Do We Need A New Business Model?

At least, that’s the question posed by Peter Dobrin in an article he wrote for the 4/5/2009 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer. The quick answer is no, but Dobrin’s article is representative of the normal sort of reservation and introspective analysis that accompanies any sort of unexpected critical event. In this case, the predicament is the economic downturn that deflated the value of orchestra endowments and in Dobrin’s article, he challenges the value of big endowments. Fortunately, that isn’t the problem…

Do we need to begin playing a new busines tune?
Peter Dobrin wonders if the business needs to begin playing a new business tune.

In the long term, the Big Endowment notion is entirely capable of sustaining the business as we know it and supporting managed growth. At the same time, there are plenty of areas where the business can become more efficient and work toward reducing individual abuses. As an aside, I was thrilled to see Dobrin chaff at referring to the orchestra field as an “industry.” I objurgate that term as well and prefer to refer to it as “the business.”

As such, I mostly agree with Dobrin when he writes “Real change happens only in times of crisis.” In fact, Adaptistration started as a venue for discussions about change and since its beginning in 2003, its manifesto has defined that approach.

“Change is difficult, change is turbulent, and change is painful; nevertheless, change is necessary for survival. During recent years, the environment of orchestra management has fundamentally changed. The task ahead is survival, and that survival will be based on how well orchestra management is able to adapt and evolve. This weblog is designed to present ideas and create a forum to help accelerate that evolutionary process.”

That was composed shortly after the 9/11 economic shock and it is every bit as relevant now as it was then. Although I don’t entirely agree with all of Dobrin’s observations I am glad to see someone else begin to question isolated issues of individual income. After all, that’s one of the reasons why I started the annual orchestra compensation reports back in 2005*.

Nonetheless, based on the examples Dobrin includes in his article, it seems that he’s primarily focused on business models of orchestras like Philadelphia; which is fine, and although that isn’t necessarily applicable to the field as a whole his observations helped me look at some of the recent troubles from a different perspective. All of this has led to some ideas I believe will help a number of institutions through this current season as well as prevent most of the troubles associated with future unexpected economic downturns, all without having to abandon the very real and necessary goal of the establishing a Big Endowment.

I’m currently working on all of this with a few other individuals and the plan will be ready to present as early as next week or if not then, immediately after the Take A Friend To Orchestra program at the end of the month. What I can say at this juncture is the business does need to change but that won’t require tossing the baby’s business model out with the bath water – there is a better way.

Stay tuned…

*As an exciting footnote, I’m in the process of creating a special compensation reports micro-site that will allow subscribers to access all of the compensation material that is usually reserved for those purchasing the print edition.

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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