By William Croyle
The Cincinnati Enquirer
His job with the Newport Aquarium at one time was paying close attention to the sea creatures: watching them, caring for them and performing surgery on them.
When he applied to be executive director, Dr. Tim Mullican wondered if those who run the aquarium would worry that he couldn't turn from strictly veterinary work to business operations.
"Veterinarians are not viewed as business people," said Mullican, who had been a veterinary consultant at the aquarium since 1999. "I knew I could do the job, but I knew those making the decision had to see through that."
Mullican was hired Aug. 19, 2002. Under his leadership this year, the aquarium has grown - and it expects that to continue.
A new turtle exhibit has increased attendance, and the aquarium has received accreditation from the American Zoo and Aquarium Association.
And work has started on a $4.5 million, 21,000-square-foot addition.
"Even though he had not held a management position, Tim brought to the table an understanding of management and respect of the husbandry people. It was a nice match," said executive vice president Dave Wechsler, who hired Mullican.
Mullican oversees operations at the aquarium, which has 180 employees and 6,000 animals.
From guest relations and marketing to caring for the animals, Mullican has a hand in every situation - sometimes literally.
"He is not your typical 'suit,' " said Jill Isaacs, public relations manager for the aquarium.
"Without skipping a beat, he'll go from performing surgery on a shark to making a conference call to discuss financial issues."
Mullican, 45, earned his biology degree from the University of Dayton. He graduated in 1984 from Purdue University's School of Veterinary Medicine before operating a private practice in Cincinnati for 10 years.
He then worked for a medical marketing and publishing company before coming to the aquarium four years ago.
"He's very in tune with the day-to-day operations," said Pam Lyons, director of husbandry.
"He's done a fabulous job, and attendance reflects that. And (the American Zoo and Aquarium Association accreditation) is a feather in his cap, as well."
The aquarium has not released summer attendance figures, but Mullican said that from April, when the turtle exhibit opened, until now, it's up over the same period last year.
The zoo and aquarium association accreditation was granted in March. The association represents more than 200 zoos and aquariums in North America.
"There's a lot of value in belonging to this group," said Mullican. "It's the industry's seal of approval."
The expansion, which will increase exhibit space by 40 percent, will open in phases, starting with an otter exhibit next June and some "surprises" after that, aquarium staff say.
Mullican says his work is just beginning.
"I'd like to improve the educational offerings and value to the school groups that come through, and we really need to be more focused on our conservation efforts locally," he said.
He wants that to be done in a way that will lure people to the aquarium repeatedly.
"The No. 1 challenge is giving people a reason to come back," he said. "I don't think people like to come to an attraction and be preached to. I think a lot of people come here because they want to have fun."
And don't think Mullican doesn't know about having fun at the aquarium.
"I still really love taking care of the animals, and I enjoy talking to the people at the exhibits, especially the kids," he said.
"It's a great job."
About Newport Aquarium
$40 million facility opened May 15, 1999, at Newport on the Levee
100,000 square feet with 1 million gallons of salt and fresh water
6,000 animals, 600 species, 66 exhibits
Open 365 days a year; hours vary
Admission: $16 adults, $10 children (3-12), $14 senior citizens; group discounts and memberships available
"Turtles - Journey of Survival" exhibit lasts through Thanksgiving
Information: 261-7444 or visit www.newportaquarium.com
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