The Very Worst Of Modern Executive Culture

If it seems like there hasn’t been much news in the Minnesota Orchestra Association (MOA) labor dispute, you aren’t imagining things. However, there was a kerfuffle earlier in the month over revelations that the organization paid President and CEO Michael Henson huge bonuses at the same time the institution was gearing up for what would become the ongoing season killing lockout.

ADAPTISTRATION-GUY-112Perhaps unsurprisingly, the MOA released statements justifying the bonuses and showed no sign of reconsidering their decision. Consequently, much angst was vented in social media and comment threads at traditional newspaper
outlets covering the story.

Most discussions on the merits of rewarding effort vs. achievement and what, if any, sorts of independent executive compensation review measures were implemented by the board don’t amount to very much. In the end, it all comes down to the people involved; simply put, those with the will to abuse a system that has next to no recourse for correcting abuses will do exactly that.

The ugly reality here is until the field decides to address this issue with transparency and takes self regulation seriously enough to begin rewarding stalwart governance and penalizing those bent on abusing the system, don’t expect things to change.

As for Henson’s bonus, you can count on the MOA leadership not caring whether it impacts the dispute or not nor should you expect them to backtrack on their justification.

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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4 thoughts on “The Very Worst Of Modern Executive Culture”

  1. Henson is doing exactly what he is supposed to do – the dirty work for insiders who have decided that leveraging the institution’s assets for development projects is more important than maintaining the level of the artistic product. They have a model to follow in Detroit.

    Deficits and musician’s “high” salaries are smoke screens for the larger fraud. Concert hall “improvements” are sold to stakeholders as enhancements that will further elevate the art and the orchestral concert experience. In reality, you will find that these improvements are designed to provide what amounts to a high end catering/conference hall, which will be a profit center in and of itself, and will in turn be an anchor for adjacent urban redevelopment.

    A resident world class orchestra that occupies most of the hall’s time and is dedicated to classical programming is not a good fit for a catering hall. That will consequently impede the attraction of new urbanites to fill surrounding buildings – and developers’ pockets – at least in the minds of the self-serving board members who stand to benefit handsomely. What easier way to chase away those uppity musicians that are dedicated to the pursuit of the transcendent and free up the hall for more commercial programming than to toss them to the curb like yesterday’s garbage with a pay cut – especially while the likes of Henson get paid handsomely to do it?

    Time to put together the Minnesota Wedding Orchestra.

  2. You have to assume that Michael Henson is doing what the Board wants. So while it’s fair to direct a certain amount of vitriol his way, since an orchestra manager worthy of the name would have resigned before agreeing to preside over this fiasco – ultimately he has done what he as asked. And they have rewarded him for it.

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