brand and reach and deepen its work. S/he will have a deep appreciation for the Garden’s aesthetic, which has become a trademark.  Finally, the President & CEO will treat others with respect and be an individual of unquestioned integrity, ethics and values; someone who can be trusted without reservation.

A Bachelor’s degree is required; an advanced degree in a related field is preferred.

Proven experience in managing and leading a significant workforce and the ability to manage a substantial operating and capital budget are required.


Koya Leadership Partners has been exclusively retained for this search. This search is being led by Alison P. Ranney, Alexandra N. Corvin and Anne B. McCarthy.

To express your interest in this role please submit your materials at the following link: or email Alison, Anne and Alex directly at All inquiries and discussions will be considered strictly confidential.

All inquiries and discussions will be considered strictly confidential.

About Koya Leadership Partners:

Koya Leadership Partners is a national retained executive search and human capital consulting firm that works exclusively with nonprofits and social enterprises. We deliver measurable results, finding exceptionally talented people who truly fit the unique culture of our client organizations and ensuring that organizations have the resources and strategies to support them. For more information about Koya Leadership Partners, visit