Hospitality | Tourism
President and CEO
Milwaukee Public Museum | MilwaukeeEllen Censky was tapped to lead the Milwaukee Public Museum in 2018, as the organization was on the cusp of a major undertaking. With the potential lapse of its accreditation at stake, Censky has steered the organization through the planning for its new facility in downtown Milwaukee. With government funding now secured, two major challenges lie ahead: completing a $240 million fundraising campaign and constructing a new museum that will serve the community for years to come.
Education: Bachelor’s, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee; doctorate in biology, University of Pittsburgh
What was your first job, and what did you learn from it?
"Babysitting -- it taught me how to manage people and achieve desired results. My bosses (parents) set the expectations and I needed to manage my direct reports (kids) to achieve those results without a meltdown."
What piece of advice has had the most significant impact on your career?
“Check your ego. It is not about you.”
If you could have dinner with any two business leaders, who would you choose and why?
"Yvon Chouinard, CEO of Patagonia and Cynthia LeConte, CEO of Dohmen Co., Both of these leaders have taken new and interesting approaches to running a business that is profitable but also gives back in a big way to the community."
What are some of your favorite destinations/places to visit?
"Anguilla in the Caribbean, Black Hills of South Dakota, anywhere in Wisconsin."
What is one book you think everyone should read and why?
"I have three that together have influenced my thought -- 'Collapse: How Societies Choose to Succeed or Fail' by Jared Diamond; 'Last Child in the Woods' by Richard Louv; 'Braiding Sweetgrass' by Robin Wall Kimmerer."
What’s your hobby/passion?
"My passion is helping people to understand the interconnectedness of people and the natural world. My hobbies are gardening, hiking and crocheting animals for kids."
What is your favorite Wisconsin restaurant and what do you order there?
"Too many to choose one."
What would people be surprised to learn about you (fun fact)?
“I was once stalked by a jaguar while doing scientific field research in the Chaco of Paraguay.”
What was your first car? How long did you drive it for?
"Chevy Chevette, two years."
If you could take a one-year sabbatical, what would you do?
"Write a book -- either about my adventures in field research or the interconnectedness of humans and nature."
What’s the toughest business challenge you’ve had to overcome?
"The past two+ years of navigating COVID-19 -- from closing the museum (twice) to safely and gradually reopening to navigating the financial impacts and mitigating them, -- all that while continuing to plan for the new museum."
What advice would you give to a young professional?
"Embrace change! It is going to happen whether you like it or not."
What has been your/your company’s most significant success over the last 12 months?
"Getting the new museum project to this point -- working with the team to secure state and county funding for the project, releasing the renderings of the building design and kicking off the capital campaign."
What is one thing you would change about Wisconsin to make it even better?
As you enter your office, what would you choose to be your walk-up or theme song and why?
"Don't Stop Believin' by Journey. You can't do a major project like the new museum without believing every day that it will happen."
Is there a nonprofit cause that has special meaning to you?
"It may seem self-serving but the Milwaukee Public Museum has special meaning for me -- I had my first museum job here in the '70s and then, after spending time in museums around the country, returned in 2008 to eventually run it. This museum has a special place in this community and I am thrilled to honor that 140 year history of creativity and ingenuity by making the next version of the museum, our 4th home, even better than what we have all come to love."
What is the biggest risk you have ever taken?
"When I was doing research on lizards in the Caribbean, I spent lots of time camping by myself on a deserted island off the coast of Anguilla. The island was a known drug-drop place. I had to navigate keeping myself safe, not being lonely and doing my research. Probably the riskiest thing I have done, but I survived and the research is published."
What’s at the top of your bucket list?
"Visiting the Galapagos Islands."
What has you most excited about the future?
"The new museum, of course!"