The Executive Shuffle

The past year has seen quite a few executive directors move around from one orchestra to the next.  So who’s been filling these jobs?  Mostly executives from other orchestras.  Here’s a quick break down of some of the shuffling (I would love to have the time to draw up a little graphic so you could see the almost cyclic nature of this shuffle):

  • Alabama Symphony: Paul Ferrone, an insider who came from the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, where he served as general manager.
  • Charleston Symphony: Sandy Ferencz, an outsider who came from an executive position in the health care industry.
  • Chicago Symphony: Deborah Card, an insider who came from the Seattle Symphony where she served as executive director.
  • Memphis Symphony: Ryan Fleur, an insider who came from the Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra of Boston where he served as executive director.
  • Milwaukee Symphony: Mark Hanson, an insider who came from the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra where he served as executive director.
  • Minnesota Symphony: Tony Woodcock, an insider who came from the Oregon Symphony where he served as executive director.
  • New Jersey Symphony: Simon Woods, an insider who came from the Philadelphia Orchestra where he served as the vice president for artistic planning and operations.
  • Pittsburgh Symphony: Lawrence Tamburri, an insider who came from the New Jersey Symphony where he served as executive director.
  • Roanoke Symphony: Paul Chambers, an insider who came from the now out of business Savannah Symphony where he served as executive director.
  • Seattle Symphony: Paul Meecham, an insider who came from the New York Philharmonic where he served as general manager.

So here’s what I’m wondering: out of this list of orchestras, I know that the players in at least four have accepted moderate to large pay cuts over the last year and several others are currently in negotiations where pay cuts are expected.  But what about these incoming executive directors, are they working for equal or less pay than their predecessors?  Or did they negotiate a higher salary for themselves during a time when the musicians accepted a reduction in income?  One of these individuals, Paul Chambers found a new job in Roanoke after presiding over the former Savannah Symphony where he ran it into insolvency and the players into unemployment.

Unfortunately, we won’t know the answers to these questions until the orchestras publish their 990 tax forms for this fiscal year.  But I’m willing to speculate that in the current environment where board members believe that they have to offer comparable salaries to their for-profit counterparts in order to attract quality managers, these new executives are accepting those larger salaries without much discussion.  

If so, it’s about the most unethical thing I’ve heard of in this industry all year, especially in a non profit industry where the charitable purpose, not self-gain, is supposedly paramount.  But maybe I’m wrong, hopefully I’m wrong. I would love for someone to come along and prove that my hypothesis is wrong.  In the meantime, we’ll have to wait for time to tell.

In the meantime, I would strongly advise that all orchestra patrons visit It’s a wonderful site where you may register, free of charge, and obtain any orchestra’s IRS form 990.  In this form, you can usually obtain the salary for the several highest paid employees, including the executive directors.  Not only that, but you can review the breakdown of the orchestra’s expenses and revenue.  An informed patron is a smart patron.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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