AABP Award 728x90

A Closer Look: Paul Jennings


.floatimg-left-hort { float:left; } .floatimg-left-caption-hort { float:left; margin-bottom:10px; width:300px; margin-right:10px; clear:left;} .floatimg-left-vert { float:left; margin-top:10px; margin-right:15px; width:200px;} .floatimg-left-caption-vert { float:left; margin-right:10px; margin-bottom:10px; font-size: 12px; width:200px;} .floatimg-right-hort { float:right; margin-top:10px; margin-left:10px; margin-bottom:10px; width: 300px;} .floatimg-right-caption-hort { float:left; margin-right:10px; margin-bottom:10px; width: 300px; font-size: 12px; } .floatimg-right-vert { float:right; margin-top:10px; margin-left:10px; margin-bottom:10px; width: 200px;} .floatimg-right-caption-vert { float:left; margin-right:10px; margin-bottom:10px; width: 200px; font-size: 12px; } .floatimgright-sidebar { float:right; margin-top:10px; margin-left:10px; margin-bottom:10px; width: 200px; border-top-style: double; border-top-color: black; border-bottom-style: double; border-bottom-color: black;} .floatimgright-sidebar p { line-height: 115%; text-indent: 10px; } .floatimgright-sidebar h4 { font-variant:small-caps; } .pullquote { float:right; margin-top:10px; margin-left:10px; margin-bottom:10px; width: 150px; background: url(http://www.dmbusinessdaily.com/DAILY/editorial/extras/closequote.gif) no-repeat bottom right !important ; line-height: 150%; font-size: 125%; border-top: 1px solid; border-bottom: 1px solid;} .floatvidleft { float:left; margin-bottom:10px; width:325px; margin-right:10px; clear:left;} .floatvidright { float:right; margin-bottom:10px; width:325px; margin-right:10px; clear:left;}
What led you to this new position as CEO of the Science Center of Iowa (SCI)?

I was very lucky to be invited to join an inaugural leadership fellowship at the beginning of last year called the Noyce Leadership Program. Seventeen of us were selected: 11 U.S.-based executive directors or CEOs and six from the rest of the world. It was a nine-month program. One of my peers in that program is a guy called Dennis Bartels, who runs the Exploratorium (in San Francisco). Dennis and I got talking during the first of our sessions on that program – he actually, I think, gets approached quite often into recommending people to positions – so he approached me and said: Look, the Science Center in Iowa is looking for new leadership. I spoke to one or two people in the field who said Iowa has a good science center and there’s still a lot of potential there. That was in August of last year, and I think my first discussions started shortly after that. I finally accepted the offer eight or nine weeks ago (as of May 13).

Were you ready for a new challenge?

I had been with my previous institution for eight years and there continues to be challenges and opportunities for that center, but I think the reality is eight years into that post, I was ready for a transition and I think realistically the organization was probably ready for that change as well. Just over 18 months ago, I was asked by the Scottish government to get involved in a second science center in Scotland about 60 miles north of Dundee because it was struggling financially. Because I think I had been through that before, the government thought I could help Aberdeen. Just at the end of March, they delivered their first break-even position, which is a nice note to leave on.

Is there main skill you’ll bring here?

I think as a foundation, I have a lot of business experience running this type of organization. I know how to address the types of challenges, and for me, I’m actually looking to build on what I did in Scotland rather than replicate. As my career in the science center field has developed, I’ve developed a better understanding of what it is to run a good science center and have become increasingly interested in how you better promote public engagement in science, how we better promote the role of science in society. Science centers first arrived just over 40 years ago; the Exploratorium in San Francisco was one of the first and then there was this second wave of science centers in terms of volume that appeared about 10 years or so with the turn of the millennium. The field is maturing and it’s maturing quite rapidly. The field has become much more global and so the challenges that we face in the science center field, they don’t stop at geographic boundaries. So that’s one of the things hopefully I’m able to bring: the fact that I’ve lived on a different continent and maybe have some different ideas and over the course of the last couple of years have been able to develop quite a strong network of peers in the U.S. that I have every intention of visiting over the course of the next few months to see how we might partner.

Where do you see SCI going?

I didn’t come to Iowa to be a caretaker of a science center. I came here to deliver some ambitious ideas. We have a great science center here; it’s a wonderful resource in science center terms. From a personal perspective, it’s certainly among the best I’ve ever visited internationally, so we have a strong resource base to begin with, we’ve got a very good team. Part of the challenge for me is how do we develop a great team that has, I think, an increasing number of specialty areas. Developing those niche areas of expertise can start to raise our profile very quickly.

What’s the biggest challenge you face?

From an economic point of view, there’s no new story there really, but science centers across the U.S. in particular have had to take very difficult positions in terms of positioning themselves during this downturn. Periods of downturn do actually shine a spotlight on opportunity, too, and I think a challenge for us and for me personally is taking that spotlight and highlighting where the opportunities are and grasping those and developing them very quickly. I don’t think SCI has been impacted in the same way other science centers have been across the U.S. I arrived at SCI over halfway through its financial year so we need to deliver the budget, but I’m very excited to get into planning for next year in terms of the many exciting things we can get involved in.

What is the biggest hurdle in your transition?

The role actually feels very similar, I think, because the science center field has matured at actually a very similar level. No two science centers are the same and they have different levels of aspiration, different levels of achievement, but actually the challenges are quite familiar. It’s a different country, so I think in terms of transition, the challenging thing will probably be that personal transition: driving on the opposite side of the road, just those very practical things. The fact that you don’t know the supermarket chains.

What do you miss the most about Scotland?

We have left family behind us, so I guess grandparents and extended family. That’s difficult. We’ll be heading back from time to time, and we’ll have lots of visitors.

Is there something you enjoy doing outside work?

Actually most of my time for the last few years has been taken up with professional development with this doctorate I’ve been finishing. I literally finished three weeks before we got on the plane. I go back in July to graduate, so there hasn’t been a lot of spare time recently. In that regard, weekends have been challenging because I’ve been studying, so it’s nice to have that out of the way and now we can look forward to those many things that we sacrificed to a certain extent over the last couple of years.

What got you into science centers?

Back in the late ’90s, I took a job working for a company called Merlin Entertainments (Group Ltd.). They are now second to (the Walt) Disney (Co.) in terms of operating commercial visitors attractions. When I worked for them, I managed a number of their aquariums. I worked for Merlin for several years and then was presented with an opportunity for writing a tourism-based facilities management degree. I took a year out to write that degree and validate it and recruit students onto it. The degree was validated around mid-2001, and so then by the end of 2001, we got students in the program, and at that time, I was presented with the opportunity of running this U.K. lottery-funded attraction in Scotland, which was the science center.

What do you like most about the field?

It represents a great challenge. We haven’t quite as a field bottled the essence of what it is to run a great science center. There are great science centers out there, but there’s no real blueprint that you can just apply anywhere. There’s a lot of hard work involved, so there still is a lot of mystery around what we do. Our mission is very much about promoting a learning agenda, and that’s a very valuable, important agenda. The thing that excites me is that we are very much about promoting not just a science agenda but a learning agenda more broadly.

Is there an accomplishment you’re most proud of?

I think more recently it’s finishing my doctorate. Professional development has been very important to me over the course of the last 15 years, and in that regard, the apex that I was working to over that time frame really was to secure a doctorate. My doctorate, the basis of it was change management and I’m very comfortable with change. We expect science centers to be dynamic and change. We will continue to build SCI’s reputation on the basis that if you come on a regular basis you will always see something new to engage your mind and hopefully getting you asking questions.

How did you make your first dollar?

In terms of my own dollars, when I left college I actually set up my own personal training company. I ran that for several years and took it to a point where I had the choice of: Do I continue with this or do something different? I took the latter decision. That was an interesting period.

Is there a piece of advice you live by?

A personal mantra I’ve established as I’ve gotten older is you don’t get a second shot at life so I was presented with a big opportunity in terms of coming to the U.S. and with that, you accept a certain level of risk as well. But if you don’t grasp those opportunities that don’t come up too often, then you’ll never know.

dentons brweb 090123 300x250