A Conversation with Roger Germann, President/CEO of The Florida Aquarium

Roger Germann began his career as a local television writer and producer in Chicago. “Communications was the backbone of my schooling and passion,” he remembered. He transitioned into working on the public relations side. “I worked for an agency and in Illinois state, local and federal politics,” Germann mentioned. In 2000, he was hired as Communications Director at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. “Because I worked in communications and understood messaging, I had the opportunity to join Shedd,” Germann stated. He would soon fall in love the aquariums and the work they do.

@ The Florida Aquarium

Germann had gone to the Shedd Aquarium frequently growing up and was already quite familiar with the facility. At the time, the aquarium’s president and CEO was Ted Beattie, who had been there for six years. Beattie himself had extensive experience in marketing for zoos. “Ted and I talked about our philosophy of communications and marketing messages,” Germann elaborated. “He outlined his vision, which was to increase the reach and mission of the aquarium through the marketing efforts he was so good at. We connected and he thought I had expertise.”

@ Shedd Aquarium

“We tried to make sure we messaged the aquarium as a fun place to learn,” Germann continued. “We focused on our brand being the cool science teacher. We thought that would be a great way to connect to guests and make them want to visit and learn about the animals. We also focused our communications efforts on talking about the good work of the aquarium. It started with animal care and making sure people understood the Shedd Aquarium gave the best care possible to its 30,000 animals. As we moved forward, two shifts happened. We opened Wild Reef, our second expansion, in 2003 and had a new kind of experience to communicate about. We also looked at our communications strategies and said we needed to show our commitment for conservation. You want to drive attention to support the mission, talking about exciting new things and overlay that with stronger conservation messages.”

@ Shedd Aquarium

Germann found Beattie to be an exceptional mentor. “Ted spent a lot of time mentoring people,” he recounted. “About a year into my career at Shedd, I went to Ted and said I want to be you someday. When I self-identified that I’d like to be an aquarium director, Ted said I will help you get there and let’s work on it. if you have the passion and commitment, it could happen. It’s good to be intentional with your bosses about where you want to go.” Germann would move up from Communications Director to Executive Vice President.

@ Shedd Aquarium

Shedd Aquarium went through rapid growth under the leadership of Beattie. “One of the things I’m most proud of is being part of the leadership team that expanded the aquarium and doubled business operations,” Germann remarked. “We went from a $27 million operation to a $57 million operation. We were able to grow our business operations and always remained in the black.”

@ Shedd Aquarium

During his last three years at the Shedd Aquarium, Germann oversaw its Great Lakes conservation program. “As the world’s aquarium, we always focused our collection globally and had projects in places like the Bahamas and the Philippines but we had America’s largest ecosystem in our own backyard and didn’t pay much attention to it,” he articulated. “We asked ourselves why aren’t we focusing on 94% of America’s waters and we dived into Great Lakes conservation. I’m proud of making a strong effort to diversify our commitment to Great Lakes conservation- science, outreach and awareness. We refreshed one of our galleries to be more intentionally focused on the Great Lakes. It was one of the few conservation programs that harnessed the full strength and power of the aquarium.”

@ Shedd Aquarium

In April 2015, Ted Beattie announced his retirement from the Shedd Aquarium. He was succeeded by Dr. Bridget Coughlin in January 2016. After the transition, Germann decided to move on from Shedd. “At that point in my career, I’d been in a high-level leadership position at Shedd for 16 plus years,” he recalled. “I was a graduate of the first executive leadership development program AZA (the Association of Zoos and Aquariums) had put together. I was aquarium affairs chair for AZA, contributing to the strength and strategic value of AZA. I thought it would be a good time for me to transition to the net part of my career.” I stayed around for seven months to make sure the transition well.” Germann opened up his own consulting practice that worked with zoos, aquariums and other cultural attractions prior to being hired as President/CEO of the Florida Aquarium in May 2017.

@ The Florida Aquarium

The Florida Aquarium, located in downtown Tampa, is celebrating its 22nd anniversary this year. “It was designed as an early redevelopment incubator on the water on a strong working port in downtown Tampa,” Germann articulated. “It was brought in to help revitalize the community.” However, the aquarium opened to disappointing attendance and mounted debt. “It didn’t go as hoped at first but Jeff Swanagan (who would go on to build the Georgia Aquarium) stabilized the operation and Thom Stork took the momentum to the next level. He passed away in 2016, which led to the opening of the CEO position.” By the time Germann came to the aquarium, it was thriving. “In 2016, the Florida Aquarium had its highest attendance ever,” he commented. “We’ve had many, many years in the black and have been making a profit. It was a very nice operation for someone like myself to take over.”

@ The Florida Aquarium

Germann felt the Florida Aquarium’s brand was vital to its success. “We’ve got a very strong brand in town,” he stated. “It’s a very well respected, beloved cultural attraction and people enjoy coming here to see the animals.” Party of its success is due to two unique guest experiences. “The Florida Aquarium is one of the first aquariums to start a dive program,” Germann remarked. “The general public can dive into our shark tanks. That makes us very unique. Because we are on the water, we operate a boat several times a day and take folks into the bay to see nature in our own backyard. We have an aquarium with these amazing animals, stories and conservation programs but can go off the dock and show some of the work we’ve done in the bay. You can experience the environment, have saltwater in your face and see a dolphin or manatee pop up. We can instantaneously can connect with the wild”

@ The Florida Aquarium

Additionally, Germann saw The Florida Aquarium’s staff as vital to its success. “Coming from Shedd, I understand what a world-class staff should be like,” he remarked. “We have an amazing staff. Spend time with the educators, floor staff and divers [and you’ll see] they’re second to none. That makes your life a lot easier knowing you have a very smart, innovative staff. I spent the first three months [talking] with the staff, board and community to really understand all the opportunities ahead of us and what makes this organization able to fulfill our mission and value, which is to connect and restore the blue planet. That’s understanding the lay of the land and making sure we’re best aligned for where we want to go.”

@ The Florida Aquarium

While attendance has been good in recent years, Germann wants to drive even more people to come to The Florida Aquarium. “I’d like to go over one million,” he commented. “The reason is it means we get to touch more people and make strong connections and calls to action to help restore our blue planet. The more people we can touch, the better chance the planet has of thriving.” Since Germann started, a number of esteemed professionals in the zoo and aquarium profession have joined the staff of The Florida Aquarium.

@ The Florida Aquarium

In recent years, The Florida Aquarium opened an offsite center for conservation in Apollo Beach. “As we grow, we want to make sure we have a strong commitment to conservation, roll up our sleeves and do ground breaking conservation work,” Germann commented. “We’re doing bleeding edge conservation work with coral research. As a matter of fact, we just signed a MOU with the Horniman Museum and Gardens in London. One of the things they’ve been able to do is spawn coral from the Pacific out of what you’d consider the spawning season. We are ready to break some ground if we can breed Caribbean coral out of season [at our conservation center.] We’re one of the few organizations teamed up to do this. Being here in Florida, coral reefs are an important part of our environment, lives and economies. We need to make sure we do our part to protect the rainforests of the seas.” Additionally, the aquarium does important conservation work with sea turtles and sharks.

@ The Florida Aquarium

@ The Florida Aquarium

The Florida Aquarium plans to capitalize on the growth of the Tampa metropolitan area. “Tampa right now is ranked one of the top ten cities in the country in Forbes and Business Insider magazines and one of the fastest growing cities in the nation,” Germann noted. “There is an incredible amount of redevelopment in downtown Tampa- an excess of $3 billion worth of development all around the aquarium. We can definitely say the aquarium can be a catalyst for change and now they can catch up to our progressive mission. In the future, we will make sure we’re part of the fabric of this community and continue to educate all the folks who will soon be calling Tampa home. Since we’re a city on the rise and will have an influx of people who may not have a connection to the ocean, gulf and blue planet, it’s our responsibility to educate them about the fragile environment they’re moving into and the important role the Florida ecosystem plays in our quality of life.”

@ The Florida Aquarium

In recent years, The Florida Aquarium has added new features such as a splash pad and event space. Particularly unique is a manatee viewing center and stingray touch pool offsite. “A company built a viewing facility for manatees when they swim in the warm water and they asked us to partner with them and have a stingray touch tank [there in order] to create stronger bonds with humans and animals,” Germann stated. Now, Germann wants to reinvest in the aquarium’s existing infrastructure. “One of the challenges we have is making sure we do not neglect existing aquarium structures that have worked so well for the last 22 years,” he explained. “We started a 5-year strategic plan with a facility master plan. We’ll talk bigger, bolder expansion and exhibit ideas that will happen here at The Florida Aquarium.”

@ The Florida Aquarium

@ The Florida Aquarium

Recently, The Florida Aquarium spruced up its second largest exhibit in the aquarium called Heart of the Sea. “It’s a multi-species exhibits highlighting all the animals we focus on at the Center for Conservation- sea turtles, sharks, coral,” Germann said. “We made it a robust exhibit with fish like tarpin and rays. We allow the public a dive experience.”

@ The Florida Aquarium

@ The Florida Aquarium

One of Germann’s priorities is that the aquarium does a better job telling its stories. “We want to evaluate our messaging to make sure it’s aligned and flows,” he elaborated. “We want to tell the most important stories that need to be told. We’re going to focus on more calls to action both onsite and through our other channels as I feel the Ocean Project has demonstrated that for the last 20 plus years aquariums have served an important role connecting people with animals underwater. In this day in age when there are debates about climate change and plastic in water, we need to be a bit bolder in our calls to action. We need to not just walk the walk but talk the talk.” For instance, The Florida Aquarium has stopped selling plastic straws. “We need to get people involved and give calls of action that make it easier for the public to understand they can actually do things in their own personal lives [that help the ocean],” Germann added.

@ The Florida Aquarium

“We still know a little more about space than undersea exploration,” German articulated. “The unique role aquariums will continue to play is providing fun, safe and educational venues. We’re the cool scientists who can connect with Joel lunchbox. If we have a greater call for action, we can inspire that action.”

@ The Florida Aquarium

In recent decades, aquariums have adopted the conservation model. “What I’d like to say is we’re morphing ourselves into a conservation based attraction,” Germann reflected. “We’re no longer a great attraction who does conservation on the side but conservation centric in everything we do. We don’t shy away from this. That’s a really important role we play and we’ continue to donate operating and funding dollars to conservation. We have a 10,000-square foot sea turtle hospital that will be fully functional next year. You’ll see more aquariums doing that.”

@ The Florida Aquarium

“I’ve had a blessed career,” Germann concluded. “I’m proud of every step of the way my career has aligned and gotten me to this seat where I can make an even greater difference. I’ve always believed the philosophy that if much is given, much is required. Having all the experience I’ve had over the years has gotten me in this seat and I take this role very seriously. I get to work with amazing people who have a positive effect on the environment. I hope I leave the planet a better place for my two kids.”

@ The Florida Aquarium

#FloridaAquarium #SheddAquarium

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I'm a 23-year old wildlife enthusiast, conservation and animal welfare advocate, environmental activist and zoo fanatic who aspires to work in zoo public relations or education. I am here to share some insight into the world's best zoos to show all the great things they are doing. 

 

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