Newtown Square’s George Gephart wears many hats: business leader, nonprofit executive and, most recently, president of the Academy of Natural Sciences. Gephart came to the area 25 years ago as a partner in 1838 Investment Advisors. His heavy involvement with Philly nonprofits began with the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, the Curtis Institute of Music and the Nature Conservancy. He’s also maintained an ongoing position as the chairman of the board of Main Line Health. These days, he’s preparing for a bicentennial at one of Philadelphia’s most esteemed institutions, learning a host of new names and adjusting to the weekday trek into the city.
MLT: What attracted you to the Academy of Natural Sciences?
GG: Within this city, I consider it to be one of the most venerable institutions. With the depth of research and collections available to the public, the museum continues to draw wonderful crowds. So when this opportunity was presented to me, I jumped at the chance to go to the other side—from board member to operating chief.
MLT: You seem to have a pretty impressive clientele.
GG: One of the reasons my wife and I decided to come to Philly was because of the breadth of cultural opportunities this city is loaded with. The challenge in today’s nonprofit environment is to really determine an institution’s self-worth and relevance. We have a wonderful museum—and, at the same time, we’re a research institution. We have to be sure the public knows and values both elements.
MLT: What do you have in mind for the museum?
GG: Well, I have a lot to learn. My background is in business, not science—and I don’t come from a museum background. I’d be kidding you if I said I had a manifesto of great plans. But there are a few things that we’re looking forward to, which will present wonderful opportunities for us over the next couple of years. We’re celebrating our bicentennial in 2012, and it’s a wonderful launch pad for us to polish this gem of an institution. It’ll raise our visibility and set the course for the tercentennial in the many years to come.
MLT: How do you plan on getting properly introduced to the Academy scene?
GG: I’ll immerse myself in all things Academy-related, whether it’s attending a “Science on Tap” lecture or town hall meetings, or chatting it up with the security guards in the middle of the night. I want to be sure that, at the end of my first 100 days in office, I’m able to say that I met—and have gotten to know—every employee and attended every public event to understand how we’re interacting with the surrounding community.
MLT: What’s your poison at “Science on Tap” functions?
GG: I enjoy any kind of craft beer; I’m definitely a secular microbrew drinker. The reintroduction of the microbrewery is one of the greatest things to happen to this area—and there’s certainly a science to brewing.