Marie Selby Botanical Gardens Announces New Chief Executive Officer



CONTACT:  Debby Steele
Director of Marketing and Communication
941.366.5731 Extension 225

SARASOTA, Florida—(February 20, 2009)—Thomas Luzier, Chairman, and the Board of Trustees of the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens are pleased to announce the naming of Thomas Buchter as the institution’s new chief executive officer.

Buchter, with more than 30 years of related experience, becomes Selby’s top-ranking official; having just completed six years as Director of Horticulture at The Holden Arboretum, in northeastern Ohio.  His selection culminates a formal nationwide search in which more than a hundred qualified applicants were meticulously screened and interviewed via telephone; before several finalists were flown to Sarasota for a series of in-person, on-site interviews.  The firm of Kittleman & Associates, a Chicago-based recruiting firm—whose niche is upper-echelon staffing for not-for-profit public gardens and arboreta—was retained to facilitate the successful search.  Buchter, who eventually emerged as the consensus favorite, begins his official responsibilities in Sarasota on February 23.

“We are delighted that someone with Tom Buchter’s background and stature in the world of horticulture and horticultural management was available to guide Marie Selby Botanical Gardens to its goal of achieving greater financial security,” said Luzier, an attorney with Dunlap & Moran; who as Selby’s board chairman spearheaded the search that led to Buchter’s appointment.   “He will also be charged with actively reinforcing the organization’s international reputation as a leader in plant research, identification, and conservation.” 

In addition to being one of Southwest Florida’s most venerable cultural institutions—not to mention a perennially favorite destination among tourists, locals, scholars and gardening enthusiasts—Marie Selby Botanical Gardens is regarded throughout the world as one of the foremost authorities on epiphytes, especially their breathtaking sub-species of orchids and bromeliads.

“One of my first priorities at Selby Gardens is to ensure its financial stability now and in the future,” said Buchter, who is in the process of relocating to Sarasota with his wife Kent, and son Andy.  A second son, Joe—a recent graduate of the University of Delaware—resides in Newark, DE.  “Another top priority is to position the gardens for more successful fund-raising by making them an even more visible force in the community; and across the nation.”

“Tom not only has an impressive record of leadership but also the commendable qualities of building consensus, often among polarized points of view; forging strong relationships within the community, and raising the overall public profile of the organizations with which he’s been involved,” said Michael Saunders, a current trustee and immediate past chairman of the board.  “He is extremely adept at fund raising and clearly recognizes that Selby’s long-term financial outlook is key to maintaining its reputation as an important center of botanical research.”

Buchter has held a number of key positions in the world of horticulture and arboreta management.  Prior to his tenure at the 3,500-acre Holden Arboretum in Kirtland, Ohio—the largest of its kind in the U.S.—he spent four years as Deputy Director for the Garden at the Winterthur Museum and Country Estate—near Wilmington, Delaware.  The 60-acre garden at Winterthur, the former home of collector and horticulturalist Henry Francis duPont (1880-1969), is widely regarded as one of the most important and revered examples of a naturalistic garden in the United States. Before joining Winterthur, Buchter was Executive Director of the New England Wild Flower Society and its “Garden in the Woods,” in Framingham, Massachusetts.  He earned his bachelor’s degree in Ornamental Horticulture from Delaware Valley College, in Doylestown, Pennsylvania; followed by post-graduate studies in management at North Carolina State University.

“Mr. Buchter arrives in Sarasota extremely well-equipped to administer the day-to-day operations of a successful, high-profile botanical garden; even as he pursues a vision of the facility as a centerpiece of growth in a growing community,” said Laurey Striker, the former chief executive officer of USF Sarasota/Manatee and acting secretary of Selby’s board of trustees.  “His superior qualifications crystallized throughout a very rigorous selection process,” adds Striker.   “We were especially impressed with his vision for the future of Selby Gardens and his experience at raising the funds necessary to get us there.  Fund raising is suddenly more critical than ever imagined thanks to today’s business environment requiring all not-for-profits to search high and low for new income streams to replace those lost to a contracting economy.”

One of those new streams will no doubt gush forth from Selby’s new Children’s Rainforest & Garden, an innovative new installation scheduled to begin construction later this year. Once this ambitious project is complete, children and their families will have the opportunity to explore one of the most fascinating ecosystems on earth—a tropical rainforest—while suspended from swinging rope bridges that weave their way through the canopy of Selby’s signature Banyan trees.

“Thomas Buchter is the ideal candidate to oversee The Children’s Rainforest and Garden project to its completion,” says trustee Susan McLeod, who has been one of the most passionate and stalwart advocates of the highly-anticipated project.  “Tom was instrumental in the concept and creation of the now ten-year-old ‘Enchanted Woods,’ a similar installation at the Winterthur Museum in Delaware,” says McLeod.  “It has since gone on to win several national awards.”

“The Children’s Rainforest & Garden at Selby is a stroke of genius,” says Buchter.  “Not only do I believe totally in the concept’s ability to engage children, their families and the community in an exciting and fun new learning experience; but I also see it as an inspired way to attract donors to this and future Selby projects.”

In welcoming Buchter, Chairman Luzier also offered words of gratitude and praise to Jessica Ventimiglia, who has served as interim CEO for the past fifteen months.  Ventimiglia will continue her service as a consultant, assisting Buchter directly as he transitions into leadership.

“I would be extremely remiss if I didn't take this opportunity to acknowledge Jessica as a long-time friend and advocate of the Gardens; and thank her for her commitment to speed Tom's efforts in getting acquainted with Selby and all of its key constituencies. I speak for the entire Board of Trustees when I say how much we appreciate Jessica's service over these past many months; and her agreement to help facilitate the transition as Tom gets his sea legs and develops a bold vision for moving Selby forward.”

# # #