Shannon Block, the new CEO and president of the Denver Zoo comes from a business background, not a lifetime of working with animals. As CEO of the Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers, her previous career, she was directly responsible for more than 600 employees in Colorado. Prior to that, she was at Denver Health Hospital Authority, and Deloitte and Touche. It may seem odd that this highly-regarded woman in the health care industry is now in charge of the Denver Zoo, a 117-year-old community treasure. In fact, there is an important symmetry in Block’s choices. In all of her career paths, Block has been focused on time. In her previous stints, Block was focused on the quality and quantity of time. She holds bachelor’s degrees in applied mathematics and physics from George Washington University and a master’s degree in physics from Tufts University. Now, she aspires to raise the value of people’s moments in time by creating a unique experience for zoo visitors. Go visit the Denver Zoo with family or friends, take a moment of peace, and truly enjoy the moment Block is striving to create.
CE: What took you down this career path?
SB: I was born and raised in Minnesota where I learned to appreciate science from my parents. It was refreshing to return to one of my passions. We inspire awe and wonder of the Denver Zoo.
CE: Who do you most admire?
SB: I most admire my dad. He didn’t believe in gender barriers. He was willing to support me in anything I wanted. He would always ask me thought-provoking questions. My dad cultivated an interest in lifetime learning in me.
CE: Favorite Denver metro restaurant?
SB: Anywhere that has live music. We really need a House of Blues in Denver.
CE: What are your hobbies?
SB: I like to play piano. I’ve spent a lot of time lately teaching my daughter how to swim. I also like hiking and skiing.
CE: Are you involved with any charities?
SB: I’m involved with American Cancer Society, Denver Health, Children’s Hospital and Visit Denver.
CE: What surprises people about you?
SB: That I’m down to earth. I try to mentor people, especially other young women interested in science. I’m also straightforward and authentic.
CE: What was the last great book you read?
SB: Life of Pi by Yann Martel. It was so symbolic of the philosophy of life.
CE: What is your most memorable Colorado experience?
SB: Skiing the mountains in Telluride on a 70 degree day on my first blue run when I realized that pointing the skis down the mountains rather than in a pizza wedge was the way to go!
CE: What is your favorite spot in Colorado to visit?
SB: Telluride. I just got back from Iceland, but our mountains are much better.
CE: What is one thing that you absolutely can’t live without?
SB: I can’t do without living in the light. I want to live in a positive light.
CE: What was your last major purchase?
SB: My house in Golden.
CE: What are the major differences between managing a cancer center and the Denver Zoo?
SB: People are still limited by time. I used to fight for length of life when I worked at the cancer center, and now I’m focused on the moments of life. With the limited amounts of time we all have, some of the focus is different.
CE: Do you have any prior experience with zoos or animals?
SB: My background in business is different than most. I always wanted to be a marine biologist. But most of my career has been in human health care. But I am concerned about the length of life and the quality of life. Humans can learn from animals and vice versa in this regard.
CE: Do you have a favorite animal at the zoo?
SB: Changes every day! We’ve had over 300 babies in the last 18 months. I never thought I could fall in love with a hedgehog. We have so many animals that are so incredible. We value and respect life no matter of the size or popularity of the animal.
CE: What is the single most important function the zoo performs?
SB: Being a good steward to the community. It’s not my zoo; it’s the community’s zoo. Getting the community input is critical to the future of the zoo.
CE: How can the local individual help the zoo?
SB: By visiting us. Make a donation or come to a fundraiser. We want you to connect with the animals.
CE: What is your ten-year plan for the zoo?
SB: Execute our strategic plan focusing on education, guest experience and animal care. Second is to support the reauthorization of SCFB, which provides a cultural environment for Colorado organizations. Third is to execute our master plan to become a world class zoo.
CE: What are the biggest challenges facing community zoos?
SB: Fundraising. We are here because of donations from the community. Habitat upgrades are expensive. Conservation of endangered species is also very critical. It’s a significant challenge.
CE: How important are the zoo’s conservation projects?
SB: Our mission is to secure a better world for animals through human understanding. We are working on doing a better job telling our story.
CE: What has been their impact?
SB: We have focal areas locally and around the world and we won an award from the United Nations for our work in Mongolia. We have published research papers and shared our results. We want to get that word out even more.
CE: Any plans for expanding the zoo?
SB: We plan to stay within our 80 acre footprint. We’d like to have a second campus, and we are exploring that. We’d like to focus, though, on having more of an impact in our footprint.
CE: Any other major changes in the works?
SB: Focus on the guest experience, like feeding giraffes, and education. We are also having a travelling exhibit, including a Lego exhibit of some of our animals. We are also getting a new home for tigers.
CE: What are your favorite zoo fundraisers?
SB: I love Zoo Lights because it’s so family oriented. Of course, Brew at the Zoo is a great event. It’s a great date-night.
CE: Based on your interview questions today, what kind of animal would I be?
SB: I think you are ok as a human, mostly.
Name: Shannon Block
Marital status: Single
Career: President and CEO, Denver Zoo
Hometown: Golden, Colorado
Where do you call home today? Golden, Colorado
BIO: Scott S. Evans is graduate of Dartmouth College and the University of Virginia School of Law, a single father of two, a business litigation attorney, writer and high school lacrosse coach living in Centennial. His life IS a zoo. Scott has freelanced for various newspapers, magazines, journals and academic publications including The Wall Street Journal, The Military Law Review and the Manchester, NH, Union Leader.