Animal Antics: Allison Blankenship’s job is an exotic adventure

ExecutivePeople, The Movers and Shakers of Metroplex Business, Dallas Business Journal, November 4, 2004

When Faith, the blind fennec fox from the African Sahara, squeals for a belly rub or Rocky the kinkajou, a rain forest honey-bear, hugs her, Allison Blankenship knows she made the right decision in 2000. That’s when the award winning corporate trainer for Fortune 100 companies started Zooniversity, a Dallas-based exotic animal education company that includes 50 animals you’d see in a documentary before you’d see in real life. Now, the "leap of faith" for the 46-year-old owner and zookeeper has grown from 20 shows and classes she staged in 2000 to the close to 500 she’ll present in 2004. She was interviewed by Cynthia D. Webb.

FAMILY: My husband, Bob, and I have been married for 22 years. Our son, Ryan, is 17, while our daughter, Jordan, is 13.

EDUCATION: I have a bachelor’s degree in biology from Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa., and a master’s degree in biomedical instructional design from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas.

HOMETOWN/CHILDHOOD: I’m a transplanted Yankee; I grew up in Toms River, N.J.

FIRST JOB: When I was 12, my friend Lisa and I decided to make money and we wanted to wear our bikinis and get a tan. So, we started a boat cleaning service. I’ve found it’s important to discover what you love and find a way to make money doing it.

MOST INFLUENTIAL BOOK: "The Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck showed how the bonds of family saw them through the most difficult of economic times.

ROLE MODELS: My Scottish grandmother, Emma Knox, who was extremely outspoken for her generation, was in her 70s when she won a city council seat during the 1960s.

CAREER INSPIRATION: My children. They begged me to start this because we talked about it like it was a dream. Now the green lizard on the side of our Jeep Grand Cherokee does embarrass them a bit, but it’s worth it.

LEADERSHIP STYLE: I’m working with children and animals now, so none of the corporate leadership styles work. I was very much a dictator in my former life; now it’s patience that makes this business work.

CAREER HIGHLIGHT: When I finished a stage show at Paul L. Dunbar Learning Center near Fair Park, I was stormed by dozens of little children who asked for my autograph.

PHILOSOPHY: When we graduated from college in the 1970s and 1980s, we were told that the corporate track was the only measure of success. I don’t think I’m the only one in my generation that’s been disillusioned by that, so I encourage the young people in my audience to find a real passion in life and find a way to build it into a career; the money will come naturally.

COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: I’m on the board of the Dallas-Fort Worth Herpetological Society, and I’m a member of the American Association of Zoo Keepers, the American Zoo and Aquarium Association, The International Zoo Educators Association, to name a few.

FUTURE GOALS: I’d host a program on Animal Planet.

PET PEEVES: Irresponsible pet owners, children with no manners and condescending parents at their children’s parties.

WORDS THAT BEST DESCRIBE YOU: Compassionate.

Dallas Business Journal