Why Do They Keep Opening Their Mouths?

I finally had a moment to listen to the WOSU Open Line with Fred Andrle interview with Columbus Symphony Orchestra (CSO) Board President Robert "Buzz" Trafford and Executive Director Tony Beadle and I have to say that it never ceases to surprise me how quickly executive leaders can get in over their head. Here are a few goodies…

Keep in mind, these aren’t transcriptions and you should listen to
the entire segment below for yourself but here were some exchanges I
jotted down while listening:

Fred Andrle: [To Tony Beadle while discussing the proposed musician pay cuts] Will you take a pay cut?
Tony Beadle: Yes, probably 10% but more likely 15%.
Buzz
Trafford: But he isn’t being asked to work less…we aren’t giving him
three months off (referring to the time musicians won’t be paid due to
the reduction in the proposed 2008/09weeks)

Could Trafford’s response be any more defensive or callous? Why
bother to interject with a statement like that? How does it help the
discussion or foster a positive bargaining environment? It only serves
to antagonize stakeholders and makes it seem as though the CSO’s board
president cares more for the organization’s executive director than any
other stakeholder.

Fred Andrle: Is there a reason for optimism here at all (referring to negotiations)?
Buzz Trafford: Whether there is reason for optimism is a little unclear to me.

So why does Trafford bother to continue bargaining? Immediately
following his comment, he referred to his desire to get everyone on
board with what the facts are surrounding the organization’s current
economic condition. However, he spent more time attempting to debase
positions contrary to his own and it seems that if he is sincerely
confident in his analysis of the organization’s situation, he wouldn’t
have to be so aggressive to stakeholders posing legitimate points (some
of which popped up when the show took callers).

During several points in the interview, Trafford displayed a
dismaying lack of understanding about the business, especially when he
called Bruce Ridge the head of the national union when in fact, Ridge
is Chair of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera
Musicians (ICSOM), a conference within the American Federation of
Musicians. The error is akin to referring to Beadle as the head of the
League of American Orchestras.

Why Trafford decided to continue by bastardizing Ridge’s
comments when to do so only adds fuel to the bargaining fire is
sincerely puzzling. The only apparent purpose for this fire is so
Trafford’s can fry up a generous helping of red herring with a side of
poisoned fruit. I would have enjoyed hearing Trafford explain why the
CSO executive board made the decision to disband 2008/09 subscription
sales and renewals as early as January of this year, unfortunately the
topic never came up. However, one caller mentioned that although he
although he thought the CSO executive board did not lack passion but
they do lack initiative couldn’t have been more correct with regard to
this subscription fiasco.

This issue has been – and continues to be – the smoking gun
in the events leading up to an orchestra that has no reasonable
justification for closing its doors next week (and quite possibly for
next season). Managers and musicians can argue about structural
deficits and effort versus achievement until they turn blue in the face
but for anyone associated with this business to sidestep the
subscription issue in Columbus does so at their own peril.

Ultimately, the appearance by Trafford and Beadle appears to
have had no central message and no real purpose other than use the
public forum as an outlet to further petty personal arguments. There
was big talk from Trafford about facts but he supplied no more
substantive data to support his assertions than that he spent tearing
apart.

Kudos to Fred Andrle, he did a fine job at attempting to get
to the heart of some of the issues. I only wish he went a few
additional steps in some of his follow-up questions. Here’s a copy of
the WOSU program and you can find the original source here:

Postscript: I think it would do the business good to get
Trafford up in front of his colleagues at the League conference in a
few weeks and give me 30 minutes in an open public forum to conduct an
interview. I’m up for it if he is.

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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