An Interesting Turn Of Events In Palm Beach

It only took one calendar year, but the Palm Beach Symphony (PBS) may be emerging from a season of “living in interesting times” following the public announcement that executive director Michael Finn is leaving his position.

Adaptistration Guy Out The DoorThe PBS started making headlines in May, 2012 by making waves over an executive decision to bring in current students and recent graduates from The Juilliard School for concert event and in-school services. The result was a very disgruntled group of rostered musicians who felt like they were getting muscled out of work they believed they were not only capable of performing but entitled to as rostered musicians.

The entire plan fell apart in less than a month when Juilliard backed out of the proposed residency and distanced itself from the entire ordeal.

Barely a week later, additional fireworks erupted between Finn and musicians; this time around, music director Ramon Tebar was involved. This dispute focused on musician allegations that Tebar was going to replace most of them for the following season and as it turns out, that’s exactly what happened.

By December, 2012 the PBS hiring controversy was back in the news following the musicians’ fears coming to fruition with most of them not being hired back for the 2012/13 season. The entire mess ended badly when Finn put his foot down by authorizing the release of a public statement asserting that the dismissed musicians were artistically unfit and since the orchestra wasn’t operating with a collective bargaining agreement that provided any checks and balances in the artistic review process, they were simply going to remove the musicians.

Fast forward six months (and the introduction of a new PBS board president) and an article by Jan Sjostrom in the 5/16/2013 edition of the Palm Beach Daily News reports Finn’s decision to leave based on “philosophical differences.”

Maintaining a labor environment of mutual respect is a prerequisite for stakeholder peace during economically tough times and periods of transition. Consequently, if there’s a lesson buried somewhere in the year long PBS debacle it is this: during good times, an old school decider style approach to stakeholder relationships is risky business; embracing it during tough times is categorically foolish.

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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5 thoughts on “An Interesting Turn Of Events In Palm Beach

  1. As one of the musicians released last year, I can assure you that “philosophical differences” will always exist between this music director and anyone they bring in to “manage” this operation as well as any orchestra member. It is a situation that is completely out of control.

  2. I can say from direct experience and a host of observational data that a good manager can have as quick and as positive of an impact on an institution as the opposite. Consequently, I hope PBS is fortunate enough to get someone cut from that cloth.

  3. The reality is that sometimes a conductor can win over a naive board chairman (or entire board) and steer the ship onto the rocks before a competent manager can change the environment. That is what has occurred in Palm Beach.

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