Molly Demeulenaere grew up on a horse farm in South Florida, where she spent most of her childhood. Her parents, Pam and Greg Demeulenaere, weren’t afraid to raise and homeschool Molly and her older brother, Brad, in unconventional ways—and perhaps unknowingly drew her toward her present job in an exciting and unpredictable world: as the CEO of MOSI.
“I had the wonderful opportunity to spend most of my school-age years learning in an informal environment, including visiting water treatment plants, nature conservancies, and even MOSI – which really sparked my interest in science,” recalls Demeulenaere, who also started working at the age of 13 with a large animal veterinarian, Doctor David Randall. “I worked for many years at his clinic, Big Cypress Animal Clinic in Naples, and he really shaped me into the thinker and worker I am today. From the first time I set out on house calls until I left his practice to pursue other career opportunities, Dr. Randall treated me with respect and gave me autonomy to learn, make mistakes and think for myself. He held others to the same standards and taught me that it doesn’t matter how old you are or what your background is, if you have a passion for something and work hard enough, your dreams can come true.”
What do you think is the secret to your family’s success?
Work ethic! In addition to working for the vet, I also had daily chores including milking goats, mucking stalls and even working in my parents’ carpet and furniture cleaning business. Going to work with my dad wasn’t enough; my parents pushed me to think like an entrepreneur and I started making pot holders on the way to clients’ homes in the morning and then would “pitch” them before he was done cleaning. Sometimes I would even look at their kitchen when we would arrive and make coordinating pot holders while we were onsite so I knew they would buy them before we left. I saved all my money and bought my first car when I was 15: in cash!
What is your biggest fear?
My biggest fear is fear. It strangles my confidence and reduces productivity, which has a very negative effect of both my work and personal lives. What is the worst that can happen? I fail? Ok, well, every person that has accomplished great things has failed at something, right? This is not to say that I don’t worry about it day in and day out. I set very high goals for myself and the people around me and risk-taking is in my DNA. This comes with its share of fear. I want to make my team proud, my organization thrive and my community a better place.
What advice would you give to other women?
Don’t let people tell you ‘no.’ By the way, I give everyone that advice. Don’t sit at the kids’ table. Show up, do what you say you are going to do and over-deliver. Don’t think about being a woman. Think about being the best professional, parent, mentor and community member possible. What else can people expect? On the other hand, remember what is important. Most people who have known me for a long time know I have had enough hair colors to match every color in the Easter basket—even pink and blue. When I was younger, I felt that expressing my individuality through fashion was part of my identity, and if people judged me by my looks, that was their problem. A few years later, when choosing my next path and thinking about the conundrum of self-expression versus career goals, someone asked me: What’s your mission in life? Do you want to change people’s lives or have pink hair? Enough said; the pink went away and I haven’t thought about it since. That is a lesson I wish I had learned a few years earlier!
What is your proudest moment?
Becoming the president and CEO of MOSI. I am 38 years old and I’ve traveled a very non-traditional path, and with hard work, passion, blood, sweat and tears, I have my dream job. I get to come to work every day and watch people’s minds expand. I yearn for more knowledge, and work with donors to transform children’s lives through education. Really, I can’t imagine having a better job, a job that makes me get up every day at 5 a.m. without an alarm and run to my office. Yup, still proud to be MOSI’s leader.
What is your biggest achievement?
I don’t think I am there yet. I feel there is so much more to do. I think I have benchmarks in my life. Most people don’t know it, but I was a professional ballroom dancer in my 20’s and got to travel around the world and opened my own dance studio in Sarasota.
What makes you happy?
Smiling, content and healthy people including myself and those closest to me. I have a wonderful partner and step-son, and when I am not working, I am spending time with them here and in Germany.
How do you relax and take time for yourself?
The beach, sunrise and sunset. Even though I grew up accustomed to seeing them, I still can’t get enough and not a week that goes by that I don’t marvel at the beauty of where we live. I love mid-century modern architecture and furniture. I can often be found scouring thrift stores and vintage shops for the next great find. Oh, and great food and wine.
What kind of message would you like to give women in the area?
It is time we start acting like the majority, be confident and give ourselves a break for not being perfect. Men aren’t perfect and you don’t see them worrying about it. Step back, look around and do something every day to make Tampa Bay a better place.
What is your favorite thing to do with your kids in Tampa Bay?
We visit science centers all over the world, but in Tampa Bay I have to say that the Tampa Trio of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) in the Florida Aquarium, Lowry Park Zoo and MOSI always top our list. Is that a shameless plug? Maybe, but I have been talking about being fearless, so I had better walk the walk.
What is your biggest inspiration?
So many! My parents; Dr. Randall; my first non-profit mentor, Patricia Caswell; my staff; science center CEOs from around the world, and the list goes on.