As director of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, Dennis W. Kelly oversees the 163-acre facility in Rock Creek Park and the 3,200-acre Smithsonian Conservation and Biology Institute (SCBI) campus in Front Royal, Virginia. Kelly is responsible for the operations of the public zoo in Washington, which has more than two million visitors a year, and manages the Zoo’s research programs, including groundbreaking work by Zoo scientists in conservation biology around the world. He oversees the education programs coordinated by the Zoo’s nonprofit membership organization, Friends of the National Zoo. In 2011, Kelly was elected to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Board of Directors. AZA ensures that North American zoos meet high standards and best practices in animal care, wildlife conservation and science, conservation education, guest experience, and community engagement.
The Zoo has more than 450 full-time staff, including keepers, curators and scientists, and an annual budget of approximately $51 million. In addition to a major renovation and expansion of its Asian elephant exhibit, Elephant Trails which opened March 2013 the Zoo is in the beginning stages of a multi-year master plan to help it achieve its mission of providing leadership in animal care, science, education, and sustainability.
As president of Zoo Atlanta for the six years prior to his arrival at the Zoo, Kelly enhanced that institution’s scientific and animal welfare programs, visitor experience and rebuilt its marketing, government relations, and fundraising capabilities. He raised more than $40 million in public and private funds for Zoo Atlanta during his tenure. Kelly also provided the environment and resources for important scientific and conservation work by the zoo’s staff, including collaboration with National Zoo scientists on giant panda breeding and conservation. Under his leadership, Zoo Atlanta strengthened its education programs and assisted in developing education departments in dozens of zoos in China.
Kelly earned a bachelor’s degree from the Georgia Institute of Technology and a master’s degree in business administration from Harvard University. After serving in the military, Kelly held key positions with Procter & Gamble and Touche Ross & Co. He worked at The Coca-Cola Co. in Atlanta from 1982 to 1999, serving in various positions. In 1997, Kelly was appointed chief marketing officer for Coca-Cola Europe, overseeing marketing efforts for flagship and local brands in those markets.
In 1999, Kelly joined Green Mountain Energy Co. as president and soon after was named CEO. During his tenure, the company’s annual sales grew from $60,000 to $250 million.