2007 Compensation Report: ROPA Executive Directors

In an effort to mix things up from the previous Compensation Reports, the 2007 installment will be published in a different order. Instead of cycling through all the ROPA ensembles and then all the ICSOM ensembles, the 2007 series will be published by position. To begin with, we’ll examine compensation figures for Executive Directors…

Where The Numbers Come From
The data presented in this report coincides with the corresponding documentation from the 2004-2005 season. In order to provide information that is as accurate as possible, data is gathered from the following sources:

  • Executive Director (also called president and/or CEO) Compensation figures were obtained from their respective orchestra’s IRS Form 990 for the 2004-2005 concert season.
  • Total Ensemble Expenditures were also obtained from each respective orchestra’s IRS Form 990 for the 2004-2005 concert season.
  • Musician Base Salary figures were obtained from compensation records collected by the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) and settlement bulletins published by the Regional Orchestra Players Association (ROPA).

The executive director compensation figures include the combined amounts reported as what the IRS classifies as “compensation” and “contributions to employee benefit plans & deferred compensation”. However, each orchestra does not always report figures for the latter category.

The Musician Base Salary figures collected by the AFM for ROPA ensembles are done on an annual basis and reported in a booklet entitled Wage Scales & Conditions in the Symphony Orchestra. However, the majority of “Musician Base Salary” figures are not “salary” figures in the traditional sense as only nine ROPA ensembles pay a fixed salary to a portion of their musicians. The remaining musicians are all paid on a sliding “per service” scale.

Adaptistration makes no claim to the accuracy of information from documents compiled or reported by external sources. If you have reason to believe any of the information is inaccurate or has changed since reported in any of the above sources and you can provide documentation to such effect, please feel free to send in a notice.

What The Numbers Don’t Show
It is important to remember that the numbers shown do not always convey a complete compensation picture. For example, an executive director may have had a large increase in salary due to leaving a position and per terms of their contract they may have received a sizeable severance or deferred compensation package. As such, the cumulative compensation may artificially inflate their annual earnings.

These figures may not reflect bonuses or other incentive payments, therefore underreporting what executives may actually earn. Also missing from the figures are expense accounts and other perks, which are rarely reported on an IRS Form 990. As such, the cumulative compensation for executive directors may or may not be more than what is listed.

Additionally, although there are indications noting when individuals were not employed for a full season, the documents used to gather data do not indicate how much of the season an individual received a salary. As such, excessive adjustments in the percentage change from the previous season’s compensation may be artificially exaggerated or minimized.

Unlike the vast majority of their peers in ICSOM ensembles who earn no less than the “Musician Base Salary”, all ROPA ensembles use a tiered system of salary and/or per service payments. For example, although the Richmond Symphony may list a base musician salary of $28, 837, only 36 out of 85 musicians are covered by that base salary figure. The remaining players are paid using the sliding per service tier system and may earn as little as a few thousand dollars per season.

In the per service ensembles (19 out of 31), the figures listed in the “Musician Base Salary” are actually the average annual income earned by section string players (or section wind players if no information for the string players was available). This figure is reported by the AFM because it best represents annual earnings for the musicians who perform the greatest number of services in any per service orchestra; string musicians. However, those compensation figures are not guaranteed from one year to the next.

Furthermore, the “Musician Base Salary” figures do not include any additional payments offered by some organizations such as voluntary outreach services, and minimum overscale payments.

Finally, these figures do not include any of the opera or ballet organizations which are members of ROPA or IGSOBM.

Top Men

How Things Compare To Last Year

  • The average ROPA executive director continued to earn more than the previous year.
  • The average ROPA Base Musician Compensation grew as well, although at a slower rate of increase than executive compensation.
  • For the first time in the history of ROPA executive directors, the average annual compensation figure exceeded the six figure mark whereas the average ROPA base musician compensation continues to fall short of exceeding the Federal Poverty Threshold for a two person family unit.
  • For the first time in the history of ROPA executive directors, two individuals received more than $200,000 in annual compensation.

Who Earns The Most?
The number of executive directors earning over $100,000 in annual compensation increased from the 2003-2004 season to the 2004-2005 season:

  1. Pacific Symphony’s John Forsyte earned $232,541
  2. Toledo Symphony’s Robert Bell earned $228,352
  3. Omaha Symphony’s Robert Hallam earned $171,952
  4. Rhode Island Philharmonic’s David Wax earned $165,400
  5. Fort Wayne Philharmonic’s Christopher Guerin earned $135,517
  6. Dayton Philharmonic’s Curtis Long earned $132,950
  7. Hartford Symphony’s Charles Owens earned $120,593
  8. Wichita Symphony’s Mitchell Berman earned $110,300
  9. Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s Ruth Eliel earned $107,580
  10. Tucson Symphony’s Susan Franano earned $107,422
  11. Santa Rosa Symphony’s Alan Silow earned $101,921

In a related note, this list is likely one short as Austin Symphony executive Jim Reagan earned $134,112 in the 2003-2004 season but his compensation figures for 2004-2005 are unknown due to the fact that the Austin Symphony and the Mississippi Symphony declined to provide copies of their IRS Form 990 from the 2004/2005 season despite repeated requests via telephone and email. Furthermore, even though each organization confirmed that the documents were on hand, at the time of publication, they were not available at sources such as GuideStar.org.

Fortunately, this is a rare occurrence and the vast majority of organizations (ROPA and ICSOM alike) have been happy to provide copies of their respective IRS Form 990’s upon request. In fact, this is the first time in the history of the Adaptistration Compensation Reports that an organization has failed to provide or verify information upon request in a timely manner.

Keeping in step with the old adage, “There’s nothing more timely than the present,” recent events surrounding the Omaha Symphony collective bargaining negotiations appear to be evolving right along the lines of what motivates the Annual Adaptistration Compensation Reports.

In particular, the Omaha musicians have publicly expressed their collective concerns over recent increases in their President & CEO’s, compensation. According to a statement released by the musicians last week, they recently passed a Vote of No Confidence in their President & CEO due to his “failure to lead the organization effectively and efficiently despite spending hundreds of thousands on consulting fees since 2003.”

In essence, the Omaha musicians appear to be taking a very proactive approach toward demanding accountability of their executive leaders. As such, the individuals at the Omaha Symphony Association (and every orchestral organization for that matter) responsible for setting executive compensation are the board of directors; in particular, the board’s executive committee (commonly referred to as the executive board).

To date, the only public comment on the issue from the organization’s board of directors appeared in an article from the 06/23/2007 edition of the Omaha World-Herald by Ashley Hassebroek, where symphony board chair, William A. Fitzgerald claims that a large percent of the President & CEO’s compensation is derived from incentive based bonuses.

Given the musician’s position and their Vote of No Confidence, it appears that the musicians and the executive board have very different positions regarding whether or not recent organizational accomplishments warrant such disproportionate increases in executive compensation.

Consequently, it wouldn’t be the least bit surprising to see the discussion in Omaha boil down to the simple issue of defining “value” and if their President & CEO is producing results which justify his compensation. In the end, is the Omaha Symphony Association executive board merely compensating effort over achievement in lieu of instituting satisfactory review procedures?

Perhaps their executive board, and for that matter the entire business, would be best served if executive boards made the process they use to conduct executive evaluation/review activities more transparent. This isn’t to say that the actual review should be conducted as some sort of public hearing; however, it might be beneficial if the process were made public along with an outline of quantifiable benchmarks used by the executive board to measure accomplishments and failures.

Adequate processes tend to be very time consuming. Not only do executive board members need to evaluate income and expense data, they also need to conduct interviews with subordinate administrators, staffers, the conducting staff, volunteer leaders, elected musician representatives, as well as community and business representatives which the organization conducts business. Given the fact that for most executive board members, time is already among the least abundant resources at their disposal; as a result, implementing an ideal review/evaluation process is difficult.

Nevertheless, given the fact that many ROPA executive compensation levels are rapidly exceeding six figures and the average Total Ensemble Expenditures top the $3 million mark, executive board members have an inherent responsibility to perform a review/evaluation process that adequately rewards success and brings failure to task.

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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