Bruce Harkey On New Conservatory Exhibits, Career Advice & Life in Columbus

Bruce Harkey
Bruce Harkey

Photo by LaJuana Taylor

Interview by Sarah Shumick

With his sights initially set on L.A., Bruce Harkey came to Columbus via Tokyo, where he worked for Honda Motor Company. After falling in love with the community, Harkey left his position with Honda and took his current role as the President & CEO of Franklin Park Conservatory & Botanical Gardens. With plenty going on these days at the conservatory, Harkey enjoys downtime in his beloved neighborhood of Clintonville, as well as spending quality time with his husband, Roger.

Name: Bruce Harkey
Age: 57
Profession: President & CEO | Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens
Neighborhood: Clintonville
Connect: Facebook | Instagram | LinkedIn

What brought you to Columbus? I was working for Honda Motor Company in Tokyo and was planning to transfer to American Honda in Los Angeles. My father passed away in 1991, so I decided to transfer to Honda of America in Marysville for a few years to make sure my mother in Detroit was settled. I fell in love with Columbus and decided to make it my home.

Give us a snapshot of your career path: I joined an International Management training program with Honda Motor Company in Tokyo in 1988 and worked in the North American Automobile Sales Division for three years before transferring to Honda of America (HAM). At HAM, I held management positions in trade compliance, manufacturing management and new model finance. I moved to Franklin Park Conservatory as the leader in 2007.

What’s new and exciting at Franklin Park Conservatory? We opened the new 2-acre Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation Children’s Garden in May, 2018. I’m excited for the return of spring and all of the amazing experiential and education opportunities for children and their families. We will also present a new exhibition in 2019, “Chihuly: Celebrating Nature,” which will feature the Conservatory’s entire Chihuly collection reimagined and 5 new installations on loan from the Chihuly Studio. Conservatory Aglow, our annual holiday exhibition will double in size and we have an amazing artist named Jen Lewin whose art piece called “The Pool” will be installed in the Grand Mallway. It is an interactive light installation which should be great for visitors of all ages.

What gets you up in the morning? I love my career with the Conservatory and the opportunity to connect people with nature. The Conservatory has always been a place that provides a great cultural experience for the entire family, but also a place that builds community through our community outreach and education programs.

And what gets you through the workweek? Spending time at home with my husband Roger and going out and exploring Columbus with friends.

What advice or mentors have helped guide you along the way? Tom Shoupe from Honda has been a great mentor. I learned that developing strong relationships with people is the most important factor in creating a legacy. Also, not locking yourself into a predefined career path and exploring new opportunities along the way to challenge yourself.

Explain some of your work-life balance challenges. How do you achieve success in spite of the hustle and bustle? Everyone is connected 24/7 these days. Working out with a trainer 3 times a week has kept me healthy and focused on work/life balance.

What do you do or where do you go to unwind? Outside! I love walking through Clintonville’s neighborhoods.

When you were a kid, what did you say you wanted to be when you grew up? A rose hybridist.

What might someone be surprised to know about you? I can crochet. My mother taught me when I was a kid.

What would your autobiography be called? Finding your gift.

What books are you reading right now? Natural History of the Senses, The Kinship of Nature, Harry Potter (Japanese)

What are among the top places you’d recommend to someone who is visiting or new to Columbus? Of course the Conservatory! Short North. German Village. Akai Hana for Japanese food.

What organizations are you involved with in the community? CAPA, CATCO, Clintonville-Beechwold Community Resources Center, Experience Columbus

Tell us about a community initiative that you’re most passionate about. Expanded public funding for the arts.

What’s the most exciting thing about Columbus right now? The continued growth and vibrancy with expanding diversity.

What are three things that you think Columbus needs? Mass transportation, international flights, better national recognition.

If someone were to ask you what the “pulse” of Columbus is, what would you tell them? Eclectic.

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