Executive Director

Executive Director

California Academy of Sciences

San Francisco, CA, United States

Executive Director
California Academy of Sciences

Our Client

The Academy in 2019

With a mission to “explore, explain, and sustain life,” the California Academy of Sciences – based in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park – is a beacon for knowledge, inspiration and solutions, guiding the world toward a better future by providing both hope and critical information to an increasingly global audience. The Academy is focused on leveraging its public museum, its scientific discoveries, and its global education programs to inspire hundreds of millions of people to care for and sustain Earth’s natural wonders.

Since re-opening in the Renzo Piano designed and LEED Platinum Certified new building ten years ago, the California Academy of Sciences has welcomed 15 million visitors, discovered more than 1,500 new species, and watched our indoor rainforest reach new heights. Other key milestones include:

• 1.2 million youth visiting the Academy on school field trips
• 100+ Careers in Science interns pursuing STEM careers
• 12+ million observations made on iNaturalist worldwide

In the past year, the Academy shared cutting-edge research and discoveries: debuting an award-winning planetarium show, “Expedition Reef,” and a major new exhibit, “Giants of Land and Sea.” The Academy grew its Academy-for-All program to keep the museum accessible and affordable, especially for children and families. The Academy also reached new audiences with NightLife, Women In Science night, and its 500 Queer Scientists event. Other highlights include: The Academy’s online publication, “biographic,” garnering prestigious journalism awards, advanced breakthroughs in coral reef biology, and the joining of forces with National Geographic Society to grow the iNaturalist app to fuel global scientific discovery.

Impact and Looking Forward

From the 1.5 million visitors who walk through the doors each year to the 46 million scientific specimens in its collection, the Academy’s impact starts at the museum, but reaches far across the globe through scientific research, public engagement, and environmental literacy programs, digital media, and sustainability education.

Looking forward, the California Academy of Sciences envisions paying particular attention to issues that are vital to the future of life on Earth, including the fate of coral reefs, tropical rainforests, and California’s ecosystems. The Academy will also develop new ways to study and protect Earth’s natural wonders, share innovative sustainability solutions, and engage global audiences through innovative educational programs and powerful digital storytelling. The future of the Academy’s work will facilitate more engaged and constructive conversations around critical science and environmental issues, shift our collective mindset in a more informed and positive direction, and inspire widespread action to create a more educated and sustainable global community.

The Academy has a consolidated budget that includes restricted programs and capital expenditures of $73M. The endowment for the California Academy of Sciences is $185M, with 651 employees and 763 active volunteers. Grants from federal, state, and international agencies as well as private foundations are critical to fund research and demonstrate its relevance in a competitive landscape of peers and leaders from all sectors. Academy researchers hold 19 active grants cumulating to approximately $4.5M.

Scientific Collections and Research

Collections and Research are the core of natural history museums and among the Academy’s most unique scientific, educational, and cultural assets. The California Academy of Science’s collections represent over 300 years of exploration and research by thousands of professionals and citizens alike. The collections are renowned for several major strengths. For example, the Herpetology collection is the fifth most diverse in the world, and the Academy’s collection has important geographic foci across taxa in California, Madagascar, and the Philippines, to name a few.

The Academy’s collection is a permanent physical library of our planet over vast swaths of space and time. With more than 46 million specimens including fossils, gems and minerals, cultural artifacts, and representatives from every branch of life, all supported by an extensive research library. The collection can be accessed in person, through loans, or digitally through online databases by users from around the world. Through expeditions, initiatives such as Hope for Reefs, and donations, these collections are growing each year. The Academy is also an accredited zoo with numerous live animals housed within the facility.

The Institute for Biodiversity Science and Sustainability (IBSS) supports the Academy’s mission through primary research, building and stewarding collections as an archive and lending library of life, sharing science with broad audiences, and leveraging knowledge of biodiversity to sustain life on Earth based on sound science and data. They explore the enormous diversity of life, including how it is formed from deep time until now, how life forms are related to one another other, and how they interact with each other and the rest of the natural world.

The foundation of IBSS is research and collections, divided into ten major disciplines: Anthropology, Botany, Entomology, Geology, Herpetology, Ichthyology, Invertebrate Zoology, Library, Microbiology, and Ornithology & Mammalogy.


The Academy Trustees, composed of forty voting members, help shape the institution’s vision and strategic direction. The Academy Fellows, a governing group of approximately 450 distinguished scientists, have made notable contributions to one or more of the natural sciences, and help further the reach of the Academy’s research and education initiatives through individual and collaborative efforts with Academy researchers. Nominated by their colleagues and selected by the Board of Trustees, Academy Fellows remain members of the Fellowship for life. With the exception of Fellows who are currently staff members, the Fellows and the Trustees comprise the Voting Members of the Academy’s governing body. In addition to certain trustees who occupy officer positions of the corporation, there are also two staff members who are officers, the ED and the CFO.

While the general fiduciary powers are exercised under the direction of the Board of Trustees, the Voting Members are required to take certain actions such as the final approval of the election of Trustees, the Officers and composition of Formal Committees.

For more information, please refer to the Appendix at the end of this document as well as the California Academy of Sciences website: https://www.calacademy.org/.

The Role

In addition to providing oversight for the Academy’s $73M operating budget, 651 employees and 763 active volunteers, the Executive Director will work in close partnership with the Senior Leadership Team (SLT) to actively foster a collegial working environment internally that encourages cross-departmental and cross-functional collaboration in support of achieving strategic goals. The new Executive Director inherits a seasoned and skilled group of staff and will be asked to collaborate effectively with a range of teams representing the diverse offering of the Academy. The eight direct reports into the Executive Director include the: Chief of Science and Sustainability, Chief Operations Officer, Chief Financial Officer, Chief Human Resources Officer, Interim Chief Philanthropy Officer, Chief Public Engagement Officer, Chief Revenue and Marketing Officer, and Senior Director of Exhibits and Architecture.

The California Academy of Sciences seeks a dynamic, strategic, and collaborative leader who can be a passionate advocate for the institution’s mission, research, and collections. They will build upon the accomplishments of the past while also encouraging new, innovative approaches to ‘exploring, explaining, and sustaining”. Reporting to and working with the Board of Trustees, the Executive Director has responsibility and is accountable for the strategic, programmatic, financial, and operational management of the Academy. This individual will build upon and evolve the Academy’s existing strategic priorities while also developing the financial and ideological support for their implementation. They will skillfully balance and align the needs of multiple, sometimes opposing, interests while providing a clear direction for the future. Along with articulating a clear vision for the Academy, this person will mobilize the Academy’s current key strategic areas of focus: Explore Life; Operate a World-Class Living Museum; Provide Global Education and Storytelling; and Be a Sustainability Leader.

The Executive Director will exude a genuine passion for the sciences, biodiversity, conservation and sustainability. They will serve as the Academy’s chief advocate locally, nationally, and internationally and will effectively communicate the Academy’s mission to its diversity of stakeholders. Maintaining and building upon the Academy’s high standards of scientific and programmatic excellence, the Executive Director will actively champion the Museum’s commitment to research, conservation, and educational outreach as part of its overall mission. Additionally, they will build and maintain strong, productive relationships with the scientific community including the Fellows, key partner organizations, and peer institutions as well local officials, civic leaders, key funders, and the broader public. Finally, as the primary liaison to the Board, the Executive Director will develop a highly productive and effective partnership with Board members in service to the Academy’s mission.

The Executive Director will play a vital role in fundraising and will work closely with the Board and the development team to ensure the Academy’s ongoing – and increased – private and public financial support. They will demonstrate the ability to attract and persuade individuals and institutions to support the work of the Academy with the resources the organization needs to thrive. They will actively promote the Academy to advance the development of appropriate partnerships, locally and nationally, in support of its mission. This person will steward the longstanding relationship and funding between the Academy and the City and County of San Francisco. The Academy is mentioned several times in the Charter of the City and County of San Francisco, conferring broad rights for the Academy to control and operate its facility in Golden Gate Park. The annual effort for CAS to vie for City funding is directly tied to the energies on the incoming Executive Director. The Academy submits to the Mayor and Board of Supervisors an annual financial statement of its activities in connection with the operation of the buildings.

The Executive Director will be a champion of the Academy’s strong culture and equity, diversity, and inclusion initiatives. This person will bring a commitment, ideas, and energy to the Academy’s work on diversity in the sciences and with our workforce. The Academy is proud of its leadership role in this work and is an institution that recognizes that diversity among its team strengthens its ability to be a powerful ambassador for the importance of science to all public audiences.

Candidate Profile

The ideal candidate will have significant and proven leadership and management experience, combined with a passion for and commitment to the Academy’s mission. The Executive Director will be a natural leader of impeccable character and integrity, who adheres to strongly held ethical values and principles. They will exude a sense of intellectual curiosity and global awareness while also being both willing and eager to share their knowledge and understanding with the staff, donors, and other supporters of the Academy. Ideally, the next Executive Director will have had previous experience developing and implementing strategic initiatives within a complex organization and will have earned a reputation for effectiveness in partnering with a Board. They will demonstrate success cultivating relationships with diverse constituencies and building public or private support for key initiatives.

In terms of the performance and personal competencies required for the position, we would highlight the following for this candidate:

Passion for the Mission and Scientific Credibility

▪ The ability to lead the Academy in a convincing, credible, and inspiring way – providing the necessary intellectual leadership to build on the Academy’s global biodiversity research, conservation, sustainability, compelling exhibits, and leading educational outreach;
▪ Commands the respect of the science community both internally and externally; and
▪ Brings an appreciation for the history of the Academy as a research institution, the Academy’s reputation in the science and research communities, and the value of the collections used, stewarded, and shared through the Academy.
▪ Experience working in an exceptionally diverse workforce, in a region of the country that values and expects diversity along many dimensions and contexts
▪ An understanding that the Academy’s message about the importance of science and nature resonates more when it is conveyed by diverse ambassadors, exhibits, programs, and communications
▪ Ability to lead a complex organization, while maintaining the Academy’s strong culture of collaboration and inclusivity, e.g. Academy All Staff meetings, an active Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Employee Resource Group, an active Staff Advisory Council, and other ideas the new Executive Director may implement

Strategic Vision

▪ Highly creative thinker who develops innovative and winning strategies based on a strong understanding of organizations, museums, or research enterprises;
▪ Dynamic leader who can create a compelling vision with a positive “can do” mindset;
▪ Derives energy from generating and inspiring ideas with a talented and imaginative team;
▪ A track record of analyzing data from a variety of sources to support decisions and to align others around a strategy;
▪ Effectively balances the desire/need for broad change with an understanding of how much change the organization is capable of handling, to create realistic goals and implementation plans that are achievable and successful; and
▪ Inspirational leadership that builds upon the momentum of the past decade and solidifies the Academy’s reputation as a vibrant, engaging, relevant, and ground-breaking knowledge institution of global importance.

Management of Teams, Resources, and Assets

▪ Experience in running a reasonably sized organization or department with significant complexity and programmatic offerings;
▪ An active and insightful listener who has the clear capacity to earn the respect of the organization at all levels;
▪ Known to be a catalyst, enabler and integrator of the ideas, insights, and efforts of others;
▪ A track record of attracting, retaining, and motivating top performing talent in a culture that values consensus, idea-generation, and innovation;
▪ The ability to draw upon the collective talents of the Academy’s staff and highlight the diversity and strengths of the collections to expand, intrigue and engage the audiences;
▪ Proven track record of financial oversight of an initiative, department, or organization with dispassion and balance, with an even-handed and reasoned approach to budgetary decision- making based on a clear understanding of the strategic objectives of the organization; and
▪ An ability to develop a productive and mutually fulfilling relationship with staff, curators, Trustees, Fellows, and donors, and based on a collaborative, stimulating approach, tempered by good judgment.

Relationships and Influence

▪ Naturally connects and builds strong relationships with others, demonstrating strong emotional intelligence and an ability to communicate clearly and persuasively;
▪ Authentically engages external partners to drive global reach;
▪ Inspires trust and followership in others through compelling influence, powerful charisma, passion in their beliefs, and active drive;
▪ Encourages others to share the spotlight and visibly celebrates and supports the success of entire team; and
▪ The ability and appetite to represent and champion the Academy’s interests internally and externally, and enthusiastically embrace a public role in science communities from California, the nation and beyond.

Resource Development

▪ Experience with leading development efforts to strengthen an organization’s funding base, including the endowment, in partnership with the Board and the development team;
▪ An ability to resonate with a diverse range of funding sources including individual donors, foundations, corporations, and government funders;
▪ A record of success cultivating donors (both corporate and private) and raising funds in support of institutional goals;
▪ Experience monetizing assets, growing revenue and increasing earned income from new and existing streams; and
▪ The ability to build strong and lasting strategic partnerships to scale impact.

Interpersonal Acumen and Character

▪ Sound judgment and confidence, combined with humility and a focus on personal development and continued learning;
▪ Supportive consensus builder and active listener;
▪ Transparent and collaborative leader, uses the carrot over the stick in their management style;
▪ Dedication to a diverse and inclusive workplace through programs and practices;
▪ Embodies the ethics and integrity of the Academy and its sustainability efforts;
▪ Strong work ethic and willingness to lead by example;
▪ Spirit of entrepreneurship, innovation, and creative problem-solving;
▪ High energy, charisma, focus, and drive; and
▪ Believes in the collective strength of the entire Academy.

The California Academy of Sciences welcomes people of all backgrounds, identities, and beliefs to join us in achieving our mission to explore, explain, and sustain life on Earth. We place diversity, equity, and inclusion at the heart of our recruiting efforts and strive to build a culture centered on mutual respect, equal treatment, and the opportunity to succeed.

Housing and Compensation
The California Academy of Sciences offers an excellent benefits package and salary. As part of the overall compensation package, The Academy provides housing for the Executive Director.

Russell Reynolds Associates has been exclusively retained for this search and prospective candidates are invited to contact Russell Reynolds Associates directly. All inquiries and discussions will be considered strictly confidential. To apply for the role or submit a nomination, please reach out to CalAcademy@russellreynolds.com. All applications should include a resume and statement of interest.

Appendix: Additional Information about the California Academy of Sciences

Operational Realities and Visitor Services

The Executive Director has oversight for the operations of a complex and multi-faceted organization. Researchers at the Academy and their knowledge creation and science collections, ensure the integrity of CAS’s marketing, operations, outreach and visitor services. In order to attract and engage visitors of all ages, the revenue and marketing teams lead branding, public relations campaigns, sales programs, and partnerships that highlight the Academy’s offerings in new and compelling ways. Through digital communication channels and on-site museum product offerings, the team provides critical ongoing financial support to further the institution’s mission. Drawing upon the Academy’s one-of-a-kind exhibits, compelling programs, and scientific expertise, they aim inspire curiosity about science and the future of the natural world among all who encounter the institution.

The museum is 410,000 square feet and has an additional 100,000 square feet of public land in the heart of San Francisco’s historic Golden Gate Park. All buildings and improvements erected by or under the authority of the California Academy of Sciences, are the property of the City and County. However, the buildings and improvements, and the activities and personnel are managed and controlled exclusively by the California Academy of Sciences.

Education Programs, Community Outreach and Volunteerism

The Education team of experienced designers and educators develop and deliver a variety of innovative programs within and beyond the museum’s walls. Signature programs include the Careers in Science internship program, award-winning planetarium productions, and online classroom materials reaching millions of learners. Dozens of daily and monthly programs for museum visitors and public lectures offer the public opportunities to dive deeper into critical issues such as sustainability, conservation, and human health on a person-to-person level. Young visitors gain an invaluable learning experience outside the classroom, engaging face-to-face with natural wonders, authentic science, and environmental awareness.

The Academy is committed to cultivating a culturally inclusive environment in which diversity of thought and expression are valued, appreciated, and celebrated. Additionally, their work with organizations employing adults with developmental disabilities and youth with criminal justice backgrounds extends our commitment to inclusivity one step further. They’re committed to making our exhibits, programs, digital offerings, and services accessible to everyone, and are standing by to ensure every visitor is accommodated during their time at the museum. As part of our unwavering commitment to reflecting the diverse communities that we serve, we actively recruit individuals traditionally underrepresented in STEM fields with the help of local partnerships.

The Academy is intentional about opening its doors to the surrounding community by hosting several annual events and programs.
- Nightlife offers an after-hours experience for the 21+ crowd where guests can enjoy music, creatures, and cocktails with friends, as they embark on a journey from the stars to the depths of the sea. Featuring a new theme each week, after-hours access to all exhibits, and special programming, NightLife reveals the nocturnal side of the Academy.

- The Careers in Science internship program mentors underserved high school students in preparation for STEM career paths. Teen Science Night, organized by the youth, welcomes nearly 2,000 teens annually, and is the largest event of its kind in the nation.

- The Citizen Science movement helps science to answer some of the biggest questions we face today, by crowd-sourcing data collection and analysis. Other major programs include expeditions to explore biodiversity, funded by grants and other sources, and the student and postdoctoral training programs, creating public scientists for the 21st century, supported by the Lakeside and National Science Foundations as well as other sources.

- Several other core facilities and programs support the Academy’s mission, including a state-of- the art Center for Comparative Genomics, Scanning Electron Microscope, World Class Visualization Studio, and the iNaturalist platform

The Volunteer Services department provides a connection between the diverse Bay Area community and museum, research, and administration. All volunteers are part of the greater Academy community as they work to explore, explain, and sustain life on Earth.

The Academy’s docents use an informal and conversational approach with guests to spark curiosity, inspire action, and foster an interest in continued scientific discovery. Docents are trained in theory and best practices of informal engagement, taught fundamental scientific principles and Academy initiatives, and receive training in Specialty Areas.

Exhibits and Storytelling

▪ The Steinhart Aquarium is one of the most biologically diverse and interactive aquariums on Earth. Home to nearly 40,000 live animals, representing more than 900 unique species, it offers guests an unprecedented view of underwater and terrestrial habitats. From species displayed nowhere else in the world to exhibits about cutting-edge research in little-known ocean ecosystems, a visit to Steinhart Aquarium is full of discovery. Since 1923, the Steinhart Aquarium has developed a colorful history of firsts. From becoming the first public aquarium to display flashlight fish and coconut octopuses to advancing exploration of the ocean’s mysterious “twilight zone,” innovation and scientific excellence are in its DNA.
▪ Morrison Planetarium shows are fueled by cutting-edge scientific data, resulting in stunning visualizations of the latest findings, discoveries, and theories about our Universe. Every star or galaxy a viewer encounters in the planetarium precisely mirrors a real-world counterpart, and when this virtual cosmos is projected onto Morrison’s 75-foot-diameter screen, the dome itself seems to disappear, resulting in a uniquely immersive experience.
▪ Osher Rainforest: Housed within a spectacular 90-foot-diameter glass dome, our rainforest exhibit is the largest of its kind in the world. With temperatures of 82–85 degrees and humidity at 75 percent or above, it will instantly transport you to some of the most biodiverse places on Earth. The rainforest’s living plants include trees like the Brazilian beauty leaf and West Indies mahogany, dozens of shrubs— including Theobroma cacao, the plant from which chocolate is made—and hundreds of flowering plants, from begonias and philodendrons to orchids and bromeliads. More than 1,600 live animals reside in the rainforest dome, including 250 free-flying birds and butterflies and close to 100 exotic reptiles and amphibians.
▪ Kimball Natural History Museum: The Kimball Natural History Museum is an embodiment of the Academy’s mission to explore, explain, and sustain life. While featuring immersive exhibits that illustrate the patterns and processes of evolution, it also explores ways we can help protect that diversity.

In early 2016, the Academy launched bioGraphic—a new multimedia magazine that energizes audiences around the world, offering both hope and solutions for a more sustainable future. The publication is rich with scientifically accurate, visually compelling stories that focus on positive sustainability solutions. To find and craft compelling stories, the Academy leverages in-house scientists and collections; its global network of research and conservation partners; its world-class proficiency in storytelling, design, and visualization; and its relationships with top-tier journalists, photographers, and producers around the world. These stories don’t just reside on the Academy’s site. To maximize reach and create exponentially greater impact, they also distribute many of them—free of charge—to nearly 50 popular media outlets around the world, including The Atlantic, The Guardian, Forbes, BBC World News, and The Washington Post. Collectively, these outlets report circulation numbers that total nearly half a billion unique monthly visitors. All told, during its first year, bioGraphic published 120 stories that were collectively read or watched more than 16 million times—and were shared on social media more than a million times.

History and The Building

Founded in 1853 as the first scientific academy west of the Atlantic seaboard, the California Academy of Sciences soon became one of the West’s most popular destinations, drawing some 80,000 visitors annually to gaze at its giant wooly mammoth, taxidermized grizzly bears, native plant specimens, and rare artifacts. The 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake caused major structural damage to the Academy’s building. The Academy used this as an opportunity to rethink the entire museum-going experience. The new vision: to create an institution for the 21st century—a premier destination of grand design that would bring the latest in scientific research to the public in the most engaging, educational, and inspiring ways imaginable.

The goal was to create a physical manifestation of the Academy’s mission to explore, explain, and sustain life. Designed by Renzo Piano, the new building earned the U.S. Green Building Council’s highest ratings for its eco-friendly design and operations, making the Academy the world’s first Double Platinum museum—and the largest Double Platinum building in the world. The Academy received its first LEED Platinum rating in the “New Construction” category—covering the design and construction process—and its second in the “Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance” category, certifying that its day-to-day operations and practices meet the highest standards of sustainability.


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Executive Director