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South Florida's Best and Brightest
Originally published: Tuesday, March 1, 2011 (12:00:01 a.m. ET)

Deborah Spiegelman
Miami Children's Museum Executive Director and CEO Deborah Spiegelman. (Photo courtesy of The Miami Children's Museum).
Deborah Spiegelman
The culmination of nearly a dozen years' worth of planning paid off on September 7, 2003, when the Miami Children's Museum opened to the local community the front doors of its 56,500-square-foot facility on Watson Island. At the helm of a massively ambitious endeavor to raise upwards of $25 million in funds needed to secure the project was Deborah Spiegelman, who, to this day, presides over the MCM as its Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director. Replete with classrooms, a resource center, and hundreds of galleries, the MCM quickly became recognized as a landmark of the city, and last year alone, it attracted more than 380,000 visitors. Spiegelman received her undergraduate business degree from the University and Miami in 1979, and almost immediately, dedicated herself professionally to public service. As such, she has championed causes on behalf of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, Mount Sinai Medical Center, and the Miami Project To Cure Paralysis.

Q: What advice would you give youngsters who want to embark on a career in your industry?
A: Have the passion and the belief in the mission of any organization that you get involved with. Because having the passion for what you're doing enables you to enjoy every day and to be excited about what you're working toward. If you have the passion, if you have the belief, and if you're happy, that's what life is about.

Q: Of what professional accomplishment are you most proud?
A: The most exciting day was opening the Miami Children's Museum here on Watson Island. The institution is more than 25 years old, and bringing together the dreams and the realization of opening a museum that's considered one of the top 10 in the country, here in the City of Miami, was a huge achievement.

Q: What's the most challenging part about your work?
A: The pressure of raising money because we're a not-for-profit. We've gotten very creative in coming up with diverse revenue streams. But it's always a challenge having enough money to fulfill our mission. Another challenge is that the community doesn't always know everything that we do. People often say, 'Oh, a museum.' But we provide so many services to children in our community through our scholarships. Our VIP program provides admissions to our camps and to our classes so that everybody has the same opportunities.

Q: What did you envision doing for a living when you were growing up?
A: I envisioned being in some type of creative business, although I wasn't sure what direction that would take. At times, I thought about being an attorney. Through my background in business, and then ultimately my work with non-profits, I became a part of the Miami Children's Museum, almost 20 years ago. It was somewhat of a different direction, but being the CEO has given me the opportunity to put my creative energy into play, as well as my expertise in fundraising and non-profit management.

Q: In ten years' time, I will be _________________.
A: Hopefully, I will be as happy and as successful as I feel today. If I'm not CEO of the museum, I'll be serving on the Board of Directors and seeing another generation of families that have grown up here.

Q: Who are/were your professional role models and why?
A: I have been very fortunate through my career to meet many people who were passionate about their roles, way too many to name. But it is their characteristics and dedication that truly stands out. Whatever the person, it was their deep passionate belief in the cause they were committed to and respect for their peers that's shown through. Those who listened, respected the opinions of others, and were there because they wanted to be, were the ones who inspired me. It is those who truly demonstrate their passion, in other words, 'Actions speak louder than words.' There are many ways for people to become engaged in the not-for-profit world -- through financial contributions, giving of time, or being committed to the cause as a goodwill ambassador. It doesn't matter, if it's the right fit, the payoffs are tremendous.

Q: If you could do anything else in the world for a living, what would it be?
A: I really wouldn't do anything else. I love being part of an institution that provides great experiences to kids. And being at the helm of an organization, being the CEO of the museum, is really an honor. That's because I get to work with such great and diverse people from our board, from the people in the community who support us, and from the young kids who come here every day.

Q: What's the best part about your job?
A: The gratification that I get every day from children and families having great experiences at the Museum. And seeing the happy faces, seeing the children running around enjoying everything that we've created.

Q: What's the worst part about your job?
A: Not having enough hours in the day to provide the support to everyone on our team.

Q: What's the one most important thing that experience has taught you?
A: In order to be successful, you have to have a dream and a vision and hold onto to it, regardless of what challenges you face. With passion and commitment, nothing can get in the way. Experience has also taught me to be open to new ideas and directions, and to explore new opportunities when they are presented. We are always looking to find new ways to challenge and to teach the children and families that walk through our doors.

Q: What's the best career advice anyone has imparted on you?
A: You really have to strive for excellence in everything you do. If you don't act, you don't get anything. Jeff Berkowitz, my Board Chairman, has a famous quote that I like to live by: "When asking someone for money, 'no' is just foreplay."

Q: What one thing would you do different/better if you could start it all over again?
A: Everyone always gets a question like this at some point in their lives and while it has its share of philosophical and psychological implications, I really find it counterproductive to think of what I should have done. I think it is more important to focus on "The Things that I still have to do," and all of the possibilities the future holds.

Q: What's your favorite South Florida charity?
A: The Miami Children's Museum. We are a not-for-profit educational institution which meets the needs of all children in our multicultural community. We encourage our visitors to play together, learn, imagine, and create. Our mission is dedicated to enriching the lives of all children by fostering a love of learning and enabling children to reach their highest potential.
Archive: 20 Good Questions
Best & Brightest: June 2011