Is It Morally Praiseworthy To Do The Right Thing For The Wrong Reasons? (spoiler alert: no)

Transparency within the nonprofit performing arts field has always been a troubling issue, in short, most measures fall far short of where they need to be and the byproducts are a string of internal abuses, financial mismanagement, cronyism, and even embezzlement. So whenever calls for increased transparency are heard, it should be a welcome message but it seems that an exception to the rule is unfolding at Carnegie Hall.

Adaptistration People 131In this instance, Carnegie Hall board chairman, Ronald O. Perelman, became the focus of public attention following the release of an email he wrote to fellow board members asserting a “troubling lack of transparency” related to “an inability to obtain a full picture of Carnegie Hall’s financial operations, especially as it related to profits and losses involving performances.”

The story has been covered extensively within the New York media; The Wall Street Journal published an article on 9/16/2015 by Gregory Zuckerman and Jennifer Smith and The New York Times followed suit with an article on the same day by Michael Cooper.

According to those reports, it is becoming increasingly clear is that Perelman is apparently using his chairman position to advance a personal agenda against another board member and fellow billionaire, Len Blavatnik, who outbid Perelman in 2011 for control over Warner Music Group.

That piece of recent history becomes important in light of the fact that much of Perelman’s motivation for increased transparency stems from unspecified process related concerns related to Carnegie’s involvement with the Warner Music Prize, a $100,000 award given to a young classical musician. The prize, and related gala ceremony, is funded by the Warner Music Group and the Blavatnik Family Foundation.

During his brief tenue as chairman, Perelman has drawn considerable negative attention that includes campaigning for increased pop/rock programming and making statements that Millennials have a general distaste for classical music.

Consequently, even though his stated concerns over a lack of board access to concert event expenses seems like a good thing on the surface (and really, every board should have access to that data), it isn’t difficult to imagine that his motives have less to do with stewardship and more with advancing his own programming agenda.

As of now, it looks like Carnegie is going to suffer one way or another as Perelman has turned this dispute into an ultimatum where even personal agendas have ulterior motives. According to the New York Times report, Perelman wrote that “if we cannot get these issues resolved, I will not stand for re-election as chairman,” meaning, the organization must alienate some board members and large donors by supporting Perelman or cross him at the cost of alienating a different group of board members and large donors.

How anyone involved in the dispute doesn’t see this as the billionaire’s version of “I’m going to take my ball and go home” is a mystery. With any luck, Carnegie will manage to minimize the damage and put these issues to rest sooner rather than later.

Update: reports from this morning indicate Perelman may decide to resign as chairman as early as this afternoon. Keep an eye on NYC news sources as they appear to be on top of events in as close to real time as possible.

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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