By Jim Bleyer
Molly Demeulenaere, who spent a rocky tenure as CEO of the Museum of Science and Industry, is now in Massachusetts still promoting the arts.
She is billed as a Development Consultant at the Cultural Center of Cape Cod, Inc., a ferry ride from Boston. That title means Demeulenaere is responsible for raising money, something she failed to do adequately during stints at two Florida West Coast museums despite a strong connection to former Boston-based hedge fund manager and downtown developer Jeff Vinik.
According to a restricted-access profile on LinkedIn, Demeulenaere is also a co-partner in Paper Plane Consulting, described as “a boutique museum consulting firm, founded by experiential geeks with a sense of wonder, strong business acumen and bold creativity.”
Demeulenaere claims the sobriquet “The Velvet Bulldozer,” states Paper Plane’s website.
The firm won an American Graphic Design award last year for producing an exhibition catalog.
Demeulenaere brought a threadbare resumé and less than minimal job description requirements to MOSI. There were 82 applicants for the position that required “a master’s degree or similar experience.” As Vinik’s protegé, she was a professional ballroom dancer who dropped out of Edison Community College.
Prior to the Tampa stint, Demeulenaere headed the Gulfcoast Wonder and Imagination Zone (G.WIZ), a Sarasota children’s museum that went belly up due to financial mismanagement. Under Demeulenaere’s stewardship, donors who had supported the museum for years felt disillusioned, betrayed, and angry about astonishingly poor fiscal management. It was discovered after her departure that funds earmarked for creating new exhibits were used for day-to-day operations. Less than five months later, G.WIZ shut down.
Vinik wanted to relocate MOSI to his now-floundering Water Street development in downtown Tampa. The museum, which caters to Hillsborough County students, never was a plausible fit for the Vinik project. That fantasy was eventually discarded.
The Tampa Bay Times, acquired by Vinik, never questioned the new CEO’s credentials and actually concocted a story that Vinik and Demeulenaere had a “getting to know you” meeting.” Sarasota sources have told Tampa Bay Beat that Vinik and Demeulenaere were acquainted prior to her being named permanent CEO at MOSI.
The failing museum continued to hemorrhage money under her stewardship but the Times covered the story with silence. The newspaper initially filed a lawsuit against MOSI for violating Florida’s Sunshine Law but suddenly backed off its pursuit of the Demeulenaere hiring. Despite lacking the resources of the Times, Tampa Bay Beat gave readers a glimpse into MOSI’s machinations.
After leaving Boston, Vinik reinvented himself in Tampa purchasing the Tampa Bay Lightning hockey team and ingratiating himself with the city’s one percenters. Many residents remain unaware that he managed two underperforming hedge funds, endured ethical controversies involving his management of the funds, and that he was a target of several shareholder lawsuits and an SEC investigation—simply because the Times refuses to report those cheesy episodes.
He initially ran Fidelity Magellan, the world’s largest stock mutual fund at the time, only to step down in 1996 after a costly bet on Treasuries.
Just prior to his departure, the New York Times reported: “In the last six months, shifts in the fund’s portfolio have been relentlessly scrutinized and roundly criticized as its performance lagged further and further behind the overall stock market. More than a dozen lawsuits have accused the then 37-year-old Vinik of stock manipulation, contending that he extolled a stock in public to keep its price up as he quietly sold large holdings -a claim that he denies.”
A year later, Fidelity Investments paid about $10 million to settle a lawsuit against the company and Vinik, its former manager. Plaintiffs claimed he misled individuals into buying Micron Technology stock at the same time the Magellan Fund he managed was selling the stock.
The class-action lawsuit accused Fidelity and Vinik of fraud.