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Executive Search Case Study:  CEO for the American Society of Landscape Architects

The Challenge

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) is the professional association for landscape architects in the US. Its 15,000 members lead the planning and design of a broad scope of projects – including commercial developments, streetscapes, green roofs, civic spaces, transportation corridors, and residential communities. Following the departure of a long-time chief executive, ASLA sought an innovative and accomplished CEO to address several strategic and operational priorities:

  • expanding and diversifying membership,
  • increasing the pipeline of students and emerging professionals, and
  • diversifying revenue.

At the same time, the CEO needed the vision, charisma and relevant background to raise the profile of ASLA and landscape architecture, and effectively communicate their impact in addressing urgent issues of our time:

  • mitigating and adapting to climate change, and
  • promoting equity, diversity and inclusion as a guiding principle for ASLA and the profession.


The Approach

Higher Talent was retained to lead a national executive search for the new CEO, working closely with a search committee of ASLA members representing diverse geographies and perspectives. The search was launched in December 2019 with a tailored, deliberative, flexible, and high-touch process. The value of this approach was heightened when COVID-19 struck. The search process included:

  • Broad stakeholder engagement prior to launching candidate outreach (conversations between Higher Talent and more than two dozen key members and external partners, a member survey, board and executive committee input)
  • Training, tools and guidance for the search committee throughout the process
  • Extensive research and outreach to identify individuals with the hard and soft skills to address ASLA’s opportunities and challenges, and the background and passion needed to represent the unique mission and priorities of landscape architecture and ASLA
  • High level of communication with the search committee and candidates
  • Flexibility in designing the interview process


The Result

Higher Talent reached out to nearly 300 individuals and after thorough vetting, recommended 13 shortlist candidates, including five women and six people of color.

In July 2020, ASLA hired Torey Carter-Conneen as its new CEO. In announcing his selection, ASLA President Wendy Miller said, “On behalf of the Executive Committee of the American Society of Landscape Architects, we are thrilled to have Torey join us. Torey brings to ASLA a wealth of experience in organizational management and strategic planning, a fresh outlook, tremendous energy, and a lifetime of committed advocacy for a more just society. From the climate crisis, to racial injustice, to diversity and inclusion – Torey has the strategic vision necessary to tackle the tough issues facing the Society, the profession, and the entire design industry. Torey is, without a doubt, the creative, innovative, committed leader we need at this moment to move the Society and the profession forward.”

Torey most recently served as Chief Operating Officer (COO) of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. Prior to his leadership at AILA, Torey was the Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer for Center for American Progress (CAP), COO and later Acting President and CEO at the LGBTQ Victory Fund and Institute, Divisional Controller of a privately held transportation management corporation, and an auditor at a CPA firm.

Torey earned an MBA from the University of Maryland Global Campus and holds degrees in economics and accounting from George Mason University. He is a volunteer member of ASAE’s Executive Management Professional Advisory Council and sits on the board of Shepherd’s Table, a community organization in Silver Spring, Maryland.