A Big-Dig Gig: Museum Mom Nicole G. Small | Working Mother

A Big-Dig Gig: Museum Mom Nicole G. Small

The CEO of the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas
 erects dinosaur bones as she raises her two young girls.

Nicole G. Small

Nicole G. Small

My Job
For 12 years I’ve run the daily operations of the museum, primarily overseeing and then developing a new museum from scratch after merging three cultural institutions in 2006. We raised $185 million without loans or public money—all during the recession—to do this. It opened last December. Besides operations and fund-raising, I do a little bit of everything, including talking to customers. I don’t travel much lately—I’m either on-site or out in the community talking to partners about engagement. I occasionally travel to see another museum or attend a conference.

How My Work Life Works
I do the morning routine with the girls—an hour of family time. But I don’t think I’m ever “off” work. I sleep with my BlackBerry by my bed and look at it last thing at night and first thing in the morning. It’s still going on weekends, because the museum is open 363 days a year. I get home for dinner with the girls most nights, even if I go back out after for a work event (maybe a night a week). Justin, who runs his own real estate company, has a lot of flexibility to be home with the kids, which helps a lot. We have a caregiver who stays late one night a week for a work night—and sometimes a date night! But my kids are part of my work life and can come to “the office” on the weekends.

Staying Connected
My 7-year-old just got an iPad, so I now get the afterschool call or email. At first I panicked, thinking every call was an emergency. Now I say, “You can’t call four times in a row.” To keep the kids out of trouble, we have the “Mommy always knows” conversation. Them: “How did you know that?” Me: “Mommy can see what you’re watching on TV and knows what’s in your emails.”

Family Time
We are definitely known for Dance Party USA bashes—we do it a lot on the weekends. We also ride bikes, build things with recycled stuff and play outside. We travel as a family a lot—building family memories. We go to New York City. We went to Europe last summer, a very special opportunity. We saw Paris, the Eiffel Tower—we studied it first and talked about it a lot. We have two sets of grandparents in town who pitch in with school events I can’t make and when our sitter is sick. I’m so grateful for the family support. I don’t cook very well, but I try. Dinner is an ongoing nightly challenge, not my thing, but we do get it on the table. We sit down for family dinner five or six nights a week. Though I’d be lying if I didn’t say one night a week it might be cereal for my husband and me!

Me Time
[Pause] That was it! Actually, I had breast cancer last year. I’m fine now, God willing. But I had more home time then, and looked on the bright side. I swear, my chemo days, oddly, sitting with friends, were my best “me time” in 10 years! I still haven’t figured it out. I did do a “girl trip” to Napa in April.
My Favorite Things**
Shoes, iPad Mini (I’m coveting one), home-design websites, feeling better physically, family time, bike rides with my kids.

In My Bag

  • USB drive from a presentation
  • Breast cancer bracelet from a pal that says “This sucks”
  • One Goldfish cracker
  • Mismatched pair of children’s socks
  • Giveaway museum tickets
  • Comp card for a margarita

—as told to Barbara Turvett