Reader Response: There Goes Joe

Last week’s article entitled There Goes Joe elicited several very passionate responses from readers.  Although the issue of executive compensation has been examined here before, it’s certainly a subject worth continued discussion.

First, was a response from a senior manager at an ICSOM level orchestra who takes issue with what I wrote in that article as well as several other articles which were published over the recent round of contract negotiations.

“You pooh-pooh the idea of needing to compare salaries for executives to attract top quality, but you seem to have no problem with that viewpoint in regards to musician salaries.

I by no means am advocating astronomical salaries for anyone – management or musicians. I would just like to ask that you be consistent in your assessment of whether or not increased salaries are necessary for an increase in the quality of job applicants.”

The reader went on to point out several past Adaptistration articles which refer to peer salary comparisons for musicians to justify one compensation level over another.  It’s certainly something I do quite often with a variety of ensembles.

Furthermore, our anonymous manager has a point; I do need to be consistent in my assessments of whether or not comparative analysis is a fair to use with musicians but not managers. 

However, I do think the reader is confused over the distinction between what I feel should and should not be used as comparative models.

When I compare one orchestra with another, these are peer ensembles. Meaning musicians with equal training and job responsibilities; it’s an intra-business comparative model.  But I don’t think it’s right to claim that in order to attract quality managers to this business you have to offer a competitive compensation package with their for profit counterparts; that would be an inter-business comparitive model.

If that were the case, then I shouldn’t be making peer orchestra salary comparisons between ensembles, I should be making salary comparisons between orchestra musicians and a for profit industry which utilizes a work force of similarly trained professionals, such as engineers or doctors.  If that were the case, then the average ICSOM & ROPA annual salary of approximately $34,000 is laughable.

Another reader, who characterizes themselves as a “four-figure supporter of music in Philadelphia” had a different reaction.

“Bravo!! I would like to be the first one to say that I will happily contribute to the Philadelphia Orchestra next season IF AND ONLY IF the incoming president’s salary is no higher than Kluger’s, with the performance-contingent increase you mentioned.

I am certainly not going to donate my hard-earned money to pay an inflated salary to some greedy bureaucrat who would require that much to take the job. Somewhere in the world there is surely at least one supremely talented and inspired person who would consider it the blessing of a lifetime to get paid almost $300,000 per year to run an orchestra filled with players like we have in Philadelphia.”

I would tend to agree with this reader’s assessment.  I would also say that I sincerely hope the decision makers in the Philadelphia Orchestra haven’t forgotten about The Big Challenge.  There certainly isn’t anything wrong with rewarding an executive for reaching defined accomplishments, but not the other way around.

So what do you think, is this concept of executive compensation worth a “Bravo!” or is it worth “pooh-pooh”?

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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