Philadelphia Horticultural Society picks new leader without a green thumb

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 Matt Rader, a management consultant at McKinsey & Company, will serve as  president of the Philadelphia Horticultural Society beginning January 11. (Photo courtesy of PHS)

Matt Rader, a management consultant at McKinsey & Company, will serve as president of the Philadelphia Horticultural Society beginning January 11. (Photo courtesy of PHS)

On the eve of the its annual Flower Show, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society has chosen its new president, Matt Rader.

The PHS conducted a national search to replace it former president, Drew Becher, who left last summer. Rader has been living in Philadelphia for most of the last 15 years, most recently working for the business consulting firm McKinsey and Company.

“I’m from a town called Mercersburg, which is a very small town of about 1,500 people out in south central Pennsylvania, far outnumbered by dairy cows,” said Rader, 37, while visiting in his new office space.

Despite growing up in an farming town, Rader has little hands-on experience with horticulture. His resume has been focused mostly on community-building and sustainable urban development with a South Philadelphia business district, and nationally with the Urban Land Institute in Washington, DC.

Board chair Margaret Sadler says she wasn’t looking for a gardener.

“If you want to know about trees and plants and weeds and bugs and dirt, we’ve got 100 people at PHS. We didn’t need that,” said Sadler. “What we needed was someone who had a good sense of what an organization needs going forward, and somebody who understood the nonprofit world, which he does.”

Much of what PHS does is focused on sustainable urbanism, such as community gardens and the annual summer pop-up gardens, which serve as community outreach vehicles as they temporarily take over vacant land to create a showcase garden and serve beer. Three of the five vacant lots have since been slated for development.

“I’ve been at the nexus of community members, the city, the philanthropic community, and change,” said Rader. “I understand and value the importance of working together with those constituencies to create change.

Rader takes over next week and his first goal is to meet as many people involved in the Society as possible. He will get an opportunity at the annual Flower Show in March, where he can shake the hands of 3,400 volunteers.

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