Another Executive Opening

According to the 4/26/06 edition of the Roanoke Times, the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra executive director, Paul Chambers, has resigned from that position as of 4/25/06…

The article by Kevin Kittredge reports that Chambers cited the “differences between himself and the artistic membership” as reasons for his departure. Before his tenure as executive director at the RSO, Paul was the executive director for the Savannah Symphony Orchestra, an ensemble which shut down in 2003 while under Chambers’ leadership (there has been no replacement ensemble to emerge in Savannah since then).

According to the article, Chambers had a contentious relationship with the musicians over a variety of issues. In particular, the newspaper cited an observation from one RSO musician who believed it was a serious mistake for Chambers to contract his wife to provide marketing services for the organization.

At the same time, the players apparently grew more displeased when Chambers attempted to layoff another marketing employee who was also a member of the orchestra’s horn section. That action was staved off when some members of the orchestra donated a portion of their own salaries to prevent the layoff.

In the article, Chambers is quoted as saying that under his watch, marketing costs had dropped from $250,000 to $170,000 annually (the most recent RSO IRS Form 990 from 7/04-6/05 reports an expenditure of $261,284 for promotional/advertising in Statement 4, Part II). Of course, whether or not the consulting fees paid to his wife are included in those figures is unknown.

There’s a surplus of executive positions among a wide variety of budget size orchestral organizations right now; perhaps more simultaneous openings than ever before. At the ASOL jobs board, they have 20 executive director/general manager positions listed (not including the impending opening at Roanoke) whereas development positions -traditionally, a high turn over specialty within the business – only has 15 positions listed.

Although it’s good to see the musicians of an orchestra take an active role in executive accountability, I hope Roanoke doesn’t find itself in a position to go from the proverbial frying pan into the fire. Fortunately, the Roanoke Times article reports that the RSO orchestra manager, Brian Black, will handle the daily operational aspect of the organization.

Brian is a very competent operations specialist so all the outfit needs at this point is active fundraising efforts from the executive board members and someone to help fill the void in the marketing department (assuming the RSO terminates the consulting contract with Mr. Chambers’ wife). Although this is far from an ideal model of operations it’s certainly sustainable in the short term and absolutely preferable to the bankruptcy option implemented in Savannah implemented under chambers’ watch in 2003.

The next interesting task for the RSO is finding a new executive leader. Given the dearth of qualified candidates and resourceful recruiting services, that is likely to be a delicate operation.

It will be equally interesting to see if Paul decides to remain in the orchestra management business or seek employment in another field. If he decides to remain in the business, the current dearth of executive leaders may work in his favor regardless of his past work experience. For example, the Houston Symphony hired former San Antonio Symphony executive director Steven Brosvik, as their general manager toward the tail end of 2005.

The Executive Shuffle continues…

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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