TAMPA — Since buying the Tampa Bay Lightning in March 2010, Jeff and Penny Vinik have fallen in love with the community.
In that short time, they began building a home in South Tampa, paid for a $40 million Tampa Bay Times Forum makeover, pledged $10 million to charity and proffered a bid to buy the troubled Channelside Bay Plaza entertainment complex.
And they haven't even moved here yet. They've been commuting from Boston for more than two years.
But soon Tampa will officially be home. Jeff, 53, will launch an office of Vinik Asset Management here, and Penny, 49, will enroll their youngest son in school.
If that's not enough to keep them busy, there's a little event on their August calendar: the Republican National Convention, which will bring 50,000 guests to "their" forum.
None of those demands takes precedence over their four children — Danny, Jared, Kyra and Joshua — or their almost-25-year marriage.
So how do they juggle it all?
"Efficiency is a family trait,'' Jeff says. In his case, enhanced by a civil engineering degree from Duke and a master's of business administration degree from Harvard. "We work hard to maintain the appropriate balance between work and family."
The New Jersey native and Wall Street rock star (he once managed the world's largest equities mutual fund) is a huge Bruce Springsteen fan. So in March, when the Boss' tour conflicted with the Cattle Barons' Ball already booked at the Times Forum by the American Cancer Society, the Viniks had an idea. In exchange for bumping the benefit to April, they offered dinner and concert tickets to 200 party patrons.
During the western-style ball where the Viniks served as honorary chairmen, Tampa Bay Times reporter Amy Scherzer lassoed the couple to a quiet spot and asked a few questions.
You gave away $50,000 at all 41 of the Lightning's home games this year to deserving individuals to donate as they choose. What makes you so generous?
Jeff: Both of us were brought up in a family environment of giving back and volunteering time and money. Both sets of parents were role models. We have given heavily to arts, education, health care and children. It's just the right thing to do. I lost my mother to cancer when she was 57 ... one grandparent when I was a child and one when I was in college. Cancer touches so many of us. It made (sponsoring the April 20 benefit) an easy decision.
You've taken on three sports franchises — the Lightning, the Tampa Bay Storm and a minority interest in the Boston Red Sox — while managing numerous other investments and commitments. How do you stay organized?
Jeff: I work intensely. I don't chitchat. I have great assistants — and Penny — to tell me where to be, when to be there and sometimes to dress me up. I don't call myself a workaholic, but there is no substitute for hard work.
How is long-distance home building going?
Penny: Extremely well. There's the usual expected headaches, and you always wish it would go faster, but they are working incredibly hard. Our schedule is so frenetic, but they are rushing to get us in before school starts.
Hockey brought you to Tampa, but what really drew you in? How do you spend your free time, if you have any?
Jeff: I love how easy it is to get around, how close everything is compared to Boston, how warm and welcoming the people are. We spend time with friends, going to movies. Penny loves watching Disney with our youngest one.
Neither of us are big beach people and I don't play golf. That's why I bought a hockey team, so I don't have to golf. We've been sampling a lot of restaurants. Can't say a favorite or we won't be able to get a reservation.
Penny: The only problem is that my sister won't move down here, too. They live five minutes away from us in Massachusetts and we're really, really close and our son is very close to her kids. I'm a New Englander, so we'll keep our house as our vacation house.
As the de facto hosts of the Republican National Convention in August, do you have a big role? If you enjoy your involvement, would you consider a political career?
Jeff: I'll be supportive of Tampa Bay in any way that I can. It's going to be a tremendous event right here inside this building. We want the area to bloom and the RNC is going to be very helpful.
I can't conceive of a political career. I love my work with Vinik Asset Management and the Lightning.
Editor's note: This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.