An institution at the Franklin Institute, Wint to leave president’s post next year

After 20 years in the president’s chair, the head of the Franklin Institute, Dennis Wint, will step down next year.

Wint, the longest-serving president in the Franklin’s 189-year history, has guided the institute through major changes.

When he took on the job of President and CEO,  the Franklin Institute had just spent $71 million on its new Futures Center. It was not doing well.

“The Futures Center, which was opened in 1990, had not been as successful as the institute had planned,” said Wint, noting attendance had not risen as expected. The organization had also accumulated $23.5 million in long-term debt.

“One of my principles is, ‘thou shalt not accumulate long-term debt,'” said Wint. “My second principle is, ‘thou shalt not encumber thy successor.'”

Else thou shalt feel the brunt of Old Testament wrath?

“I’d rather not put them in that category,” said Wint. “I don’t think they rise to that level.”

The Franklin Institute is still carrying long-term debt, albeit about half of what Wint started with. During his 20-year tenure, Wint raised $130 million, which funded enormous changes to the building and the organization, including an updated Fels Planetarium, new exhibitions reflecting modern science, and the shrinking of the Futures Center to make room for traveling shows such as “Titanic” and “Body Worlds.”

“The traveling exhibit has been a part of our business model, and I think it’s been a successful part of our model,” said Wint. “But we always need to be careful — there are not many blockbuster exhibits. The sense that traveling exhibits are blockbuster exhibits is not correct. You need to distinguish between the two, because you cannot build a business model on blockbusters. They are just not there.”

Wint will stay through the end of next year, enough to time to see through two major events: the 2014 completion of the new Karabots Pavilion, a 53,000-square-foot expansion, which will house a new exhibition about the human brain; and finding a replacement for board chair Marsha Perelman, who will step down at the end of this year.

“There’s a lot of transition, and to have me transition earlier than the end of the year would put another unknown factor in the equation,” said Wint. “I said I’ll stay through the end of the year, to get us through a lot of this transition, and then it will be time to step down.”

After Wint leaves, he will become part of the faculty of Drexel University’s new master’s program in museum leadership.

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