The "Gruesome Details" Of Philly CEO Renewal

On 2/29/2012, the Philadelphia Orchestra Association (POA) issues a two page press statement announcing a multi-year contract renewal for President and CEO Allison Vulgamore. Music critic Norman Lebrecht reports that the deal will require approval from the bankruptcy court then, in turn, refers to an article on the matter by Philadelphia Inquirer music critic Peter Dobrin for the “gruesome detail.”

And Dobrin doesn’t disappoint when it comes to details. According to his article from 3/1/2012, here are some of the terms that POA board chairman Richard B. Worley calls “fair and reasonable” for an organization in bankruptcy:

  • A “performance-based compensation” cash bonus of between $50,000 and $150,000 per year.
  • POA board chair has the discretion to increase the maximum bonus to $175,000.
  • A retirement contribution of $125,000 per year, less applicable withholdings.
  • Up to $15,000 per year for supplemental disability insurance.
  • “Executive health benefits” of up to $10,000 per year for costs not covered under the group plan.
  • A car allowance of $5,000.
  • Free parking at the Kimmel Center.
  • Four weeks’ paid vacation.
  • $2,000 a year to pay a financial planner.
  • A one time, $50,000 bonus to be paid by June 2012 as part of an earlier bonus program for which she had not yet received payment (related details here).

According to Dobrin’s article, Vulgamore was “was unavailable for comment” but she did send an email message to POA musicians informing them of her contract extension approximately 40 minutes after the organization released the press statement. Several sources from POA musicians and administrators forwarded copies of the email memo.

From: “Vulgamore, Allison”
Date: February 29, 2012 3:45:59 PM EST
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Subject: My Contract Renewal with The Philadelphia Orchestra

Dear Colleagues of The Philadelphia Orchestra:

It is with pleasure and purpose that I share with you the news of my contract renewal, as President and CEO, with The Philadelphia Orchestra Association through December 2014.

As many of you know, I began my career in orchestra management in Philadelphia and I am very humbled to be here – in this role – now and for years to come. Although the past two years have been difficult for us all, I am incredibly proud to work with each of you now, and in these years to come. Your dedication to – and efforts on behalf of – The Philadelphia Orchestra have been clear and unwavering. And it is your work, your commitment and your passion that helped to make my decision to stay in Philadelphia quite easy.

I want to thank our Chairman Rich Worley and the Board of Directors for their continued confidence and commitment to our path forward. I also want to thank you for all that you have done – and all you continue to do – for our Orchestra. It is a privilege to serve with each of you and I look forward to all we will accomplish together in the coming years.

The press release to announce this news publicly is attached. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to let me know.

Yours in Music,
Allison Vulgamore

Allison Vulgamore
President and CEO
The Philadelphia Orchestra
260 S. Broad Street, 16th Floor
Philadelphia, PA 19102
Fax: xxx-xxx-xxxx

So what do you think? Did Lebrecht adequately sum up the announcement? Do you think the bankruptcy court should approve the contract extension under the proposed terms?

Download press statement

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 “The "Gruesome Details" Of Philly CEO Renewal”

  1. “Gruesome details” is exactly the right phrase.

    The bankruptcy court should cut Vulgamore’s salary by some amount and disallow most of the above benefits. It’s an outrage that she should get a gigantic extra pension contribution when the POA can’t find the money to pay for the musicians’ pensions.

    Free parking at the Kimmel Center only if the musicians also get free parking there. Otherwise, she can pony up.

    I admit that I’m surprised to see that her annual salary is $450,000. I thought the executive directors of the majors made quite a bit more than that.

  2. It will be fascinating to see what, if anything, the bankruptcy court has to say about all of this.

    As for the $450k figure, one item to consider in the difference is that the POA CEO does not have the responsibilities related to owning/operating a major venue; as do the CEOs in other major orchestras. that’s a major point I wish the papers would include more often.

  3. While a good CEO of a large non-profit should be compensated well (after all, she is running an organization with a $40 million budget), putting aside whether or not bankruptcy was the right thing to do, given that the Orchestra is in bankruptcy, many of the perks display a total lack of humility on her part. She’s asked the musicians to take big cuts to their salary and benefits, and yet she’s getting a car allowance, money to pay a financial planner, $10k for health care not covered by the health care program, etc. Could she try any harder to make herself out to be the 1%? It just reeks of bad taste. Did it really not occur to her that for the sake of appearances some of these things might be seen as excessive?

  4. Her contract guarantees a 28% of base salary pension contribution. She is helping to mastermind a bankruptcy whose primary focus is eliminating a musician pension contribution of 8% of salary. This is a thing of beauty.

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