Global Conversation With: Drew Becher, President of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society

Layla El Tannir, for GPA -- Most famous for the Philadelphia Flower Show, one of the largest events in the world, PHS is on a mission to motivate people to improve the quality of life and create a sense of community through horticulture, a message that can resonate with people all over the world.

What is your responsibility as the President of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society?

PHS is a non-profit organization with 124 employees and we bring in about $24 million a year. My day-to-day is to manage the operations of PHS. It is a huge responsibility to make sure projects move at the right pace in the right way. We try to work through obstacles as efficiently as possible while keeping the larger vision at the forefront of our decisions.

Moving from being the Executive Director of the New York Restoration Project to your current position, what were some of the biggest transition lessons?

I used to be a small fish in a big pond but now I am a big fish in a small pond. Much of it has to do with the transition from New York to Philadelphia; people are actually interested in what I have to say here, they genuinely listen. The city as a whole is warmer, more friendly and open.

Which part of your career path played the principal role in landing you this position?

My work in Chicago, being the Assistant to the Mayor really set the stage for my work right now.

Could you discuss how campaigns and programs under your leadership have played into the global tourism element of Philadelphia?

The campaigns were designed to make Philadelphia a more beautiful, greener city. Eco tourism and garden tourism are huge components of day-to-day living, and are highly regarded through travel. With multiple efforts through the Plant One Million campaign, City Harvest program, PHS Pop Up Garden, and additional features at the PHS Philadelphia Flower Show we have added more fields in which the city has become a global player. Evidence of this is the number of requests we get from around the world to help them set up their version of the Flower Show. We’ve received international acclaim and awards for our work too.

Speaking of the PHS Philadelphia Flower Show, could you tell us one positive and one negative experience you have had with it so far?

I can’t single out one positive element just because we put in two years worth of work, so the success of the entire show is a positive. As for a negative, I am absolutely exhausted once the Flower Show is over. But the weather wins on this one. Usually the snow disrupts the flow of visitors to the show. We are looking at possibly doing a 365 Flower Show that will allow us to showcase all the seasons. So stay tuned for when, where and how that will happen.

How do you see the PHS Philadelphia Flower Show evolve in the next 10 to 20 years?

There will be big growth with pop up gardens. We will be focusing on using more of the smaller spaces with an organic edge. In terms of trends, the healthy eating trend will influence our themes at some point as it matches the vision that we have. Design wise, we draw inspiration from around the world, through culture, style and trends and would love to have fashion designers creating designs for us down the road.

Millennials are changing the way the world works. How have they affected change in PHS’s strategy?

Their mentality and lifestyle have affected our strategy. Millennials are more out and about. It is important for them to work and play effectively. This gives us an opportunity to revive old neighborhoods by placing a pop-up garden in the neighborhood to lift the image and drive business to that area. We have also recently transformed our office environment to the open office style, something with big appeal to the millennial workforce. Personally, I don’t feel the pressure to think outside of the box as much, because I know that I can form a creative team of millennials and they will come up with some of the greatest concepts.

Being more mindful of our environment is a worldwide effort. Who do you think sets a brilliant example?

Apple, hands down! Their whole message is focused around sustaining a healthy environment, something that we have put a lot of thought into. Google is another phenomenal example.

The Global Philadelphia Association is working towards earning World Heritage City designation. How do you think PHS fits into that designation?

PHS is the oldest and largest horticultural society in America. I think our largest events, especially the Flower Show, play into the designation as we bring value to Philadelphia’s heritage scene.

What do you think Philadelphia can do to improve its profile as an international city?

The people of Philadelphia should continue to build and maintain global connections to raise the profile of the city. Our role will include featuring garden designers and global gardening techniques and traditions at our events. Highlighting different cultures and lifestyles will make Philadelphians more globally aware and draw attention on an international scale.

I understand you just returned from Singapore. What one thing would you bring over from Singapore to Philadelphia, and vice versa?

We did actually take one huge thing from Philadelphia to Singapore, our Flower Show. They modeled their $1.6 billion public garden off of our Flower Show. Singapore is extremely clean, almost too clean, so that is a quality that I would bring over from there to here.

What’s next for PHS?

The Flower Show in 2015 is literally next up on our agenda, ”Celebrate the Movies.” An ongoing goal is to get our designers on the international circuit and focus on the next round of great public spaces in the city.

Do you know what your next career move will be? Do you have a dream job?

I have landed my dream job. But if I ever had to make another career move it would probably be to Berlin. Its balance of historic and current life generates an overall good vibe, making it one of the most desirable places for me to settle in.

Image courtesy of PHS.