2007 Compensation Report: ICSOM Executive Directors

Not unlike the previous season, the Executive Shuffle was a popular dance among ICSOM executive directors. In fact, 16% of the ICSOM symphonic ensembles had executive compensation figures which were impacted by a change in executive leadership…

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 and IGSOBM (Seattle) for the 2004-2005 concert season.

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. At the same time, there were some noticeable inclusions in the deferred compensation category for this season.

The Musician Base Salary figures collected by the AFM for ICSOM ensembles are done so on an annual basis and reported in a booklet entitled Wage Scales & Conditions in the Symphony Orchestra.

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 because they were 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 or reduce their annual earnings.

Furthermore, 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 the IRS Form 990’s. As such, the cumulative compensation for executive directors may or may not be more than what is listed.

Additionally, even though 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.

The “Musician Base Salary” figures do not include any additional payments offered by some organizations such as voluntary outreach services, and minimum overscale and/or seniority payments, all of which are more common for ICSOM musicians as opposed to their ROPA peers. Finally, these figures do not include any of the opera, ballet, or festival orchestras which are members of ICSOM or IGSOBM.

Top Men

How Things Compare To Last Year

  • Due to some wild shifts in the Executive Shuffle and a number of ensembles employing interim executives for longer stretches of time, the average compensation figure for ICSOM executives actually dropped by 4.52 percent. Nevertheless, if you removed the eight highest and lowest percentage increases and decreases from the previous season, the average ICSOM executive compensation grew by 3.64 percent (which is still less than half of the average increase over the previous four seasons).
  • For the second year in a row, one executive’s compensation exceeded the $1,000,000 mark.
  • For the first time in the history of ICSOM symphonic ensembles, the highest paid executive was a woman.
  • Although improved over the previous season, the 1.82 percent average increase in Base Musician Compensation was still below the rate of inflation and less than half of the increases from the 00/01 through 02/03 seasons.
  • The 2004-2005 was the first season since the Compensation Reports started which witnessed musician compensation at one orchestra (St. Louis) slide considerably due to a work stoppage.

Who Earns The Most?
Even though the overall average for executive compensation slipped, that didn’t prevent those at the top of the list from setting new compensation benchmakrs. Here’s where the money went in 2004-2005:

  1. The Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Deborah Borda earned $1,325,542
  2. The New York Philharmonic’s Zarin Mehta earned $767,807
  3. The Cleveland Orchestra’s Gary Hanson earned $559,227
  4. The Cincinnati Symphony’s Steven Monder earned $530,383
  5. Boston Symphony’s Mark Volpe earned $476,122
  6. Atlanta Symphony’s Allison Vulgamore earned $443,812

Whoever said there is a glass ceiling in this business isn’t paying much attention as Los Angeles Philharmonic President & CEO Deborah Borda set a new all-time-high annual compensation figure, for an ongoing executive, with her 2004-2005 compensation. According to the organization’s IRS Form 990, Ms. Borda was paid a whopping $1,325,542, which is just inches from the previous benchmark of $1,350,034 set in 2003-2004 by the Cleveland Orchestra’s Tom Morris.

However, one noticeable difference between these two figures is that Mr. Morris’ compensation package was due largely in part because he received a significant deferred compensation package which resulted from his retirement. In Ms. Borda’s case, her compensation was inflated due to a one-time lump sum payment related to changes in life insurance policies as a result of a recent contract negotiation (a lengthy explanation is offered by the organization on page 82 of their Form 990).

We’ll have to wait until the L.A. Phil’s 2005-2006 IRS Form 990 is released in order to find out what other improvements Ms. Borda will benefit from as a result of her contact negotiation. Nevertheless, even without the one-time lump sum payment detailed in the 990, she remains at the top of the 2004-2005 compensation pile with her annual compensation figure of $894,390; which is more than $100,000 ahead of her closest compensation rival, Zarin Mehta.

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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3 thoughts on “2007 Compensation Report: ICSOM Executive Directors”

  1. Every year, the “Parade” Magazine does a piece on compensation of individuals for the different jobs they do. After looking at the list of compensation for the various orchestras I am left with the same feeling. Compensation has little to do with relative quality. Though the elites may differ, there is not a whole lot of difference in the quality of the Baltimore Symphony vis a vis the New York Phil. There is probably a better orchestra in Buffalo than in Los Angeles, (you can usually compare their sound and their programing listening to Performance Today). Montreal has a much better orchestra than Chicago. Oh, I am sure that there will be disagreement about the relative merits and attributes of orchestras around the country, but clearly, compensation is a small and misleading factor in how fine an orchestra is.

    Joe Nichols

  2. This is good stuff, Drew. Do you have, or know where/how one might get this sort of data on staff salaries?

    The only public resource I’m aware of is the data presented in an organization’s IRS Form 990. Unfortunately, there’s no rhyme or reason determining who is listed beyond the Federal requirement for organizations to list the five highest paid employees who earn more than $50,000. ~ Drew McManus

  3. You compare the highest paid staff member of an organization to the lowest paid musician – doesn’t that seem out of whack? Why not compare the ED to the highest paid musician, or the lowest paid administrative assistant with the musician base pay.

    Thanks for the comment and I would suggest that you stop by for Friday’s installment where ICSOM concertmaster (the highest paid orchestra musician) compensation is examined. I would also recommend that you go through all the entries from this week as the music director compensation is examined as well.

    Additionally, there isn’t a reliable method to obtain compensation figures for the other employees you mentioned (besides the concertmasters, and even then the ROPA concertmasters are rarely available). At the same time, the gist of the articles have more to do with how organizations set compensation rather than basic comparisons. to that end, the figures used in the reports are the most reliable figures available for the majority of ensembles. ~Drew McManus

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