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Shedd Aquarium President Ted Beattie, shown last year at the opening of the Stingray Touch exhibit, announced his upcoming retirement on Thursday. | File Photo

Shedd chief to retire next year

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Ty Fahner, the former Illinois attorney general and chairman of Shedd Aquarium’s board of trustees, recalls the phone call in December from veteran Shedd President and CEO Ted Beattie, asking him to meet for breakfast.

The two men, both early risers, have become fast friends working on projects to promote conservation and marine-life care and education. So Fahner, a high-powered lawyer at Mayer Brown, and Beattie, Shedd’s 21-year veteran leader, met at the Chicago Club for a 7 o’clock get-together.

That’s when Beattie, 70, revealed he believed the time was right for him to retire — even though he won’t leave the Shedd until Dec. 31, 2016, and will remain involved in the aquarium’s new 10-year strategic plan.

Fahner said in an interview Thursday that he asked Beattie to think over his decision and make sure it was the right one.

“We talked again a month later, and [Beattie] said, ‘This is the right course of action.’”

That decision culminated in Beattie announcing Thursday that he will retire, ending what will be a 22-year tenure overseeing ground-breaking initiatives such as the Wild Reef exhibit and an overhaul of the popular Oceanarium.

Beattie said he would like to teach in some capacity that advances the nonprofit management field and to spearhead development of the Penny Beattie Leadership Fund, a professional development scholarship program established in honor of Beattie’s late wife, who died of cancer. The program provides funding for Shedd and other zoo and aquarium staff nationwide to participate in leadership growth opportunities.

But he said he will first “take it easy for a while” and look forward to “fun times ahead” with his new wife, Jill. The couple married in October.

“Overall, it’s a realization that it’s a good time for the aquarium,” Beattie said.

“Shedd’s continual success and growth will remain my top priority to ensure we deliver continuity, transparency and stability throughout this process,” Beattie said. “While the decision to retire was not one made without heavy consideration, it is the right decision at the right time for Shedd – and for me, my wife, Jill, and our shared family.”

“I love every minute of [the job],” Beattie said. “The day I walk out, I’ll love it just as much.”

He said he especially enjoys the satisfaction of watching people having fun at the aquarium, helping young people discover a love for and a career at the aquarium.

A product of those efforts is Charles “Chuck” Knapp, the aquarium’s vice president of conservation and research programs. Knapp attended a marine biology program at the Shedd while he was in high school, and went on to earn undergraduate, master’s and doctoral degrees.

“We make sure that leadership is something we nurture,” Beattie said.

The Shedd’s board has formed a search committee to find Beattie’s successor.

The search will include candidates who now work at the Shedd, Fahner said.

“We’re going to look for a world-class person,” he said, noting that one priority is to grow the Shedd as an educational center.

Beattie said a successful aquarium leader must be a strong fundraiser, an excellent “people manager,” and feel comfortable working with a “very engaged” board and a family-like group of employees who “get a great feeling of satisfaction” in their jobs.

Fahner said former board chairman William “Bill” Sick, a Chicago businessman and investor, reminded him that Beattie was “not a fish person” when Beattie was hired. Beattie spent his early years in charge of zoos, including two that had aquariums.

“[Beattie] is a great businessperson,” Fahner said. “We need someone who is smart financially and who can be a leader of people, and who cares about our core mission of conservation and sustaining marine mammals.”

In a letter to Shedd’s trustees, Fahner said, “Beattie’s leadership for more than two decades has been visionary and transformative.”

Fahner cited as Beattie’s biggest achievements the opening of six permanent exhibits and eight special exhibits; establishing the Daniel P. Haerther Center for Conservation and Research, which has grown to include a portfolio of 18 global field research programs that span that world; the successful completion of two major fundraising campaigns totaling nearly $100 million; and overseeing Shedd as it has become Chicago’s top‐attended paid cultural attraction for 17 of the past 21 years.

The last year Shedd topped the list, in 2014, it had 1.8 million visitors.

The Shedd’s attendance has declined in recent years. Attendance peaked at 2.17 million visitors in 2012.

A “total experience” ticket for one adult, with access to all of the Shedd’s shows and exhibits, costs $37.95.

Among the biggest exhibits whose success Beattie oversaw were the $47 million addition of Wild Reef in 2003 and the $79 million renovation of the Abbott Oceanarium marine mammal pavilion in 2009.

He also is credited with ensuring:

  • The addition of Shedd’s onsite animal hospital and lab facilities in the A. Watson Armour III Center for Aquatic Animal Health and Welfare;
  • A Master Energy Road Map designed to cut the aquarium’s energy consumption in half by 2020;
  • The opening of Shedd’s Teen Learning Lab – a free, collaborative space for teens to develop critical-thinking skills while exploring environmental interests and science.

Beattie was appointed by President George W. Bush in 2001 to the 16-member U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, where he helped craft recommendations on issues ranging from stewardship of marine resources and pollution prevention to enhancing and supporting marine science, commerce and transportation. The commission recommended ocean education and Great Lakes issues as a high priority, with aquariums playing a prominent role.

Beattie’s civic contributions include leadership in transforming the Museum Campus – the 57-acre addition to Grant Park’s southeastern end that is home to the Shedd, the Adler Planetarium and the Field Museum of Natural History.

Earlier in his career, Beattie, a native of Mariemont, Ohio, served as director for the Knoxville, Tenn., Zoo and Fort Worth, Texas, Zoo; as associate director for Chicago Zoological Society’s Brookfield Zoo; and was the first marketing and development director for Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden.

He served as president of the 6,500-member Association of Zoos and Aquariums, of which Shedd is accredited, and chaired its $5 million conservation endowment campaign.

Beattie is also known for his love of his alma mater, Ohio State University, serving as the Chicago captain and chairman of the university’s $2.5 billion fundraising campaign, “But for Ohio State.”

Fahner recalled how Beattie arranged for Heisman Trophy winner and Buckeye football star Archie Griffin to wish Beattie “happy birthday” through a big-screen TV feed during one of the Shedd’s trustees meetings.

“Ted was beaming,” said Fahner, who took in stride Beattie’s ribbing about Fahner’s alma mater, the University of Michigan.

“We have a lot of fun with that,” Fahner said.

Shedd Aquarium President and CEO Ted Beattie, who announced his retirement on Thursday, said he will continue to work on the Penny Beattie Leadership Fund, a professional development scholarship program named in honor of his late wife. | File Photo

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