Interesting Developments In Denver

The 2/1/2013 edition of the Denver Post reports that Colorado Symphony Orchestra (CSO) CEO Gene Sobczak has decided to leave the organization. Sobczak leaves the position after stepping in for one year following the ugly and very public board split led by former CSO board chair and current League of American Orchestras board officer Bruce Clinton.

150x150_ITA_Guy082The Post article, by Ray Mark Rinaldi, reports that the CSO will fill Sobczak’s position with the unorthodox solution of having current board co-chair Jerome Kern step in as a permanent CEO. According to the article, it appears as though Kern may not draw an annual salary for his administrative position.

A CSO press release from 1/31/2013 states that Kern will “serve as CEO and continue as co-chair of the association.”

It will be interesting to see how the arrangement serves the institution and although it is decidedly unusual, it may be the best solution, especially if Kern was already heavily involved in board development, fundraising, and strategic planning.

If the orchestra benefits from the presence of strong VP level administrators capable of absorbing some additional slack without overloading their current responsibilities, then the organization may thrive under this arrangement.

Some of the more obvious bear traps the CSO will need to avoid include the potential for becoming gradually more insularly as a result of the shrinking pool of executive governance members (Kern’s wife will continue to co-chair the CSO board). In short, too much power in limited hands increases institutional risk but it can also increase the potential for stability via increased efficiency and personal responsibility.

In the end, success will be determined by whether or not the CSO’s current challenges can be best served by this arrangement and if those in control are ideally suited for this unique set of tasks; if so, expect subsequent stability to be followed by parity minded growth. Beyond that, the next problem is recognizing the point where shifting governance back to a more traditional separation of duties and broader oversight is the best option for maintaining institutional harmony. Then again, given the CSO’s recent history, those would be good problems to have.

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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8 thoughts on “Interesting Developments In Denver

  1. It’s hard for me to believe that nepotism is the answer to our governance issues, but then again they can’t just walk away from each other if there’s a disagreement.

  2. That’s the problem we’re dealing with at the St Paul Chamber Orchestra. The administrator left as the Board was preparing to make their unreasonable contract demands leading to the lock-out. Rather than hiring a new professional administrator to come into that situation, the Board Chairman, a merger & acquisitions attorney named Dobson West, took over as the CEO. I believe he actually started drawing the salary after the lockout, when dealing with the public backlash became time-consuming.

  3. It’s common knowledge and was confirmed to me by a board member, but I don’t know what your standard of proof is. A smoking gun, or at least a pay stub?

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