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Columbia Business Monthly

A Walk On The Wild Side Long-Time Zoo CEO Announces Retirement

May 01, 2017 08:40PM ● By Makayla Gay

By Dana W. Todd

Photography ©2017 Brian Dressler /

How many businesspeople do you know who think about acquiring cobra anti-venom or caring for a pregnant gorilla on the drive to work? That’s just a typical day for Satch Krantz, the 44-year veteran president and CEO of Riverbanks Zoo & Garden. Krantz will retire at the end of June after spending his entire working career building the Midlands zoo into the well-respected and award-winning tourist destination it is today.

Krantz admits his career has been an unusual type of CEO job.

“Two things produce unplanned events,” he says, “animals and visitors.”

With lost children, medical emergencies, and an animal-to-employee ratio of 10:1, it’s understandable how a zoo executive’s day is at the whim of changing situations. Despite the varying daily landscape, Krantz insists there is “something magical about the zoo.”

Krantz speaks with the enthusiasm of someone still in love with his job after all these years. Starting at Riverbanks immediately after earning a degree in zoology from Clemson University, he moved within the first three years from supervising the animal hospital to running the show as the CEO. It was in that first year, however, that he says his most memorable experience occurred – meeting his future wife, Becky, when they both worked together for just a few months.

His proudest accomplishment is how well the greater Columbia community has supported Riverbanks during his 44-year tenure. Tens of thousands of members support the organization through monetary giving.

Over Krantz’s years, Riverbanks has grown to about 140 full-time and part-time employees, with an additional 200 seasonal employees.

“My biggest regret is that being a local government institution, it has never been possible to pay employees what I feel they deserve,” Krantz says. “We are truly a mission-oriented institution. It’s a labor of love.”

Columbia residents should enjoy what Krantz and his team have built in the community, as he warns the availability and variety of animals has decreased over the last 40 years due to international regulation changes. He predicts the trend to continue and says people may never again be able to visit zoos and see the wide variety of animals available today.

As only the second executive director in Riverbanks’ history, Krantz is the longest serving zoo director in the country. He has filled the positions of chair of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and chair of the World Association of Zoos & Aquariums. He lists many awards on his résumé earned over the years and has served the community outside of the zoo environment, including assisting the Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital as president of the board. He considers the children’s hospital involvement as one of his most rewarding experiences.

Now that his career is winding down, Krantz says he is excited to pursue the leisure travel that he has put off for so long. Although he has traveled worldwide for work purposes, he is eager to have Becky by his side and not have a calendar to which he must adhere. Europe? Galápagos? A national park in the western U.S.? Krantz is unsure where his first trip will take him.

He also will have more time to spend with his two adult sons, Eric and David, who live in other states. He characterizes the group as a “far-flung but close family.”

“My sons are not shocked [about the retirement], but they don’t know me any other way,” Krantz says. “They thought I had a cool job when they were 10-year-olds.”

Krantz characterizes his career as the result of being “in the right place at the right time,” including meeting Riverbanks’ first executive director when they ran into each other wandering the woods where the zoo was going to be built. During a long discussion that day in 1971, the two “clicked,” which led to the former executive director offering Krantz a job months later when he was a fresh-faced college graduate. Armed with a degree in zoology (which as Krantz says, has “nothing to do with working in a zoo”), Krantz began a career which he could not imagine would turn into the 44-year legacy it has.

The Riverbanks Park Commission has begun its search for a new president and CEO.

“I have been blessed with an incredible career, a great city and community, and great employees,” Krantz says. “I hope whoever replaces me gets to have the same experience.”