Overpaid Executive Martyrs

I read the article in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer by Peter Dobrin about how the Philadelphia Orchestra’s executive board approved a $10,000-per-year raise for its president, Joseph H. Kluger.  The article went on to state that the pay raise came at a time when the orchestra’s leadership:

” cut compensation for its music director, asked employees to take a week’s unpaid vacation, fired seven employees in a cost-cutting move, and the orchestra is again raising ticket prices, this time by an average of 3 percent for next season.”

As the article continues Kluger is quoted as saying that he offered to give up the raise, but orchestra chairman Richard L. Smoot “asked me not to.”  The article goes on to point out that Kluger’s now $285,000 annual salary is lower than many of his counterparts at other orchestras but that is no excuse. All that proves is that the other executives are even worse culprits than Kluger. This has to be about the single saddest thing I’ve heard all year.

Hearing board chairman Smoot say that one of the reasons they raised Kluger’s salary is because “if Joe were to leave, we would probably have to pay considerably more for his replacement.” is an example of how sorry this state of affairs really is.  That mentality exists only because people allow it to exist.  Hey Mr. Smoot, I’ll come take over Joe’s job for half of what he’s paid, get the organization in the black again, raise the patron base by 20%, and reduce operational expenses by 30% – all without me bitching about how great of a guy I am to the Inquirer.

I am thoroughly sick and tired of hearing about how hard these orchestra executives work and that they are underpaid and undervalued.  It’s complete nonsense of course, plain and simple.  Because I’m currently working on an article about this very issue, I’ll hold off going into details about why this is exactly at the heart of the problems within this industry.   You’ll have to come back once that article is published to read about the details.  But I have to rant about this situation now since it’s in the headlines.

This issue demands the attention of an intense spotlight in order to start forcing these “executive martyrs” to begin behaving properly.  I’m not convinced for a moment that Kluger was serious about turning down the raise, because if he were he would have done it.   It’s a simple black and white matter of doing the right thing and he should be ashamed of his decision. Furthermore, it’s disgraceful that he went on to tell Peter Dobrin about how much he gives back to the orchestra financially.  I have no respect for someone that has to trot out their charity as proof of their good intentions.  Giving to charity isn’t a public relations tool, it’s charity.

It’s time for Kluger to go, this is a disgrace and an embarrassment for the Philadelphia Orchestra as well as the entire industry as a whole.  I think the orchestra’s major donors (paging Leonore Annenberg), subscribers, and individual patrons should follow the lead of what recently happened at the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony and demand the entire executive board and Kluger step down.

The Metropolitan Opera recently got rid of their “Joe problem”, and I say it’s high time for Philadelphia to loose their Joe too.

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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