Women & Business February 2016: Cheryl Tracy
Tracy is managing Director and COO of the National Aviary.
Managing Director & COO
Almost nine years ago, Cheryl Tracy landed the job of her dreams – one that united her love of animals and desire to work for a nonprofit.
“As a kid, I was a huge animal and nature lover,” says Tracy, a Pittsburgh native and Pennsylvania State University graduate. “I wanted to find work where I could match my passion and interests with a mission.”
The National Aviary, America’s only independent, nonprofit zoo dedicated exclusively to birds, was looking for a CFO with a strong business background who could guide a $17.5-million capital expansion. With 20 years of experience in public and corporate accounting, including a stint with Ernst & Young, Tracy was hired. At the Aviary, she successfully created a viable business plan and a budget for the largest capital project in the Aviary’s 60-year history. They broke ground in 2009, phasing the construction project to keep the Aviary open during the renovation.
That year boasted the highest attendance ever, getting a major boost from the newly opened, $1.7-million Penguin Point exhibit.
In 2013, the National Aviary promoted Tracy to its top executive position — managing director and chief operating officer. Tracy underscores the need to operate “like a business without compromising our mission.” In the past three years, their earned revenue and visitorship has continued to increase and break records every year.
Tracy places a huge emphasis on their daily interactive visitor programs and says that there’s even more that goes on behind the scenes, such as the National Aviary’s conservation and breeding programs. Their team is leading the efforts in saving Guam Rails and hopes to do the same with Andean Condors. The National Aviary is focused on breeding these birds and reintroducing them into their native environment.
“It’s exciting to help people connect with nature and birds in dynamic ways through the interactions they have here,” says Tracy. “We want people to care about their counterparts in the wild, and we want to do our part to help save animals from extinction.”