Reaching People: A Conversation with Ted Beattie, Retired President of the Shedd Aquarium

Since starting at the Cincinnati Zoo in the late 1970s to his retirement from the Shedd Aquarium in 2016, Ted Beattie was one of the most iconic and well-respected leaders in the zoo and aquarium profession. His work in marketing paved the way for zoos to market their exhibits and bring in guests through events and experiences like Zoo Lights and Boo at the Zoo. Beattie helped put both Zoo Knoxville and the Fort Worth Zoo on track to grow and develop during his stints as director. However, he spent the majority of his career as President of the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago and established it as one of the best aquariums in the world and a leading force in conservation and science. Here is his story.

@ Shedd Aquarium

Ted Beattie entered the world of zoos and aquariums when it was rare for professionals in the field to have a marketing or business background. “When I first came into the profession in 1978, I was probably the only nonanimal person in a management role,” he recalled. “I came out of graduate school at Ohio State University with an MBA. I went the traditional route of working for a management company but I had a friend on my golf team that was marketing director for the Cincinnati Reds who said the Cincinnati Zoo was looking for its first marketing director. The zoo had been facing real funding challenges but realized they could make a lot more money by marketing their new exhibits.” In 1978, Beattie became marketing director of the Cincinnati Zoo.

@ Cincinnati Zoo

At the time, the Cincinnati Zoo was led by Ed Maruska, one of the ‘silverbacks’ of the zoo profession. His visionary leadership led the way to innovative achievements such as an exhibit devoted to the world’s insects and another where gorillas lived in a natural breeding group. “Ed Maruska was always open to better ways of doing things,” Beattie commented. “He turned the zoo around and marketing was part of that process. The zoo had never thought about fundraising so Ed looked for the right combination of skills to raise money to do more things.” Beattie’s marketing efforts helped the zoo thrive and become a house name for the community of Cincinnati. “We started doing a lot of promotions and advertising and became much more engaged in the community,” Beattie said. “We built programs to increase funding sources.”

@ Cincinnati Zoo

Ted Beattie’s most successful project at the Cincinnati Zoo was the creation of a Holiday magic experience, which since been renamed the PNC Festival of Lights. “We looked at the attendance trends and found attendance was low in November and December when the weather is usually lousy and cold in Cincinnati,” he remarked. “We decided to create a Christmas festival that would open up half of the zoo during the evening and have Christmasy things like hot chocolate and lights. The key thing driving this was creating this unique experience in a zoo environment. Families would drive around looking at Christmas decorations so we took it a step forward and decorated the zoo.”

Cassandre Crawford @ Cincinnati Zoo

“In our survey, we had found less than 2,000 people were coming to the zoo in December,” Beattie recalled. “We then implemented all this holiday magic and got Cincinnati Reds baseball players to come out and read stories to the kids. We did all kinds of fun family things that could be done when it snowed hard. We went from 2000 people to 80,000 people visiting the zoo in December. We didn’t know what to do with ourselves. The Cincinnati Zoo model would go up to 120,000 people visiting the zoo [for the event.] It wasn’t just a great big family experience but a way to expose people to the zoo at a different time of year. We were the first zoo to do this.” Now events modeled after Cincinnati’s are found at several zoos around the nation.

@ Cincinnati Zoo

Ted Beattie’s marketing skills continued to help the Cincinnati Zoo soar. “We continued doing big special events, which played an important part in attracting people,” he stated. “During the summer, we brought Spider Man to the zoo and over 20,000 people came. We grew the membership program from 800 members to 35,000 members. Membership programs are very important since they’re your donor base if you take care of them.”

Mark Dumont @ Cincinnati Zoo

In 1982, Beattie moved to the Brookfield Zoo outside of Chicago after hearing George Rabb speak at a conference. “George asked if I would like to go to Chicago as they were setting programs up and needed someone to run them,” he remembered. “I became responsible for all the guest relations and related programs. The zoo was a lot bigger than where I had come from and gave me the opportunity to really mix the animal side and for profit side.”

@ Brookfield Zoo

Ted Beattie became responsible for the first major fundraising campaign the Brookfield Zoo had. “George was looking for more resources and got the whole zoo behind an aggressive campaign and conservation initiative,” he remarked. While Beattie was at the zoo, Tropic World, a massive tropical building featuring apes, monkeys and other species living together, opened. “We built Tropic World into all the marketing plans for the zoo and Tropic World became the thing to do in Chicago,” Beattie added. “We happened to have two baby gorillas born during the early opening so we made sure everyone in Chicago knew about the baby gorillas and their new home.”

@ Brookfield Zoo

@ Brookfield Zoo

"We always tried to keep the fun part of the zoo experience a high priority,” Beattie continued. “We continued to build special events and put a whole concert series together. We did that right in the zoo and made it an ideal auditorium space for evening concerts every July.”

@ Brookfield Zoo

In 1987, Ted Beattie became director of the Knoxville Zoo. “I had been consulting in the area of marketing, development and management for the Knoxville Zoo when they came up to Chicago and spent a day with me at the zoo,” he commented. The Knoxville Zoo was much smaller than the Cincinnati and Brookfield Zoos and was in need of an overhaul. “The work that went into making the Knoxville Zoo a significant player in the community was a huge challenge,” Beattie elaborated. “We went from a $4.0 million operation to a $9.0 million operation. We had to work with everything we knew to get the people of Knoxville excited about the zoo and the dreams of what we’d do to make this zoo come alive.”

@ Zoo Knoxville

@ Zoo Knoxville

“Knoxville Zoo was old in terms of its own age,” Beattie continued. “”One gentleman built it in his backyard after taking in a few tigers. The board knew it needed work. I wanted to make sure the board was behind all of us and they responded very well. The scope of the zoo doubled in size with experiences and exhibits. We raised a bunch of money and did a new strategic plan. We built a whole new entrance, larger lion and tiger spaces where they were easy to see, a new snow leopard exhibit and new gorilla and orangutan exhibits. The other thing is there’s a huge educational component to all these experiences which should never be shortchanged. It makes sense for an organization like ours.” Since Beattie’s time there, Zoo Knoxville has continued to grow and become better.

@ Zoo Knoxville

@ Zoo Knoxville

One of the first things Beattie did at the Knoxville Zoo was Boo at the Zoo, a Halloween event where people could come to the zoo in Halloween costumes and trick or treat. Now, Boo at the Zoo is found at zoos all over the nation. “It’s a big one and works for markets of all sizes,” Beattie remarked. “It helped us get the community excited and they would come each year. “

@ Zoo Knoxville

@ Zoo Knoxville

In 1992, Ted Beattie moved to the Fort Worth Zoo as Director. The zoo had recently privatized and was about to open a major renovation of the entire zoo. “It was a bigger zoo and exhibits were being built rather quickly during my eighteen months there,” he elaborated. “The Fort Worth Zoo had been in deep trouble financially when the parks department ran it. The Bass Family, a large oil family in Texas, basically owned Fort Worth and each of the brothers and their spouses had a project in town. Ramona Bass and her husband decided they would take the zoo and find a director. They ended up in my office and offered me the job. Ramona was anxious to build and do it in a quality way.”

@ Fort Worth Zoo

@ Fort Worth Zoo

In 1992, the Fort Worth Zoo opened a drastically reimagined zoo including two new complexes, World of Primates and Asian Falls. Attendance soared to being over one million visitors. “Because of the active involvement the Basses brought to the zoo, I found myself trying to be supportive and help the direction of the zoo and its future,” Beattie stated. “Going through the planning process with the Bass family was an eye opening experience as everybody was working hard to make the zoo the best it could be. They spent a lot of money on the zoo.”

@ Fort Worth Zoo

@ Fort Worth Zoo

A big part of the Fort Worth Zoo’s success was its focus on quality for both animals and people. “The Fort Worth Zoo is a people friendly zoo with a lot of interactive experiences,” Ted Beattie said. “We did more naturalistic exhibits where the animals would be in environments similar to the wild. It helped provide direction for future new exhibits. We put in an education program in place with schools in the area and a few elements of conservation went underway like research with the chimpanzees.”

@ Fort Worth Zoo

@ Fort Worth Zoo

Throughout his career, Ted Beattie has been a team builder. “My success lied on my relationships with people and specifically our staff whether keepers, educators, marketers, veterinarians or operations staff,” he reflected. “I have always made an effort to be close to those employees and know what they’re doing. I wanted to know how I could help them get their job done. Watching those people grow over the years and take more responsibility is a big item. In a business that’s really important and you need to communicate with folks to grow. I’ve worked with nine individuals who are now directors of zoos and aquariums and you’ll hear people talk about the leadership initiatives I started.”

@ Fort Worth Zoo

@ Fort Worth Zoo

Beattie found himself building a house in Fort Worth and thinking it would be a good place to retire when “all of the sudden” he got a call from Chicago. “A couple of the board members from the Brookfield Zoo had remembered me and the Shedd Aquarium was looking for its third director in its history,” he explained. “I ended up back in Chicago. It was a good organization when I got there and we tried to make it an even greater institution. Being president of the Shedd Aquarium was probably the highlight of my career.”

@ Shedd Aquarium

“The Shedd experience was the most organized, supported experience I could have asked to have,” Ted Beattie elaborated. “During the course of my 22 years there, we had our first capital campaign and planned for the aquarium’s future.” The Shedd Aquarium afforded Ted Beattie greater opportunities to make a difference in conservation. “The conservation and research side of Shedd is probably the fastest growing part of the operation,” he reflected. “There’s a high focus on conservation work. There were maybe two people in the conservation department when I started while now there’s a dozen. I had the chance to put together a tight knit creative plan for the aquarium that would take it into the next century. It was quite an opportunity and I got to put together a great staff.”

@ Shedd Aquarium

@ Shedd Aquarium

“The most significant thing in the Shedd experience was the people I worked with,” Beattie stated. “They played a big, big role. We encouraged our staff to be in the planning process and help us get it done. I built the whole team process, which was critically important to bringing people into the decision-making process. There were a lot of great people on our staff and it was up to me make sure they could move forward on projects we all thought were great.”

@ Shedd Aquarium

The team also pulled off a major capital campaign. “We had $135 million worth of projects planned for four years and we got it all raised,” Beattie added. “We renovated nearly all of the aquarium.” One of Shedd’s projects was a seahorse exhibit. “Before no one could keep them alive so, after a lot of research, we found a way to really enhance their livelihood and produce more animals,” Beattie explained. “It took off once we had all the pieces in place.”

@ Shedd Aquarium

The Shedd Aquarium kept on building new projects. “The first project we did was change the gift shop,” Ted Beattie recalled. “It used to be a small one. We worked out numbers to see how profitable the gift shop could be and it came out we needed to make that shop a lot larger and more accessible. Now when you come through the front door, directly on your left is a large gift shop. We renovated all our food services and special events space. We built a new education center.”

@ Shedd Aquarium

A number of outdated exhibit spaces were replaced with modern ones. “The galleries to your right became home to the new Amazon exhibit,” Beattie continued. “That was an immersive kind of exhibit that put guests into the environment of the Amazon with humidity and rain. A 17 foot boa constrictor is the star of the show in the middle.”

@ Shedd Aquarium

Ted Beattie also built facilities for research and administration. “The research center came along four years ago and there’s now both public and private space in aquarium for that conservation program to grow,” he elaborated. “We built a new administrative wing by putting two floors on top of the Oceanarium to house all our business operations and board related facilities. I had a young lady on my staff who was in charge of keeping our trustees well informed about what we were doing. Communication was by far the most important, critical thing to keeping our board well informed.”

@ Shedd Aquarium

@ Shedd Aquarium

During the late 1990s, Beattie served on the Advisory Board for Disney’s Animal Kingdom. “We were on the ground floor of the park being built,” he looked back. “Disney went around looking for the best people they could and created this advisory council. They’d call on us to make sure we were still on schedule. Disney’s facilities are some of the finest you’ll find in any zoo in the world. We helped them select animals and provided a lot of assistance in acquiring certain animal. It was a fun challenge to be in that group.” Additionally, at this time, Beattie served as President of the 4500 member Association of Zoos and Aquariums. He also provided major support to his alma mater, “Ohio State University.” Following his election to the OSU Alumni Board of Directors, he served five years on the board and two years of the president of the association.

@ Shedd Aquarium

In 2003, the Shedd Aquarium opened the state-of-the-art Wild Reef, which won the AZA Exhibit Award. "We created an exhibit called Wild Reef, an underwater experience home to various sharks and sawfish,” Beattie recalled. “You were positioned as a guest underneath the water. It’s still probably the first or second most popular exhibit in the aquarium.”

@ Shedd Aquarium

@ Shedd Aquarium

Wild Reef was an enormous undertaking. “The final price tag for Wild Reef was $35 million,” Ted Beattie stated. “The building of Wild Reef was challenging as it was built underground on the south side of the aquarium and it was 35 feet deep but didn’t look like a pool. The majority of the animals were in the shark family and it had to look like an ocean. Our goal going in was to create a really exciting underwater experience and we were able to pull it off with our own staff. The growth of that program and the staff that manages those animals is phenomenal.”

@ Shedd Aquarium

@ Shedd Aquarium

Ted Beattie was asked by President George W. Bush to serve on the Ocean Commission. “It was made up of 16 individuals who had some involvement to the nation’s waters,” he elaborated. “My involvement was to support and bring to the table the more creative ideas about education in our facilities and talk about what aquariums could be doing to tell the public about water-related issues. We met three days each month focusing on everything from oil to the Great Lakes. We could showcase a lot of the work in the aquarium and bring aquariums into the national conversation. We made a 300 page document outlining everything we did and our recommendations. It was a bipartisan issue and we got pieces of it implemented by the House and Senate.”

@ Shedd Aquarium

“Aquariums have the ability to reach a lot of people,” Beattie reflected. “We had 2 million plus going into Shedd Aquarium every year. There’s a lot of good surprises out there when you start to connect with the public and school kids. Education plays a big role in what we’re all about. Any director that’s going to run one of these places has to keep that in mind. There’s a big need to get aquariums exposed on a national level. When there’s issues like the sharks and coral reefs of the world being in trouble, we need to get programs out there in front of the public.”

@ Shedd Aquarium

One of Ted Beattie’s largest projects at the Shedd Aquarium was renovating the Oceanarium, the aquarium’s signature exhibit and home to its marine mammals. “We expanded it a great degree,” he explained. “We renovated the dolphin/beluga presentation and most of the exhibit space. We put a higher priority on breeding dolphins and belugas as we’ve been very successful with their offspring and those animals no longer can come from the wild.”

@ Shedd Aquarium

@ Shedd Aquarium

Beattie strongly believes dolphins and whales in human care must be provided top welfare and serve an educational purpose. “If you’re going to maintain those animals, you have to have a strong supportive educational message and really build it into the heart of what you do,” he added. “What we’ve done is focused a lot of programming on the research and educational aspects of those animals. We made sure we had the best possible care for dolphins and whales, a real highpoint for Shedd. There’s breeding going on there.”

@ Shedd Aquarium

@ Shedd Aquarium

In 2016, Ted Beattie retired after having a legendary career in zoos and aquariums. “I had been around for close to forty years,” he reflected. “You know when it’s time to retire. I had done a lot in the profession and it was something I cared about. I truly love this profession and the timing of retirement was they were getting ready to do another big campaign. I didn’t want to get in the way.”

@ Shedd Aquarium

“I wanted the aquarium to always be on top of mind for people who live in Chicago,” Beattie continued. “It’s a great facility with a great reputation and the current direction is good. I love that place. I spent most of my career there and it was well worth it.”

“How zoos and aquariums handle their management of animals matters- the environments we build and the health of the animals who live in them,” Ted Beattie reflected. “Those areas are going to be really important especially if there are other pressures in place. If we continue to be upfront with our public and governments that’s huge.”

@ Shedd Aquarium

“I hope my legacy has to do with the leadership within the profession,” Ted Beattie concluded. “We were aggressive and strong enough to create new training opportunities for individuals who want to be the director of a zoo or aquarium. The leadership piece is something I cared deeply about and the number of folks I have seen go on to a number of leadership positions makes me proud.”

@ Shedd Aquarium

#SheddAquarium #FortWorthZoo #ZooKnoxville #BrookfieldZoo #CincinnatiZoo

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