Director, San Diego Zoo Safari Park


San Diego Zoo Global (SDZG) is a wildlife conservation organization dedicated to the science of saving endangered species worldwide. San Diego Zoo Global operates three world-class facilities: the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, the San Diego Zoo, and the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. San Diego Zoo Global has an operating budget of $290 million and 2,400 employees. Each year 5.5 million people visit with 4 million of those visiting the San Diego Zoo and 1.5 million visiting the Safari Park.

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park ( is an expansive wildlife sanctuary. The first animals began to arrive at the Safari Park in 1969 and, by opening day, 974 animals called the Park home. Now there are more than 3,000 animals representing more than 300 species, and most have been acquired through SDZG’s own reproductive efforts. The 1,800 acre (730-hectare) Park is a wildlife haven where many of the Earth’s rarest animals roam together in herds and flocks in vast expanses that are similar to their native homelands. Residents at the Park include California condors, which are exhibited in only a few places in the world, and the largest “crash” of rhinos in any zoological facility. The renowned botanical collection of 1.75 million specimens at the Park, also an accredited botanical garden, includes some 3,500 species, with more than 260 endangered species of aloes, cacti, euphorbia, cycads, zamias, proteas, palms, and agaves. Over half of the Safari Park’s 1,800 acres have been set aside as protected native species habitat. Conservation research is conducted there that would be difficult or impossible to achieve in wild settings for species such as the African elephant, South African cheetah, southern and northern white rhino, and California condor. The Safari Park is located 35 miles north of downtown San Diego in the San Pasqual Valley near Escondido, California.

The 100-acre (40-hectare), world-famous San Diego Zoo ( is home to 3,500 rare and endangered animals representing more than 600 species and subspecies. The Zoo is also an accredited botanical garden, with a prominent botanical collection of more than 700,000 exotic plants, and is one of the nation’s most popular tourist attractions. Like the Safari Park, the Zoo provides opportunities for conservation research efforts that could not take place in the wild for species such as the giant panda, Fiji island iguana, Galapagos tortoise, polar bear, Bornean sun bear, and brown kiwi. The San Diego Zoo is located north of downtown San Diego in Balboa Park.

The San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research is the largest zoo-based multidisciplinary research effort in the world. Founded in 1975, this department is dedicated to preserving and protecting rare and endangered wildlife and their habitats. Based at the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Center for Conservation Research adjacent to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, more than 200 dedicated scientists carry out research vital to the conservation of animals, plants, and habitats, locally and internationally.

The San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park are accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and the American Association of Museums.

For additional information describing San Diego Zoo Global, please visit the website at


The San Diego Zoo Safari Park is located the San Pasqual Valley near Escondido in San Diego County. Nestled in a valley in the coastal mountains of southern California, Escondido is approximately 18 miles inland, 100 miles south of Los Angeles, and 35 miles north of downtown San Diego. Surrounded by farmland, much of it avocado and citrus groves, Escondido is a diverse community of just under 150,000 people. The reasonable cost of living in Escondido makes it possible for people of all income levels to live in southern California. Money Magazine named Escondido the “Best Place in the West” in which to retire and the city was recognized for its youth programs by being named a “Kid-Friendly City.”

Escondido offers a wide variety of leisure and recreational activities. Boasting a thriving downtown with galleries, shops, and an arts center, there is a vibrant cultural scene. Restaurants, craft breweries, and wineries offer a range of epicurean options. The area has many golf courses and a sports center. Escondido’s temperate year-round climate makes it easy to enjoy the area’s many natural resources and outdoor activities. Three lakes circle Escondido and provide opportunities for walking lakeside and fishing. The many parks and trails offer endless options for mountain biking, hiking, or equestrian pursuits.

The San Diego Zoo Global offices are located in Balboa Park, San Diego. Located just north of downtown San Diego, Balboa Park is a 1,200-acre urban cultural park containing museums, theaters, many recreational facilities, and several gift shops and restaurants.

Nearby San Diego is the eighth-largest city in the United States and second largest city in California. San Diego is known for its mild climate, natural deep-water harbor, extensive beaches, long association with the U.S. Navy, and major role as a healthcare and biotechnology development center. According to the latest estimates, the population of San Diego is just under 1.4 million.


San Diego Zoo Global is committed to saving species worldwide by uniting their expertise in animal care and conservation science with their dedication to inspiring passion for nature.

Reporting Relationship and Position Concept

The San Diego Zoo Global seeks an experienced, results-oriented Director, San Diego Zoo Safari Park (Director) for the strategic operational management of the San Diego Zoo Safari Park providing broad oversight in accordance with SDZG goals, assuring proper execution of all long-range and short-term plans affecting the park, and providing information and analysis to the President/CEO and Chief Operating Officer (COO).

The Director reports directly to the Chief Operating Officer and is an integral member of the executive management team, which also presently includes the President/CEO, the Chief Operating Officer, the Chief Marketing Officer, the Director of the San Diego Zoo, the Corporate Director of Animal Health Services, the Chief Life Sciences Officer, the Chief Conservation and Research Officer, the Chief Development and Membership Officer, the Chief Financial Officer, the Chief Human Resources Officer, and the Chief Technology Officer.

The Director, San Diego Zoo Safari Park is responsible for the successful management of the Safari Park and supervises a team of nearly 1,100 employees through the following direct reports: Director of Retail Operations; Director of Safari Experiences; Director of Park Operations; Director of Operations, Guest Connections/Education; the Curator of Birds; the Curator of Mammals; and an Office Manager. The following professionals have a dotted line reporting relationship: the Director of Human Resources, the Director of Performance Improvement, the Corporate Director of Animal Health Services, the Curator of Animal Care Training, and the Curator of Primates. The Safari Park has $69 million in annual operating revenue and $67 million in annual operating expenses.

Specific Duties

The Director performs all job assignments in support of San Diego Zoo Global’s mission and vision of saving species worldwide by uniting the organization’s expertise in animal care and conservation science with their dedication to inspiring passion for nature and leading the fight against extinction.

Under the direction of the COO and working closely with executive management team colleagues, the Director, San Diego Zoo Safari Park will have the following essential functions:

  1. Develop and manage the implementation of long-range and short-term plans for the successful operation of the Safari Park. Adjust plans according to attendance.
  1. Partner with San Diego Zoo Global marketing professionals to implement business development strategies and thoughtful experiential activities for visitors. Advance innovative and enlightened product development for the Safari Park on a continuous basis.
  1. Coordinate major planning and operational activities with Safari Park staff, executive staff, and Zoo management. Assure that the operation of the Safari Park complies with governmental regulations.
  1. Direct the development, prioritization, and implementation of significant capital expenditures, facility planning, and improvement. Manage the negotiation of Safari Park operating and maintenance contracts.
  1. Serve on the executive management team and participate in a wide variety of SDZG business discussions and decisions as well as strategic planning.
  1. Work with SDZG development professionals in fundraising activities. Serve as a host for important guests and other essential stakeholders.
  1. Supervise the Safari Park team in accordance with SDZG standards, acting as role model for acceptable supervisory practices. Maintain close and positive relationships with all staff ensuring optimal performance and accountability.
  1. Assure the highest levels of guest satisfaction in all areas of Safari Park operations. Practice and model the GRRREAT Customer Service Standards.
  1. Represent SDZG/the Safari Park in process improvements and negotiations with local city government. Participate on boards and committees of local government and non-governmental organizations that affect Safari Park operations.
  1. Assess and resolve problems and complaints referred by subordinate and indirect staff, including conflicts in priority and across the organization.
  1. Assure the preparation and maintenance of a variety of reports, records, documents, and files. Identify legal issues and recommend changes to SDZG policy to the executive management team.
  1. Respond to Board and executive staff information and facility needs. Interact with and influence community and governmental entities in matters of continuing Safari Park operation, planning, development, and good relations.
  1. Participate in Association of Zoos & Aquariums programs and committees.
  1. Other duties, as assigned by the COO that are deemed necessary to support SDZG’s mission.

Candidate Qualifications

The Director will share the organization’s unwavering commitment to quality of service and innovation. This hands-on leader will be comfortable in an entrepreneurial, high-growth environment that is diverse, inclusive, and dynamic, where everyone plays a part in maintaining and fostering the culture. The successful candidate will have all of the following traits and characteristics:

  • The Director will be a highly energetic, solutions focused, and entrepreneurial leader with a minimum of 15 years of progressively responsible executive management experience in a theme park, recreational facility, amusement park, casino, or resort. Exposure to a zoological environment is desired. Additionally, management proficiency gained in an organization celebrated for providing an exemplary guest experience would be of interest.
  • An appreciation for and a demonstrated understanding of the nuances of a profitable, growth oriented commercial recreation facility is fundamental to achievement in this position.
  • The Director will be a strategic thinker and highly aspirational, yet have the ability to adeptly handle day-to-day tactical management with a willingness to do whatever is necessary to get the job done. This individual will play a range of roles from adviser to strategist to hands-on implementer.
  • Past success with marketing, product development, and promotions is required. Proven ability to develop conviction and external support for an organization is desirable.
  • Excellent organizational, administrative and project management skills that include the ability to diagnose critical areas for attention, stay focused, and then translate strategies into concrete actions. This executive will work with a sense of urgency and purpose.
  • Solid business acumen and experience in understanding and preparing both operating and capital budgets, as well as managing the provision of services and equipment as is required to maintain a large land holding.
  • A results and detail oriented individual who manages by walking around, with high standards of excellence and the persistence to ensure the effective implementation of world-class operational standards.
  • Must be capable of developing and sustaining close, effective working relationships with senior staff, Board members, and community stakeholders on matters of interdisciplinary, institutional concern.
  • The aptitude to organize work, provide clear direction, delegate accountability when appropriate, and manage performance for a broad range of important organizational functions. The successful candidate will be a solutions-focused individual with a strong work ethic and an enthusiastic, community-minded, and passionate approach.
  • An adaptable multi-tasker with the ability to control and move forward on several priorities simultaneously. This includes switching priorities as required without losing momentum.
  • A leadership style characterized by openness, trust, collegiality, and creativity, coupled with decisiveness and a strong commitment to SDZG’s vision, core values, and strategic priorities.
  • A visible, accessible, and compassionate leader who possesses superb management skills. Must be able to train, mentor/develop, and motivate a diverse and highly capable staff.
  • Must be able to articulate and explain complex issues to staff, the Board, and all other stakeholders in a clear, non-technical manner in conjunction with the ability to prepare and make presentations that are cogent and compelling.
  • Ability to exercise tact in dealing with sensitive, nuanced, and confidential issues and situations.
  • Exceptional interpersonal, written, and verbal communications skills, blended with the ability to sell ideas, manage conflict and attendant push back, and create disruption with a goal toward innovation and the development of the organization.
  • A strong customer service orientation and willingness to find solutions to complex problems and answers to unconventional questions.


The successful candidate will hold a bachelor’s degree in business administration, recreation management, biological science, or a related field, or equivalent specialized training. A graduate degree in business is highly preferred.


A review of applications will commence immediately, continuing until the position is filled. Complete applications should be submitted electronically and should include: a cover letter and a current resume reflecting work experience from college forward. Priority will be given to applications received by June 30, 2017. 

Qualified applicants must apply using the San Diego Zoo Global website. Go to the San Diego Zoo Global HR site to apply.

The San Diego Zoo Global is an EEO/AA/Disability/Protected Veteran Employer.


Shelli Herman and Associates, Inc. is assisting San Diego Zoo Global with this search. Confidential inquiries may be directed to:

Michele Lyons, Associate
Shelli Herman and Associates, Inc.
11693 San Vicente Blvd., Suite #104
Los Angeles, California 90049
Office: (800) 396-0595 ext. 6

Shelli Herman, President
Shelli Herman and Associates, Inc.
11693 San Vicente Blvd., Suite #104
Los Angeles, California 90049
Office: (800) 396-0595 ext. 5