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BIAZA Working Groups: a whole world of professional contact

Professional networks are a valuable resource for operators


By Sean Mannie, Marwell Wildlife

BIAZA logo BIAZA working groups

As one of my off-the-site activities, I am lucky enough to be a member of BIAZA’s Commercial and Guest Service Working Group.

I mention this because it leads into this article’s theme of the sheer usefulness and value of contact with those who do the same job as I do. This may seem obvious, but it never ceases to surprise me how many managers I still meet, at all levels, who seem to work in isolation from the world around them.

It’s a question worth asking yourself – how much time do I devote to learning from my peers?

I was chatting with our Chief Executive the other day and, in the context of the conversation, I commented that I did not come from a zoo background (having moved over from a career in museums). “How long have you worked here?” he asked. “Nearly nine years,” I replied.

“I think,” he responded, poker-faced, “that we can safely say that you now have a zoo background…”

In that previous pre-zoo world, I was immensely lucky to have access to well-developed networks of professionals in every conceivable discipline. Advice, ranting rights, networking and professional development were often only a telephone call or meeting – remember those – away.

BIAZA Working Groups are born

Arriving into the world of commercial zoo management, I was somewhat disappointed to find that industry linkages for business seemed much less obvious – I couldn’t find any at first – and that BIAZA, the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums, was almost entirely collection and conservation focussed. Not a criticism, but there was no obvious ‘home’ for we operational types.

Red panda Paradise Wildlife Park BIAZA working groups
Red Panda at BIAZA member Paradise Wildlife Park

Whilst casting around for a couple of wilderness years, I was very fortunate to meet a small and welcoming group of fellow travellers, who felt the same dissatisfaction with the state of play. Our eventual decision to start something ourselves happily coincided with a very positive change at BIAZA.

A timely initiative recognised commercial and business support functions. It also introduced structures that would help meet the needs of those of us working in those areas. The stars aligned and BIAZA’s Commercial Working Group, amongst others, was born. And not just with the four or five of us we thought would be interested. Instead, we began with over 16 institutions, large and small.

There was obviously an untapped demand.

Connections and support are key

A few short years later and the business end of zoos is now represented on the governing body of BIAZA. Plus, a whole series of BIAZA working groups provide a means for zoo business and support professionals to get together and do what we all want to do. That is, to support each other and drive positive development to improve the business side of zoos.

“You’ll never believe what happened yesterday…” chats are, of course, a fringe benefit. 

None of us is an island (with apologies to colleagues on Jersey, the Isle of Wight, etc..) and no individual has all the answers. So, that ease of access to simply talk to someone who speaks your language and occasionally feels your pain is as valuable for business managers as is it for any other discipline.

It is so easy to end up busy in our own narrow little bubbles. But this can mean missing out on the huge wealth of knowledge that sits within our collective experience. If you feel like you’re missing out, why not spread your wings a little and see who’s out there. It’s certainly worth the effort and it really is good to talk.

Top image – snow leopard at BIAZA member Twycross Zoo

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Sean Mannie Marwell Zoo

Sean Mannie

Sean Mannie is Commercial Director at Marwell Wildlife, a large charity run zoo in Hampshire. He is also founding Chair of the BIAZA Commercial & Guest Services Working Group and Vice-Chair of BIAZA’s Mission Enabling Committee. He previously enjoyed careers in commercial business and in national museums, including the role of General Manager South for the Royal Armouries.

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