Collateral Damage

Yesterday’s post about the American Federation of Musicians and Employers’ Pension Fund (AFM-EPF) $1.75 million pension obligation settlement with the Philadelphia Orchestra Association (POA) generated some intriguing feedback. In particular, one comment stands out in that it brings up some relevant issues regarding how all of this may impact other orchestras that are part of the Fund.

collateral damageAfter reading the AFM-EPF’s FAQ document explaining their decision to accept the remarkably small settlement (compared to their claim) and its impact on the Fund, the reader articulated what a good number of folks may be thinking.

It might as well have an executive summary that says, “This is how things work in the real world. Everything we said publicly was posturing–a negotiating position. Sorry if that confused our participants at any time.”

For CEOs at orchestras which participate in the Fund, this can become a real problem in that the POA/AFM-EPF ordeal may bolster fringe elements within their respective boards to begin pushing for similar solutions at their own institution.

Even in the best operating environments, orchestra CEOs constantly hustle to keep everyone focused on positive institutional goals and prevent politically charged extreme views from hobbling progress and unity. But during periods of increased economic stress, that plate spinning job can quickly become overwhelming if the wrong seeds find fertile ground.

It’s important to mention these things at this juncture in time; if nothing else, good managers deserve support from all stakeholders to push back against this sort of nonsense.

In the end, the last thing any good CEO needs is for the Philadelphia debacle to encourage board members who are susceptible to the lure of a politically charged fight to hijack the institution’s focus and determination with some sort of a pension holy war. Let’s all hope it doesn’t go that far.

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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