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MOSI taps CFO Julian Mackenzie to prepare museum for downtown move

TAMPA — Nine months ago, the Museum of Science and Industry hired Julian Mackenzie to turn around that institution's finances. Now it wants him to turn around the entire museum.

The museum, known as MOSI, named Mackenzie its new chief executive on Monday. The decision comes a month before MOSI shutters most of its 300,000-square foot building in north Tampa near the University of South Florida and prepares to reopen as a smaller museum in one wing of its campus.

"Very candidly, there is a lot of work to be done," Mackenzie said. "This isn't going to happen on its own; we've got to make it happen. But we're approaching it with a well thought out, well planned course of action. As I've said: I like to crawl, then walk, then run."

TAMPA BAY TIMES COVERAGE: THE MUSEUM OF SCIENCE AND INDUSTRY

Critics link new leader of MOSI to failure of Sarasota museum (July 11, 2015)

Unapproved loan, unpaid vendors among MOSI's troubling financial issues, report finds (Oct. 30, 2015)

Financial struggles continue for MOSI but optimism remains for downtown move (Dec. 5, 2016)

President of Tampa's Museum of Science and Industry resigns amid financial woes (March 7, 2017)

MOSI to close most of its building, IMAX to save money before move to downtown Tampa (May 18, 2017)

Mackenzie, 56, was hired as MOSI's chief financial officer last October and has led the museum on an interim basis since the resignation of former CEO Molly Demeulenaere in March. His salary is $150,000.

Mackenzie was first approached about the CFO position by a search firm, he said. He took over a finance department that was in disarray.

In addition to a backlog of bills, annual deficits, dwindling admission sales and considerable debt, Mackenzie said he discovered a complex and outdated accounting system.

"Some of the accounting was so complicated you couldn't see the wood for the trees," he said.

Mackenzie has a background in finance — he has an economics degree from the University of Wales — and has often served in turn-around roles for businesses. He has experience working in leadership roles at companies in medical technology, telecommunications, manufacturing, insurance and finance in the United States, France, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Italy. A British transplant, he's fluent in four languages.

"I don't want to appear as someone who enjoys going around firing people," Mackenzie said. "But what is exciting about this is from an institution that was kind of rudderless, we now have a rudder and our course is chartered.''

Under Mackenzie's stewardship, the museum has formulated a plan to remain financially viable while it awaits a move to Water Street Tampa, the downtown development of Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Bill Gates' Cascade Investments.

MOSI will close Aug. 14 and reopen in just the Kids in Charge wing of the building on Nov. 18 with lower ticket prices and less overhead and staff.

MOSI's board chairman says Mackenzie has quickly earned the trust of board members and its largest benefactor, Hillsborough County.

"It's Julian's leadership that has made this future possible, and he is exactly the type of sharp, experienced individual MOSI needs right now," said Robert Thomas, board chair and CEO of Two Rivers Ranch.

On Wednesday, county commissioners voted to give MOSI $2.4 million to help retire more than $2 million in debt and transition to a smaller footprint. Vinik has agreed to split the cost of the debt.

Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill has said he feels comfortable making that investment in part because of Mackenzie.

Unlike his predecessor, who was promoted internally after a national search conducted by a consulting firm, Mackenzie was quickly and quietly chosen to fill the role.

Though his resume has many stops and he has a reputation for turnarounds, he said he plans to stick around.

"I serve at the board's pleasure but my objective is to make sure MOSI is a financially sustainable institution and a successful and important part of our community," he said. "I'm not looking at this as a short-term gig."

Contact Steve Contorno at [email protected] or (813) 226-3433. Follow @scontorno.

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