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

Jeff Vinik presenting a $50,000 check to veteran Peter Watkins, founder of the New Horizons Group Home for developmentally disabled adults.

While Vinik has a strong sense of confidence and expects the best, he also leverages losses as learning experiences, something he ties back to youth sports where he “learned how to lose.” Recently, the SPP team thought they had a tenant of nearly 300,000 square feet of an office building before the deal fell through.

After a couple of glasses of wine that night, Vinik went back to the office the next morning and straight back to work. “Out in the investment field, I’ve lost thousands of times, made thousands of mistakes in my life…. That’s the way it goes,” he says. “There are ups and downs, but you try to keep your eye on the long-term objectives…. and just keep moving in
that direction.”

Sincerity and a Desire to Boost Tampa
Transitioning from fund manager to sports team owner and developer has taken Vinik from his cherished private life into the spotlight. His management style may be the same, but he says becoming a public figure has been a big change. A relatively reserved man who doesn’t showboat his success, Vinik describes himself as a “quiet leader” who solidifies his leadership by respect earned through relationships and sincerity. He has been known to try to talk to everyone who works in the arena and makes employees feel welcome while also reminding them of their mission.

“I think leadership is just subtle in taking advantage of opportunities to hopefully send nuanced messages that make people want to run through walls for you, and for each other, more importantly,” says Vinik. Vinik’s corner office, which reflects his personality and leadership style, is functional and surprisingly ordinary for a man of his stature. There aren’t
any self-glamorizing photos of him with dignitaries or trophies, beyond a football helmet, a basketball from his alma mater, Duke University, and a 1993 Fund Manager of the Year Award from Morningstar. Waist-high file cabinets wrap around the perimeter, and his desk holds two large monitors, a smartphone and a stack of reports. Framed in one corner are the “Ten Commandments” of Vinik Asset Management. Those guiding principles include “Have an edge,” “Limit greed” and “Respect risk—live to fight another day.”

“We want to benefit the entire community economically and quality of life-wise. We hope it’s a rising tide that will help everyone.”

Since his arrival in Tampa, Vinik’s charitable giving has been legendary. In 2011, Vinik and his wife, Penny, introduced the Lightning Community Hero program, which identifies and
donates $50,000 to a local charity for every home game. It has since donated more than $11 million to 400 different nonprofits in the Greater Tampa Bay area.

At a game against the Edmonton Oilers in late February, for example, Vinik handed a $50,000 check to Peter Watkins, a Vietnam War veteran and founder of the New Horizons Group Home that serves developmentally disabled adults. The two men spent time in a locker room talking about how the money would be used, while Watkins’ family looked on. From the elevator operators in Amalie Arena to the fans, there’s a deep respect and appreciation for Vinik. Tampa Bay Lightning President and CEO Steve Griggs says Vinik is the only owner for whom he has seen fans wearing a jersey with his name on it.

In 2015, the couple committed $6 million to expand youth hockey in the area with the Build the Thunder campaign, and last year they gave $2.5 million to the Boys and Girls Club of Tampa Bay to renovate a recreation center. “My wife and I have tried to be charitable throughout our lives, and owning the team has really allowed us to give back and participate in the community,” he says.

Last year, he hired two twenty-something Rhodes Scholars to lead his charitable foundation. O’Connell says Vinik is very methodical about how he donates his money. Jeff and Penny Vinik want to ensure they’re making an impact not just in the immediate term but 20 or 30 years from now.

O’Connell and Meredith Wheeler, VFF’s senior policy analyst, have been tasked with doing a 360-degree assessment of how the fund should deploy its resources. Yet Vinik knows that beyond his charitable giving, his development project in downtown Tampa has the potential to spur development across the entire city, far surpassing the millions he has already donated. He says there’s an immense feeling of satisfaction from being able to use hockey, philanthropy and now urban development to create what he calls a “rising tide to lift all boats.”

“We want to benefit the entire community economically and quality of life-wise,” he says. “We hope it’s a rising tide that will help everyone.”

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