When they identify an organization they would love to be a part of, most people do their utmost to get their foot in the door. Thom Benson opted for getting a fin in the water.
“When I started to go through the certification process to become a SCUBA diver, I found out there was a volunteer dive program here at the Aquarium,” Mr.
Benson recalls. “I thought that was a great opportunity to get in the water and be part of the Tennessee Aquarium.”
At the time, Mr. Benson was a familiar face to many in Chattanooga as the long-standing morning meteorologist and reporter at local NBC affiliate WRCB-TV. He and his wife, Sandie, relocated to Chattanooga in 1995 after more than 20 years in broadcast journalism at various affiliate stations around the country.
During the 12 years he spent on-air in Chattanooga, Mr. Benson carved out a niche as a trusted voice on the outdoors, science and environmental topics. He frequently covered stories at cultural institutions, including the Aquarium. But, there was something extraordinarily powerful and compelling about being just a few layers of neoprene separated from animals like Green Sea Turtles, Paddlefish and Sand Tiger Sharks.
Mr. Benson says those first dives opened his eyes to the tremendous community impact the Aquarium has on the region.
“By volunteering, I fell in love with the people and the mission while discovering how important the Aquarium is to the community’s economic, educational and environmental well-being,” he says. “The volunteer experience created a desire to work here and become even more involved in this important organization.”
So when an opportunity presented itself to join the Aquarium, Mr. Benson leaped at the chance. In 2006, he was hired as the Aquarium’s communications manager under long-time vice president and chief marketing officer Cindy Todd. As part of the marketing team, Mr. Benson was involved in successfully opening new Aquarium exhibits from Penguins’ Rock to the new Turtles of the World gallery, unveiling the new IMAX with Laser system at the IMAX 3D Theater and communicating the importance of the Aquarium’s scientific research and conservation efforts.
In January, Ms. Todd announced her decision to leave the Aquarium to pursue a role as a marketing consultant for regional nonprofits. Mr. Benson was selected to fill her role in the interim. On Wednesday, his position as vice president and chief communications and marketing officer was made permanent.
“Thom always works effectively with all of our departments to help ensure the Aquarium’s success,” says Keith Sanford, the Aquarium’s president and CEO. “He is leading a strong marketing team with talented individuals who are equally enthusiastic about our nonprofit mission.”
Despite coming into this leadership role at a time that is especially fraught for many cultural institutions, Mr. Benson says he’s honored to be selected and excited by the prospect of helping to steer the Aquarium toward brighter days and future successes.
“This is an organization with some truly exceptional people, many of whom have been here longer than I have,” he says. “The long-standing experience of the senior leadership team has developed a culture that makes this such a special place to work and, by extension, has helped us serve the community so well.
“I’m very fortunate to be part of such an extraordinary team, and together we’re capable of great things.”
Any decisions about filling the vacancy in the communications department will be delayed until later this summer.