A green thumb wasn’t a requirement for Mike Allen’s job as the new executive director of Memphis Botanic Garden.
“I have a great appreciation for horticulture and botany,” said Allen, 60. “And I know a well-landscaped yard when I see one. But, no. My wife would be the first to tell you I don’t have a green thumb.”
He will be jumping into his new job Jan. 2 with both feet. He described his duties as “the operational management of the whole organization. So, you’ve got the traditional garden side. You’ve got the education aspect like My Big Backyard. You’ve got Live at the Garden, which is a tremendous investment that the garden has made. So, my job is to keep everything running on track. To be aware and try to implement the wishes of the board.”
And he’s got a few ideas of his own.
“I just think this is just an awesome growth opportunity here. The idea of having 96 acres. It’s the largest office you can imagine.”
A native of Chicago, Allen was first transferred to Memphis in 1989 to work at International Paper as product manager for what was then their folding carton business. He met his wife, Christa, in Memphis. She also works for International Paper, where she is in communications for senior executives.
After International Paper stints in Appleton, Wisconsin, where their son, Dillon, was born, and Granby, Connecticut, where their daughter, Caroline, was born, Allen was transferred back to Memphis in 2001 to work as marketing and business manager in International Paper’s printing papers business.
He left International Paper in 2006 and started his own business — Strategic Alternatives, which operated a Web sight called BaristaWorks.com that sold disposable food service products — cups, lids, straws and napkins — to “mom and pop” coffee shops.
For the past six years, Allen has been president and CEO at Catholic Charities of West Tennessee. “I had been on Diocesan boards and things like that and I was asked by our then bishop (J. Terry) Steib to serve on a committee. Kind of a strategic planning committee. And I was assigned to Catholic Charities of West Tennessee. They were having some operational issues. I ended up there full time.”
His new job at Memphis Botanic Garden is a “culmination” of what he’s done in the past, Allen said. “If you take my corporate background, my entrepreneurial background and my nonprofit background, it just seems like the perfect fit. ‘Cause we have Live at the Garden, which is a really important revenue-driven thing. We have food trucks and all these other entrepreneurial things that I just love. And it is a nonprofit at the end of the day. So, I’m going to be out raising money.”
As for what he specifically will be doing at Memphis Botanic Garden, Allen said, “We need a new strategic plan here. We don’t really have a current one. A strategic plan would be like a five-year road map. What do we want to do? What do we want to…