Kellogg World Alumni News, Winter 2000Kellogg School of Management
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Having a ball
Marvin Pinkert '84 redefines museum management

For Marvin Pinkert '84, job interviews tend to result in epiphanies. The first such experience occurred during his second year at Kellogg, when a potential employer asked him what excited him about selling bleach.

"By the time I stopped laughing, I realized I wasn't going that route," Pinkert says. "I realized the content of what I was working on mattered a great deal to me."

Pinkert found the perfect combination of content and commerce in the field of museum administration. As vice president of programming at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry, and now as a self-employed consultant, Pinkert has been part of a revolution in an industry that only recently began to adopt management concepts, from marketing to mergers and acquisitions.

"Museums are the most powerful educational tool in the world," Pinkert says. And, he adds, "they are a management frontier."

Pinkert's fascination with museums began at an early age. "My summer camp was in the backyard of the Museum of Science and Industry. They were too cheap to have a rain shelter, so every rainy summer day of my youth was spent in the museum."

After jobs working for the U.S. Foreign Service in Seoul and in university administration at Brandeis University, Pinkert decided to enroll at Kellogg hoping to advance to a leadership position. As a student, Pinkert first returned to the Museum of Science and Industry for a class project addressing the significant financial and management hurdles the institution faced.

In 1985, Pinkert accepted a job in the executive offices of Long Island University. His primary charge involved helping the new university president remedy the institution's perpetual financial woes. Their "LIU Plan" retooled the school's curriculum, emphasizing work-study and freshman retention. The plan was a success -- after 20 years in the red, LIU returned to viability and a renewed sense of mission.

In the late-'80s, Pinkert returned to his native Chicago and interviewed for an administrative job at a local university. During the interview, conversation turned to the fact that the Museum of Science and Industry had a new president.

"I never ended an interview so quickly," Pinkert says. "I got down on the payphone and called the new president with a proposition for overhauling the operation of the museum."

A few months later, he was brought on board. Pinkert worked with the museum's trustees and staff to develop "MSI 2000," a long-term strategic plan designed to reinvest in the museum and make it relevant to the science and technology of the 21st century. During his 11 years at MSI, Pinkert used all the skills he picked up at Kellogg. His duties included everything from analyzing the impact of admission fees and marketing research to figuring out how to squeeze a Boeing 727 through the museum doors. He also helped develop alliances with companies like Lego, BP, Amoco, Abbot Labs and Universal Studios that resulted in 17 new permanent and more than 35 temporary exhibits. Pinkert spent several years negotiating a deal with Titanic Ventures to try bringing the recent blockbuster Titanic exhibit to MSI. However, it was actually a fellow Kellogg alum, Joe Shacter ’87, who sealed the deal to lure the doomed liner to Chicago.

For Pinkert, one of the best things about the museum industry is being able to see the results of your work immediately.

"Seeing a kid standing there with his mouth open, saying, 'Oh my God!' or 'Dad, look at that!' is a fantastic reward."

As the MSI 2000 plan drew to a close, Pinkert decided to leave the museum in 1999. He relocated to the Washington, D.C., area, where he works as a self-employed museum consultant, helping struggling museums break the "perpetual cycle of poverty." Current clients include Discovery Communications, the Capital Children's Museum and the Historical Society of Washington. The Society is building an innovative, state-of the-art museum that Pinkert claims "breaks all the rules for history museums -- something that makes it the perfect assignment for me."

Even as this article was being written, Pinkert was moving on to a new challenge. The Archivist of the United States has invited him to assume the task of developing the education and exhibition experiences for the upcoming renovation of the National Archives building.

"For someone who cares about content, I don't suppose that I can top the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution," says Pinkert.

"I feel so lucky to have an opportunity to put my management training to this high purpose. There are still days when I can't believe that people pay me to have so much fun."

--Chad Schlegel

©2001 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University