Game Changer: How Billionaire Jeff Vinik is Helping to Remake Tampa

Infrastructure and street work will pave the way for the $3 billion live-work-play development Vinik envisions will transform Tampa into a vibrant, walkable urban area.

“You say, ‘What would be the most fun on a day-to-day basis?’ And I tell you, there’s nothing more fun than owning a hockey team and trying to rebuild half a city,” says Vinik. Leading with Knowledge and Strategy Vinik’s second act as sports team owner and developer may be just “fun” for him, but it’s serious business in Tampa. From the new development and the turnaround of the Lightning to the millions in charitable donations, the ripple effect of his presence is felt throughout the region.

Craig J. Richard, president and CEO of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation, says Vinik cares deeply about the future of the community and is a great ambassador in national recruiting efforts. “Jeff’s vision for city building and community engagement has helped take Tampa to a whole new level,” says Richard.

With no previous experience in sports management or real estate, Vinik says a key to his success has been hiring the right people. Unlike in the investment business, where he was a hands-on manager, his goal as an owner is to “set the tone” on the values of the organization and let others lead with specialized knowledge and experience.

Executives who work for him say he gives them what they need yet has a hands-off approach to day-to-day management. Vinik says he finds great leadership and “gives them the resources to be successful, not meddle in what they’re doing, and then holds them accountable at the end of the day.” He’s extremely patient and methodical in finding the right talent.

SPP President and CEO James Nozar says he had roughly 20 touch points with Vinik before he was hired. As a self-proclaimed “knowledge consumer,” Vinik is a prolific reader. When he started his quest to buy a hockey team, he spent nearly 10 hours a day for three months reading everything he could about sports business and ownership. He even read the collective bargaining agreement of the National Hockey League multiple times. “Anything that I get involved with, I try to immerse myself in the field and learn everything I can,” he says.

Jim O’Connell, CEO of his charitable organization, Vinik Family Foundation, describes Vinik’s management style as “intellectual curiosity-driven leadership.” The former fund manager’s latest deep immersion is urban development.

There’s often a pile of neatly pressed, bound reports stacked on his desk, and, on a typical day, Vinik is in back-to-back meetings with his chief executives and partners from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Most of these take place at a small conference table in his personal office.

From transportation and entrepreneurial incubators to the cost of the rents and marketing strategy, Vinik has insight into all aspects of the development. He enjoys continually
shifting course during the day between philanthropy, hockey and urban development. At one meeting, Vinik and Nozar jumped straight into an evaluation of potential partners and consultants for the Channelside project. A few hours later, O’Connell updated him on ideas for charitable donations.

Later that evening, Vinik watched the Lightning play from his personal suite. Vinik may provide guidance, solicit updates and have a final say, but it’s clear that he has strong confidence and faith in his executives.