Cassandra Brown Ray
Chief Financial Officer & Vice President - Finance
Saint Louis Zoo
Location: St. Louis, MO
On her mother’s advice, Cassandra Brown Ray grew up following the mantra: Work hard. Be the best. Say yes. It will all pay off.
Shortly before graduating college, her INROADS internship-sponsoring company disbanded its management development program, disrupting her plan to launch her career. Then, early in her defense industry accounting career, she experienced a layoff from a company where she expected to work until retirement.
“I was blown away because I worked hard and fully expected to retire from that company,” she said. “They left me. Again, I was scarred.”
When she took a job at the Saint Louis Zoo, she had a short-term plan. Work a couple years and shift back into the corporate world. Thirty-one years later, she’s still at the zoo, now as vice president, finance and chief financial officer.
“I stayed committed to the zoo and worked hard, hoping (and praying) that I would grow into a management position and that I would never experience a layoff again,” Ray said. “Loving the zoo was never a part of my plan. It is an incredible place to work. Just as the zoo strives to provide an incredible guest experience, it provided an incredible work experience by treating me well, providing all sorts of leadership and growth opportunities, and allowing me to grow an amazing team.”
The zoo’s revenue has grown from $12 million in 1992 to $136 million in 2021, and Ray has played a key role in helping guide that financial growth.
Under Ray’s leadership, the zoo built its finance and purchasing teams, created and developed the first Saint Louis Zoo Diversity & Inclusion committee and attained $141 million in financing in 2022 to help the zoo enter its next chapter.
Ray has participated as a panelist at several Women in Leadership events for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and at Washington University. She was a speaker for the Washington University Women in Leadership class in 2022. Ray was recognized as Nonprofit Executive of the Year by the St. Louis American in 2019, Saint Louis Business Journal Most Influential Business Woman in 2021 and was recognized as a 2022 Delux Power 100 Distinguished Honoree.
Ray has served on the boards of Duo Dogs, Lindenwood University, St. Patrick Center, and St. Louis County Library Foundation and currently serves on the Finance and Audit Committee and the Diversity, Equity, Accessibility Committee of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
Cassandra is a tremendous lover of all things GIRAFFE!