Newport Beach resident Lawrence M. Higby on Tuesday was voted the new chief executive and board chairman of the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, formerly known as the Orange County Performing Arts Center, in an early election.

Higby, 64, replaced former Chairman Thomas V. McKernan as the head of the county's largest nonprofit arts organization after an election by the board of directors.

McKernan, who was elected chairman in 2008, left his third one-year term early, but is staying on the board of directors, said Tim Dunn, director of public relations. Elections are normally held at the end of the fiscal year in July, he said.

Higby has been the board secretary and vice chairman of board development since 2008. He also served in those roles from 1999 to 2005.

Higby has been on the center's board since 1990, and has served as the vice chairman of planning and marketing, and regional liaison. He also served with his wife, Dee, on the center's 10th-anniversary season cabinet.

"As we turn the page to the next chapter in the center's story, heralded by the renaming to Segerstrom Center for the Arts, it is a great honor to be entrusted with the board's confidence and to have this opportunity to be part of the institution's further development and growth," Higby said in a statement.

"It is truly the cultural center of Orange County, and we are committed to expanding its work and contributions to the community and to firmly establishing its position as an important world cultural destination."

In a statement, Board President Terrence Dwyer said Higby's commitment to the center and the board have been marked with insightful leadership and an unwavering conviction about the importance of the center in the community on many levels.

"I look forward to working with [Higby] in developing new initiatives that will help us to increase and diversify the center's audiences and to provide essential education programs to even more young people in our schools," he said in the statement. "As we move into this landmark 25th anniversary year, I know that his enthusiasm, his experience on the board and knowledge of the center from its very first season will lead us into an exciting new era in our history."

Higby will serve a one-year term in which he hopes to build on the work and success of his predecessors, he said in the statement.

"I share their dedication and commitment to the center, to Orange County and our generous and loyal donors and audiences," he said. "We're working together to build an inspiring legacy of the arts in which everyone in all corners of our community can participate."

Higby has served as the president of the South Coast Repertory from 2006 to 2008, executive vice president of the Los Angeles Times and the chairman of its Orange County edition from 1992 to 1994, and was the chief executive of Apria Healthcare Group Inc. from 2002 to 2008.

A graduate of UCLA for his undergraduate degree and graduate degree, Higby is the chairman of the New Majority, a Republican organization founded in Newport Beach.