Transforming Bishop Museum

Feb 12, 2016

Credit Daniel Ramirez / Flickr

To last for more than a century, an organization has to reinvent itself. That’s what Bishop Museum president & CEO, Blair Collis, has been doing. Pacific Business News Editor in Chief A. Kam Napier has more.

In 2011, Blair Collis became the youngest chief executive in Bishop Museum’s long history and the first to be promoted to the top spot from within.  Collis rose up through the business side of the museum.  His first director-level job there was as head of Bishop Museum press in 2003, then on to such roles as VP of sales and marketing, chief operating officer, and more.

Through his time, he revitalized the publishing company, overhauled the museum’s marketing, oversaw extensive renovations to Hawaiian Hall, and the planetarium and tripled membership revenue.

Over the museum’s 127 year history, the role of its CEO has changed.  Directors were often scientists first, and administrators second.  Collis’ degree is from the UH Shidler College of Business, and he brings a focus on revenue that has become essential to running a modern non-profit to survive the ups and downs of outside support.  For example, the museum used to receive 40% of its funding from federal sources.  After the recession of 2008, that dropped to 4%.  This necessitated layoffs, but at the same time, led to the creation of new positions to focus on financial independence.  Coping with such challenges, he says, requires that the museum be “nimble, proactive and entrepreneurial.”

Bishop Museum currently has an operating budget of $12.3 million and revenue of nearly the same amount.  It employs 170 people, helped by 90 volunteers a day.  Its collection includes nearly 25-million items from Hawai‘i and the pacific.