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American Horticultural Society Appoints New President

The Board of Directors of the American Horticultural Society (AHS), announced Friday the appointment of Suzanne Laporte, the former CEO of Friends of Compass, Inc, a Washington DC-based nonprofit that provides pro bono, strategic consulting to other nonprofits, as the Society’s new CEO/President.

The news is a turning point for AHS, which weathered a storm of controversy when its 27-acre headquarter property River Farm was put up for sale for $32 million.

Plans to sell the historic property drew protests from community members who were concerned about development. Local and state government officials got involved, creating a historic overlay district on the property, which would have limited the type of development that could occur if the property sold.

Shortly after the 10-member board decided to reject offers from the Northern Virginia Conservation Trust to purchase or co-own the property, five board members who supported selling the property, the AHS executive director and several other staff members resigned.

In October, it was taken off the market and the surrounding community and others concerned about the historic property breathed a collective sigh of relief.

Laporte comes on board March 21 and will take the helm as AHS marks its milestone 100th anniversary this year.

“We are delighted to welcome Suzanne to our AHS team,” said Marcia Zech, AHS Board Chair.

“Suzanne brings a unique perspective and comprehensive approach to non-profit management that will help inform all of our work. In addition, she will be a key partner in our efforts to lay the necessary groundwork for carrying out our national horticultural mission,” Zech said.

“It’s truly an honor to join AHS during the Society’s 100th anniversary year,” Laporte said. “I look forward to working with the entire AHS team to help strengthen the organization to further its important work.”

The revitalization of River Farm as the home base for AHS’s national horticultural programs will also be a key focus for Laporte and the Board this year. Laporte will work closely with the Board’s River Farm Committee to identify long-term funding, planning and maintenance requirements for the property, including addressing the most pressing needs for repair and renovation of the buildings, grounds and gardens.

A concurrent goal will be to explore options for maximizing programmatic opportunities to reach a broad national audience. “River Farm is a stunning place of natural beauty with immeasurable historical and cultural significance to our region and nation,” Laporte said.

“It is a place where AHS can literally ‘live the mission’ of honoring our nation’s horticultural history while positioning the organization as a leader in innovative gardening practices,” she noted. “I look forward to identifying creative ways to leverage this extraordinary asset in advancement of the AHS national mission while helping to protect the property for future generations,” she said.

Laporte will focus on managing overall operations of the Society and will work collaboratively with the AHS Board and stakeholders to ensure a smooth transition to a forward-thinking organization positioned for growth and long-term success. With expertise in nonprofit leadership, program innovation, capacity building, strategic planning, financial management, team building and community engagement, communications, marketing, and Board governance, she is well-equipped to lead AHS at this critical juncture in the Society’s history, according to AHS.

Laporte will continue to build on the stewardship and transition achievements of former Director Keith Tomlinson, who helped AHS emerge from the challenges caused by the pandemic and addressed immediate operational needs, especially related to the re-opening of River Farm and the initial launch of garden clean-up and maintenance efforts.

Tomlinson will continue to advise the AHS Board on horticultural matters in an informal, volunteer capacity, according to Board Chair Zech.

“We are grateful to Keith for helping us during our transition period and look forward to further collaboration with him,” Zech said.

“Suzanne’s appointment as President/CEO, combined with the gardening expertise of our onsite team, including a group of exceptional volunteer gardeners, ensures that we have both the experienced executive leadership and horticultural knowledge to help chart a positive new course,” Zech noted.

“As we celebrate our 100th anniversary year in 2022, the Board believes that Suzanne is the right person at the right time to help us launch the next 100 years,” Zech said.

As president and CEO of Compass, Laporte significantly increased Compass’ impact by innovating to meet the changing needs of nonprofits and the individuals and communities they serve, AHS noted.

Previously, Laporte held marketing positions for the consulting practices of PwC and IBM. In the publishing industry, Laporte was an editor at Working Woman magazine and a marketing director for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Her early career included stints at Smith Barney, Chase Manhattan Bank and Capital Cities/ABC.

She holds an AB from Smith College and an MBA from Harvard Business School, where she was editor of the weekly newspaper, The Bushes. In 2014, the Washington Business Journal recognized Laporte with its “Women Who Mean Business” award.

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