Space Center Houston president and CEO William Harris was honored by Houston Business Journal’s 2019 Most Admired CEO Awards.
In selecting the CEO honorees, a panel of judges looked for characteristics such as contribution to company success, civic involvement, career achievement and more. The honorees represent several of Houston’s prominent industries, with CEOs from major health care systems, development and construction-related firms, financial institutions, energy-related companies and much more — including a professional sports team.
The judges selected 42 for-profit leaders and 17 nonprofit leaders for this year’s award. The 59 honorees were recognized in a special section of Houston Business Journal on Aug. 23.
Demonstrating leadership and strategic vision
Harris has moved Space Center Houston through a strategic planning framework process to give the center a vision for the future. He helped craft a core vision placing Space Center Houston on the path of becoming one of the world’s leading science and space exploration learning centers.
He then led an effort to develop a facilities master plan, giving Space Center Houston a path forward for its physical footprint and creating a synergy with the strategic planning framework.
After both of these ambitious plans were approved by the board of directors, Harris began directing the next phase of the process, a master interpretive plan to ensure all exhibits and education programming will advance science and engineering learning in a dynamic way for to all generations.
Harris was instrumental in securing a flown Falcon 9 rocket to put on display at Space Center Houston this year. This will be the first exhibit in the region that will interpret the commercial space industry for the public.
Impacting Space Center Houston’s community and industry standings
Harris has taken a multi-level approach to extending Space Center Houston’s impact on the community.
For example, he spearheaded the creation of a Thought Leader Series for the center. This monthly series is free to the public and brings in leaders from around the space exploration and science fields. Past speakers have included three of the first female astronauts, Apollo astronauts, a physicist in charge of the New Horizons mission to Pluto and beyond, as well as many more.
To celebrate the historic 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, Harris initiated a massive community event spanning July 16-24. The celebration included a variety of special experiences including talks from Apollo-era flight controllers, a Family STEM Zone with hands-on learning activities, and an evening concert and countdown to the first steps on the Moon. Attendance at the celebration was the highest the center has experienced since opening in 1992.
In addition, Harris has taken an active hand in the educational outreach the center continues to provide. Through programs such as Girls STEM Academy and subsidized field trips, Space Center Houston has provided access to authentic STEM learning to Title I schools. More than 250,000 teachers and students from around the world visit the center annually. Harris has also spoken at the STEM Leadership Alliance and many other educational opportunities around the community.
Finally, Harris is a member of the board of directors and executive committee of the Association of Science-Technology Centers. He also serves on QueensCare Charitable Foundation Grants Committee and Board of Directors.
Commitment to integrity and corporate accountability
One of the first things Harris did when he stepped into his leadership role at Space Center Houston was to champion diversity, equity inclusion and accessibility as a cornerstone of the center’s workforce. To this end, he developed comprehensive training for all employees to take regularly.
His efforts in this arena continue to bear fruit, as in 2018, Space Center Houston became the first science center to be designated as a Certified Autism Center by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards.
Before joining Space Center Houston
Prior to joining Space Center Houston in April 2016, Harris had more than 34 years in nonprofit leadership experience including senior positions at museums and universities, where he led numerous multimillion-dollar fundraising campaigns, principal and major gifts, marketing, communications, government relations and strategy development.