Happy 5th Anniversary, William Harris - Space Center Houston President & CEO
Friday, July 30, 2021
Five years after being appointed president and CEO at Space Center Houston (SCH), the impact of William Harris’ ambitious leadership can be seen in every area of the thriving learning center.
At the core of William’s leadership is a commitment to ensuring SCH is a values-based organization with accessibility and inclusion at the center of its operations. In 2017, the center launched a new strategic plan, creating the framework for a period of significant growth and improvements.
In the past five years, SCH has made strides to be more inclusive -- both internally and externally. The board of directors has become more diversified, bringing a wider breadth of knowledge and experience to the table. Additionally, the center instituted a more proactive diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility (DEIA) policy.
Since many SCH visitors are on the autism spectrum, William and his team embraced opportunities to make it an even more accessible and accepting destination. SCH became the first science and space exploration learning center of its kind to be designated as a Certified Autism Center by the IBCCES.
SCH offers sensory-friendly events with reduced lights, sounds and crowds; Space Center University for the visually impaired; and other events designed to provide quality learning experiences for guests with special needs. Sensory-friendly backpacks are available, which have sound cancelling headphones, sunglasses, a fun space book and other sensory items.
During William’s tenure, annual attendance at SCH has doubled, rocketing to 1.25 million annual visitors. Membership has also grown significantly as the result of revamped membership and annual giving programs.
Finances have been completely restructured, and as a result, SCH is on track to pay off all outstanding debt in the next four years. A quasi-endowment has been established, creating a financial bedrock for the center.
SCH has increased community partnerships, including coordinating programming with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Houston and hosting socialization experiences for puppies-in-training and their trainers for Guide Dogs for the Blind.
The SCH day camps, which offer unique hands-on experiences for youth, have become increasingly popular. The 1,000 open slots for day camp participation were filled in record time this year, with an additional 1,000 kids on the waiting list.
William says he is proud to have created a “culture of being nimble” at SCH, an attribute that was especially apparent when the pandemic hit.
“By allowing the team to be creative within the guard rails of our strategic plan, we were well-poised to meet the challenges the pandemic presented,” he says.
Thankfully, SCH was in the process of implementing a comprehensive digital strategy when COVID-19 forced the center to temporarily close its doors. With the proper framework in place, SCH was able to quickly move content online, minimizing the interruption in programming.
Given his accomplishments and obvious pride in SCH, it’s hard to believe that William wasn’t initially interested when he was contacted about the position.
“I was perfectly happy where I was,” says William, referring to his former role as senior vice president of development and marketing at the California Science Center Foundation. “But Kittleman & Associates did an excellent job presenting the opportunity and how my experience and skills were a great match. I felt very well prepared for interviews, and they provided feedback along the way, so I always felt well-informed.”
“Our approach is to work with the board to create alignment around their priorities and aspirations for the organization first, then build the candidate profile that is necessary to achieve those goals,” explains Cory King, Kittleman president & CEO.
William is just one example of Kittleman’s impressive retention rate for placements, which Cory attributes in part to the support they offer clients and candidates during the search process and after the hire. Cory emphasizes the importance of ensuring the transition and onboarding process are successful to keep the organization moving in a positive direction.
Congratulations, William, on your five years anniversary with Space Center Houston and your significant accomplishments!
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