Texas State Aquarium Announces Departure of CEO Tom Schmid, Chief Operating Officer Jesse Gilbert Named Interim CEO
October 5, 2021
CORPUS CHRISTI, TX - The Texas State Aquarium is announcing today the resignation of long-time President & Chief Executive Officer Tom Schmid. Tom will leave the organization in November to pursue a new opportunity as the President & CEO of the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium in Ohio.
“This was certainly unplanned; My wife, Kim, and I recently purchased our dream home here in Corpus Christi,” said Tom Schmid, outgoing CEO. “However, when the opportunity to lead one of the largest and best zoos in North America became available, it was was something I couldn’t pass up.”
During his 25-year tenure, the Texas State Aquarium has grown significantly, from a fairly modest, regionally focused 45,000 square foot facility, to one that is now more than 200,000 square feet, and among one of the largest and most recognized Aquariums in the nation. Schmid joined the Aquarium in 1996 as the Director of Animal Husbandry and Interpretation. One of his early accomplishments was the development of a temporary exhibition showcasing jellyfish, which increased attendance for the first time in the Aquarium’s history. “In my view, that was our turning point. We were able to reverse the downward trend that occurred since opening in 1990. It gave everyone confidence we could grow.”
In 1998 Schmid was promoted to Chief Operating Officer, and the following year to Executive Director and CEO. “It was an exciting time, we had just launched a major capital campaign to create Dolphin Bay, and I had no experience fundraising. Fortunately, we had a strong board and a great campaign committee.” The campaign to build Dolphin Bay was completed in 2003, and the new habitat opened to the public. “That was also a pivotal moment. We nearly doubled the size of the Aquarium. Subsequently, we experienced strong attendance growth, and we were able to create an endowment and, for the first time, begin to build cash reserves.”
More exhibits were created over the next several years, including AMAZON, the Living Shores, the Hawn Wild Flight Theater, Tortuga Cay, and Eagle Pass. Attendance continued to grow. As the Aquarium celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2010, a new strategic plan was developed, with the most significant component being the long-awaited Caribbean experience. “Our founders had an amazing vision. They imagined a journey from the Gulf of Mexico to the Caribbean Sea. It was incredibly fulfilling to see that vision come to fruition. Campaign Caribbean reached its $50 million goal just weeks before the new wing opened to the public in May of 2017.”
With construction beginning this month on the new Port of Corpus Christi Center for Wildlife Rescue, and funding nearly complete, Schmid felt comfortable making the transition. “With the Aquarium’s original master plan nearing completion, and an incredibly strong balance sheet, Kim and I feel that now is the right time to let the next generation of leaders take this amazing institution to even greater heights,” said Schmid.
“We thank Tom for the passion and commitment that helped grow the Aquarium’s mission, and we appreciate his desire to pursue new opportunities. During his tenure, Tom led the organization to new heights and helped continue a tradition of strength in our community. With his leadership, the Texas State Aquarium has successfully navigated through achievements and the most unprecedented challenges,” said Charlie Zahn, Texas State Aquarium Board Chairman. “The organization’s strength during hurricanes and a pandemic resulted in a strong performance, with momentum continuing to grow. We are grateful for the steady leadership and experience that Tom has brought to the organization.”
Zahn and the Aquarium’s Executive Board has appointed Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Jesse Gilbert to the role of interim CEO. “He has the board’s full confidence and will ensure continuity while we conduct a thorough search for a permanent replacement,” said Zahn.
The Aquarium’s Executive Board is in the process of selecting a national recruitment firm.
The Texas State Aquarium (TSA), the Official Aquarium of the State of Texas, is a private, not-for-profit 501(c)(3) institution that is fully accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Its mission is to engage people with animals, inspire appreciation for our seas and support wildlife conservation. TSA, the largest Aquarium in Texas, cares for over 4,000 animals and has been named the #5 Aquarium in North America by USA Today. Learn more at texasstateaquarium.org.