Editorial Cartoon: Age Of Executives

Not every generation gets to live during a period of major transition but everyone in the business today is lucky enough to witness what I like to call the dawn of the executives. For reasons I don’t remember (likely due to the gin being consumed during the conversation), a colleague and I were talking about the how the business has evolved over the past few decades.

Both of us have similar backgrounds in that we made the shift from music performance to arts management. As such, we decided to take the conversation another step by inserting some music history and after awhile, we determined that there have been three major periods of history where one group of stakeholders have had the more impact over others on the overall artistic direction of classical music; composers, soloists, and conductors.

It didn’t take long to determine that when applying the same criteria used to establish those three groups, it becomes clear that conductors are being steadily replaced by the executive class. We pondered the ramifications of this shift in influence but I didn’t think much of the conversation until months later during some email exchanges with Adaptistration’s resident editorial cartoonist, Dixon, at which point he summed everything up in only the way he can. Share and enjoy.

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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0 thoughts on “Editorial Cartoon: Age Of Executives

  1. A while ago I had heard of your “Age of the Executive” line through the grapevine and thought it was a really evocative title. For me, it conjured up the idea that executives were the next “virtuosos” in terms of their skill level.

    However, Dave’s comment and your reply about the union and “artistic influence” made me go back and re-read this post a little more carefully.

    I’d argue that both the union and good executives have somewhat analogous artistic influence in that their leverage isn’t directly tied to the music. Ideally, both are trying to create a stable situation where great performances can be made. If they positively effect the musical product on stage, it is through advocating for the workforce in the union’s case or steering the institution in the exec’s. (Admittedly the recent article on Pastreich and San Francisco tells a story of very direct artistic control).

    I think the contemporary executive’s challenge is about evolving institutional relevancy and not necessarily the larger art form. In other words, there is an important distinction between influencing symphonic organizations and influencing classical music.

    The Checklist Manifesto made the point that the effective application of existing knowledge, not more education, is the answer to many persistent problems.There is a great deal of skill, know-how, and passion in our workforce. What we more consistently lack is the executive leadership that can align all the moving parts effectively. And that task is not at its core an artistic one, at least not in the same lineage as composers, maestros, and soloists. But to be clear, it is equally important within the framework of professional orchestras.

    So I don’t completely agree that the rise of the executive is proportional to his or her “artistic direction.” I think it has more to do with the rise in the “level of playing” in the arts management profession. Adaptistration is an example of that growth. The Andrew McIntyre speech from a few posts ago speaks directly to an increasing level of nuance and sophistication.

    The challenge of managing something with the complexity of a big city orchestra is what has set the stage for the Age of the Executive. It is the skill required to tackle that task, especially in a recession, that makes the executive paramount.

  2. I wonder if the whole thing’s not cyclical. Prior to Beethoven, during some of the Baroque era, it was another Age of Soloists … A good look-through of the past 800 years of Western music would probably indicate some sort of cyclical behavior. (I’ve read broadsheet comments from 1700-whatever where people have talked about the arts not being self-supporting enough, and putting too much financial burden on “Persons of Quality” for subsidies.)

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