Tom Schmid, Texas State Aquarium’s CEO, had no idea he was going to be taking on a new adventure in Columbus, Ohio when he bought a new house in Corpus Christi nine months ago.
Schmid, 58, is starting the next chapter of his life Dec. 6 when he will take on his new position as the president of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Ohio, the largest zoo in the United States.
Schmid looked into the position after a recruitment firm reached out to him.
“I was not looking to move,” he said. “It’s about $100 million-a-year operation. It’s a really big enterprise. And so the scale of that was intriguing to me, particularly the aspect of the of the wilds, which is their their Conservation Center. I just think there’s going to be tremendous opportunities out there in the future.”
In the beginning
Schmid was recruited to work at the Texas State Aquarium more than 25 years ago when he worked at the National Maritime Center in Norfolk, Virginia.
The aquarium was only a 44,000-square-foot building and attracted about 390,000 visitors a year back in 1996. Schmid started out as director of animal husbandry and was appointed as CEO roughly three years later.
“I really sensed there was a lot of potential here,” he said. “I always sort of felt like I was in the right place at the right time. And so that was a really exciting time. We had just launched the program to build Dolphin Bay.”
“That opened in 2003. We just kept building and kept growing since then.”
Now the aquarium has more than doubled in size to 226,000 square feet and attracts more than 600,000 visitors a year, which is twice the traffic of 25 years ago.
The aquarium has been able to successfully expand its wildlife conservation work, especially its focus on education and wildlife rehabilitation, Schmid said. In the 1990s, the rehabilitation program was operating out of a small back office. Now, officials have broken ground on a new 25,000-square-foot Wildlife Rescue Center.
Schmid credited the center’s accomplishments to every person on the Texas State Aquarium Team and their ability to work well together with a passion for environmental conservation.
“This is the seventh-largest aquarium in North America. It’s the largest aquarium in Texas. We’re certainly not the seventh largest city in the country, and we’re certainly not the largest city in Texas,” he said. ” The aquarium has had an outsized impact in this community, certainly from an economic impact. We’re a major driver of leisure, tourism and travel.”
“We’re the number one attraction south of San Antonio in the state of Texas.”
‘I can’t imagine my career without Tom Schmid’
Jesse Gilbert, senior vice president and chief operating officer of Texas State Aquarium, will be named the interim CEO after Schmid departs. The aquarium’s board will conduct a national search to find a permanent CEO.
“We’ve experienced some tremendous growth under his leadership and really poised ourselves as one of the top aquariums in North America,” he said. “That all goes to the vision and the strategic plan that Tom had (as well as) the aquarium leadership.”
“We’re at a pivotal moment in the aquarium’s evolution, where we’re finalizing the original vision that was set out for the aquarium in the late 1960s.”
Gilbert added, “Tom is a very ethical person. When you’re taking care of animals that is one of the most important pieces of that, and he understands the animals. He understands the biology behind them.”
Gilbert is throwing his hat into the ring to be the new CEO of the Texas State Aquarium. He hopes to land the position with the expertise that Schmid has taught him over the past several years.
“It’s been an absolute pleasure working for him,” he said. “It’s kind of a mixed bag of emotions. When a day like this comes — I can’t imagine my career without Tom Schmid.”
Corpus Christi is home
Keith Shumate, Columbus Zoo board chairman, said Schmid is acclaimed throughout the zoo and aquarium industry as smart, ethical and passionate about zoos and wildlife conservation.
“I believe that we have found an individual with the experience to lead this zoo and take it to the next level,” he said. “In getting to know Tom, I am struck not only by his track record as a leader but also his skills as a listener. I am excited for this community to get to know him and for the Columbus Zoo to move forward under his leadership.”
Schmid, 58, and his wife, Kim, will always consider Corpus Christi their home. In fact, The couple plans to buy a vacation home in the city so they can spend some of the winter season here.
“It really has been like a family. They’re the people that I’ve worked with … for almost two decades now.” he said. “We’re certainly going to miss spending time in the water here. We’re going to be trading that for a much different environment. But we’re certainly excited about the new adventure that we’re about to embark on.”
Kathryn Cargo follows business openings and developments while reporting on impacts of the city government’s decisions.See our subscription options and special offers at Caller.com/subscribe.