Marie Selby Botanical Gardens' Jennifer Rominiecki is planting roots
Manhattan native Jennifer Rominiecki had a good job at an iconic New York City institution. Then she traded it all to come to Sarasota for a chance to make her mark.
| 6:00 a.m. May 13, 2015
Arts + Culture
Jennifer Rominiecki, clad in a suit, walks through her office space like any assertive business leader. She talks with her staff, the board members of her organization and patrons on a daily basis, while keeping stock of the growth of her company. But unlike the majority of businesses filled with the hum of computers and fluorescent light, Rominiecki’s working environment is teeming with life.
As the president and CEO of Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, Rominiecki is in charge of cultivating an environment in which the gardens can thrive.
Three months ago, she was in New York City, working at the New York Botanical Garden, where her job was primarily raising money and working with leadership to support the institution.
Then Selby came calling.
Selby offered Rominiecki a chance for change — lots of it. Not only geographic, trading the concrete jungle of New York City for the jungle oasis of Sarasota, but also professionally. For Rominiecki, Selby was a chance to lead.
“When I came for the very first time, I saw the tremendous opportunity in lending all my energies to this organization,” Rominiecki says of Selby. “I see so much potential in this organization, so I decided to make the jump.”
Born in 1973 at Mount Sinai Hospital in the heart of Manhattan, N.Y., Jennifer Rominiecki has lived her entire life in or near New York City. She ventured outside the Empire State to earn her bachelor’s degree in art history and English from Lafayette College in Easton, Pa.
Rominiecki took her love of art and culture to positions at art meccas the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Metropolitan Opera. And she spent 15 years at the New York Botanical Garden, where she most recently served as vice president for institutional advancement and special assistant to the president.
But Rominiecki wanted more: She sought an opportunity to make her mark.
“I was at the point in my career where I really wanted to take the next step and be a leader of an organization,” Rominiecki says.
So she and her husband, Rob, packed up their two young sons, Luke, 9, and Noah, 4, and moved to Sarasota.
The timing couldn’t have been better for the organization, which celebrates its 40th anniversary in July.
To capitalize on the event, Rominiecki and the gardens staff have plenty of celebratory events and programs planned to honor the garden’s history and to sow the seeds for Selby’s future.
As for the latter, Rominiecki and her staff have a five-year plan to make sure the gardens continue to grow in the future.
“When I came for the very first time, I saw the tremendous opportunity in lending all my energies to this organization. I see so much potential in this organization, so I decided to make the jump.”
— Jennifer Rominiecki, president and CEO of the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens
Rominiecki’s vision for Selby is a marriage of her museum and botanical experience.
Her goal is to entice people to keep coming back to the gardens. By incorporating the museum model, where the gardens will feature constantly rotating exhibits, Rominiecki hopes to highlight all things Selby and keep the experience fresh for visitors.
“It’ll be treated as a cultural attraction, and it’s a very effective model,” Rominiecki says. “It’s a way of creating experiences to get repeat visitors through exhibits and unique experiences.”
The first item on Rominiecki’s plan is a six-week exhibit revolving around Selby’s expansive orchid collection. Her goal for these continuing exhibitions and events is to make even the most ardent green thumbs and Selby socialites see something new every time they come to visit.
“This will be the longest horticultural exhibition we’ve done so far,” says Rominiecki. “I think our team is up to the challenge.”
And Rominiecki isn’t afraid of a challenge.
Since she started the position in February, Rominiecki has worked tirelessly to make the connections and form relationships so necessary to running a philanthropic organization in Sarasota.
Whether it’s interacting with Selby volunteers or its board members, Rominiecki is professional, yet also highly personable.
“She loves leading people and has a real knack for remembering names and stories,” says Cathy Layton, chairwoman of the gardens’ board of trustees. “She’s got a flair.”
Kelvin Cooper, secretary of the board, recalled a comment he received from a volunteer who interacted with Rominiecki at a volunteer recognition dinner held recently.
“She said she hasn’t gotten that kind of thanks from a public CEO at any organization she’s volunteered for,” Cooper says.
That energy and vision for change has Selby’s board and leaders excited for what’s next.
“Everything she approaches she approaches boldly and with high expectations and a willingness to make it happen,” says Layton. “This is a remarkable woman, and barriers don’t get in her way. I’ve just seen it every day.”
According to Layton, Rominiecki was selected for the job after a national search that started last summer. Starting with 300 candidates, Layton and the search committee narrowed the pool to 12 people.
“Talk about the right person at the right time at the right place,” says Michael Saunders, a member of the board of trustees for 17 years. “She has been a very quick study. She has met every single staff member, board member and several donors. She’s out in the community. She’s doing all the right things that I think you do when you take on the responsibility that she has, which is commander in chief of one of our most important community resources.”
Rominiecki, too, knows she’s in the right place. She’s reminded of it when she begins each morning at Selby at 8:30 a.m. and sees the morning light reflect off the bay and onto the thousands of just awakened plants and flowers.
“I don’t miss the city,” says Rominiecki of New York. “I love Sarasota, and I’m very happy to be here. I liked the fact that the Selby Gardens is an organization with great potential where I could have a significant impact.”
Old and New Memories:
“I’ve always had a fondness for orchids, and Selby’s orchid collection is renowned. I think the banyan threes here are absolutely spectacular.”
“My grandparents lived in New Jersey and they always had an edible garden. My family has always been interested in gardens and landscape. It’s something I’ve always been around, and my 15 years at the New York Botanical Garden allowed me to learn so much about gardens.”
“I think one thing that might surprise most people is that we have a world-class rare books collection. Some of these books are irreplaceable and date back to the 17th century. It’s a treasure at Selby that most people don’t know about.”