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Vikram H. Dewan set to Leave Philadelphia Zoo, National CEO Search to Commence

Philadelphia Zoo, America’s first zoo and a beloved destination for people around the world, announced today CEO Vikram H. Dewan’s intention to conclude his tenure in 2023.

Serving as the organization’s 14th President, Dewan leaves a lasting legacy of growth, achievement and innovation, leading the cultural icon through its most transformative period in 164 years. Responsible for overall leadership and strategic direction for all programs, operations, and fundraising, Dewan helped the Zoo evolve into a world-class destination and innovator in guest engagement, animal care and conservation. While Dewan will remain CEO until a successor is named, the Zoo’s Board of Directors will soon launch a rigorous national search, supported by executive search firm Russell Reynolds Associates, to identify its future leader, who will help usher in the next chapter for the Zoo.

“Vik has helped lead an incredible transformation of the Zoo over the course of his tenure, and our organization, staff members and the countless families and individuals who visit from all over the world, even the city of Philadelphia, are the better for it. Words simply can’t express how grateful we are to have had him at our helm for so long and for his willingness to support a smooth transition to our next leader,” said Joanna McNeil Lewis, Chair of Philadelphia Zoo Board of Directors. “He has been a truly insightful leader and his impact will be felt for years to come. As a result, we are excited for what is next and how we build on this strong foundation, as an employer of choice and industry leader, setting standards for animal care, conservation and guest experiences in this country and beyond.”

For more than four generations, Philadelphia Zoo has served as one of the region’s most important destinations, welcoming millions of diverse visitors to experience magnificent wildlife and be inspired to action for animals and habitats. Over this span it remained a special place where countless families have made lifelong memories and enjoyed unique encounters with endangered wildlife. As the region’s largest living classroom, the Zoo offers a safe place for learning and inspiration for thousands of school children, providing them a glimpse into their impact on the world. Under Dewan’s leadership, the Zoo has enjoyed remarkable achievements, including:

  • Launching the first-ever Community Access Program which has welcomed more than one million Title 1 school children to the Zoo, free of charge, throughout his tenure.
  • Creating the award-winning Philadelphia Zoo UNLESS Contest empowering thousands of K-12 students to take action for wildlife via a year-long competition challenging them to create real solutions to environmental issues.
  • Establishing a Neighborhood Membership initiative and introducing the West Philly Scholars program guiding students from high school through college and into early career life with the goal of increasing diversity in the field of wildlife conservation.
  • Unveiling of Zoo360, named “Most Innovative Exhibit Design”, in 2017 by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) with Big Cat Crossing named “Best Zoo Exhibit” in 2015 by USA Today readers. This first-in-the-world network of animal trails encourages animals to travel and explore across the Zoo’s campus and was awarded Time Magazine’s 100 New Scientific Discoveries in 2017.
  • Creating KidZooU: Hamilton Family Children’s Zoo & Faris Family Education Center, named “Exhibit of the Year” in 2014 by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). This indoor-outdoor wildlife academy offers dynamic displays, hands-on learning and rare and unusual goats, sheep, chickens and ducks for up-close encounters.
  • Constructing the Centennial District Parking Garage, a four-story parking facility serving the Zoo and surrounding community, improving area traffic conditions and flow.

“It has been my great honor to lead such an important, relevant and beloved organization,” said Dewan. “Working alongside so many dedicated staff, Board members, volunteers and partners to help fulfill the Zoo’s mission of connecting people with wildlife and inspiring action on their behalf has been nothing short of tremendous and I am grateful for the opportunity to have made a difference. I am proud of what we have created and I’m excited for the Zoo to continue evolving—staying at the forefront of creating the very best campus and experiences for our animals, guests, and staff. I know our team, along with the next CEO, will continue to foster a bright future for the Zoo and those we serve.”

“As we look ahead, we are seeking a leader who will be laser focused on animal welfare and conservation while at the same time creating extraordinary experiences that connect people with wildlife and inspire them to protect our fragile planet,” continued Lewis. “This is a very special organization—so we will cast a wide net as we scour the country looking for the very best executive able to lead the Zoo into our exciting future.”

The search will be co-led by Michael Pearson, current member of the Board and founder of Michael K. Pearson Consulting alongside former Chairman of the Board of Directors and former Vanguard CEO Bill McNabb. Joining them in the search effort is the Zoo’s Board Chair, Joanna McNeil Lewis along with Board members Omar Blaik, Patty Owens, Sally West Williams, and Peter Gould.

After his time at the Zoo has concluded, Dewan plans to combine his 25 years in the financial services sector with his time leading one of the country’s most prominent cultural destinations to connect philanthropists and social entrepreneurs with worthy social justice and environmental organizations. Prior to joining Philadelphia Zoo, Dewan served as President of Wachovia Bank’s (now trading as Wells Fargo) Philadelphia and Delaware region, operating nearly 100 branches and managing more than 1,000 employees. Mr. Dewan has also served as a member of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitor’s Bureau; the Mayor’s Cultural Advisory Panel and serves on the Board of Trustees for Vanguard Charitable.