Correction to This Article
A May 17 Page One story incorrectly said that Smithsonian executive Gary M. Beer is 46. He is 56.

Controversial CEO to Leave Smithsonian Business Ventures

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By James V. Grimaldi and Jacqueline Trescott
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, May 17, 2007

Gary M. Beer, the founding chief executive of the Smithsonian's business unit and architect of a controversial deal with Showtime Networks Inc., has announced plans to leave amid internal and congressional inquiries into his management, expense account and promotions of a female subordinate.

Beer told staff in an e-mail that he will not attempt to renew his contract in September as chief executive of the seven-year-old Smithsonian Business Ventures. The unit, known internally as SBV, runs museum gift shops, restaurants, theaters and other profitmaking ventures.

The departure of Beer, who earned more than a half-million dollars in 2005, along with the resignation in March of Smithsonian Secretary Lawrence M. Small, signals a move away from the high-flying, private-sector culture installed to make the institution run in a more profitable, market-based fashion. The era of Small and Beer was marked by corporate-style compensation, executive-rich expense accounts and deals with private partners that clashed with the scholarly, public-sector ethos of the 160-year-old institution.

"As the Institution reassesses the balance in public and private sectors going forward, I believe this is an opportune time for a change," Beer said in the e-mail late Monday. "The misinformation about SBV that has circulated in the last year is most unfortunate, as the record of accomplishment is one of which we should all be proud."

The acting Smithsonian secretary, Cristián Samper, thanked Beer yesterday in a statement but questioned "whether the current mandate for SBV is the right one."

Beer, 46, a former executive at Robert Redford's Sundance Institute, has come under increasing scrutiny in recent weeks as the Smithsonian has been roiled by controversy over its leadership and finances. Small was forced to resign following revelations of lavish expense account spending, including $2 million in housing and office expenses over seven years.

The Smithsonian inspector general, who earlier this year issued a report criticizing the business unit's performance, is also investigating Beer's expenses and is expected to issue a report this month. As that report neared completion, Beer told some of his nearly 500 employees at senior staff meetings that his expenses over five years included at least $10,000 in unitemized expenditures and $30,000 in limousine charges. Three Smithsonian magazine employees who attended one of the meetings said Beer, explaining the chauffeured car service, told the group, "I don't do Yellow cabs."

Beer said the comment was taken out of context.

"I often take taxis, but when I travel in New York I typically use a scheduled car service because it is more efficient and reliable," Beer said in a statement to The Washington Post. "I have found finding cabs -- particularly at rush hour or in rain or snow when I am headed for the airport -- to be unreliable."

Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) Monday sent a seven-page letter to the Smithsonian Board of Regents asking about the management of the business unit.

In addition to queries about Beer's performance, the letter includes a series of detailed questions about promotions and bonuses for one of Beer's lieutenants, Jeanny Kim, who was identified by her title, vice president and general manager of media services. The letter also asks for all e-mails between Beer and that individual, as well as for that vice president's personnel file.

Senate investigators have told The Post the questions were prompted by statements from former employees that it was widely believed in the office that Beer had an intimate relationship with a direct subordinate.


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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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