New PSPCA chief says he came to build, not cut

Jerry Buckley (left), new head of the SPCA of Pennsylvania. (Alejandro A. Alvarez / Staff Photographer)
Jerry Buckley (left), new head of the SPCA of Pennsylvania. (Alejandro A. Alvarez / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 12, 2012

Mmm, mmm good.

That's the word coming out of the Pennsylvania SPCA about its just-hired CEO, Jerry Buckley, formerly a top PR exec at Campbell Soup Company who opened his career with strong journalism credentials — 11 years as a correspondent for Newsweek followed by eight years as a senior editor at U.S. News & World Report.

The 56-year-old Buckley is the fourth CEO to head the animal welfare agency since 2007, and churn is a bad ingredient when you're trying to cook up an effective organization, one that has received some withering criticism in recent years.

Buckley's most recent title was senior vice president-public affairs for Campbell, which has been around since 1869, two years less than the PSCPA. He holds a master's degree from Columbia University.

But Buckley's resume does not show any connection with animal welfare.

That is true, acknowledges Helene van Beuren, the president of the PSPCA board since 2009. When CEOs are sought, the choice is usually between someone with shelter experience or business experience. The last CEO, Sue Cosby, had strong shelter experience but left after less than three years to return to the city-supervised Animal Care and Control Team.

"It's easier to teach someone the business than it is to teach someone leadership," says van Beuren, noting that PSPCA chief operating officer Marc Peralta has lots of shelter experience and Buckley can lean on him.

Buckley lives in Wilmington with his wife, Anne, four children and two Wheaton Terriers. The dogs, named after Yankees ball players, reflect the years Buckley spent learning and earning in New York. (Um, Jerry? Chase and Jen Utley are huge fund-raisers for the PSPCA. I think I found your first PR problem.)

PSPCA has been running in the red and both Buckley and van Beuren mentioned a strategic plan under development. I asked Buckley to elaborate.

"I came to the PSPCA to build, not to cut," he says. "To raise awareness and increase adoptions, we might consider opening satellite adoption locations, perhaps with a corporate partner," he says. Good idea.

Another would be moving heaven and earth to expand free or low-cost spay/neuter programs because everyone involved in animal welfare knows you can't adopt your way out of the problem. It has to be attacked at the source — slashing the birthrate of unwanted pets.

He also mentioned the need for "stable, consistent leadership," adding, "I'm here for a long haul, very seriously for personal and professional reasons."

He left Campbell voluntarily last year after a new CEO came in and new leaders like to assemble their own team. Two Campbell co-workers tell me Buckley was highly regarded as a leader and a person.

I don't know what he earned at Campbell, but I do know what PSPCA pays. He took a pay cut. I asked him why.

"I was looking for an organization that had a mission that was meaningful, a track record of doing good work" and one that he could get his arms around. Here he is the (sorry) Top Dog.

Over the past five years at PSPCA, there has been controversy in addition to churn.

A previous CEO connived to regain the city animal control contract PSPCA had surrendered a decade ago, and along with the contract came controversy. It unavoidably required killing animals, which goes against its stated lifesaving mission. There were also lawsuits against PSPCA and allegations of humane officers operating outside their jurisdiction.

Because he was not there then, Buckley declined to comment.

So, for the fourth time in five years the PSPCA clock has been reset. As a former PR guy, Buckley knows you have to have a good product before you can rave about it. As a former journalist, he knows that facts, and truth, can be stubborn things.

Animal lovers are waiting to hear the mmm, mmm good news that PSPCA is back as a smart, effective operation.

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