Isaacson, Miller Seeks New Leaders for Philadelphia, Minnesota Orchestras

Isaacson, Miller New Leaders for Philadelphia, Minnesota Orchestras

January 19, 2018 – These are challenging days for orchestras in America. Rising costs, declining attendance and fundraising pressures make it critical that orchestras choose the right leaders to keep them financially sound, relevant and providing the highest level of music for their audiences. Among the search firms that are playing a vital role in this mission is Isaacson, Miller, which is currently seeking to fill the president and CEO roles for both the Philadelphia and Minnesota orchestras.

“The searches came about as a result of our previous work in arts and culture, music conservatories and performing arts schools as well as other orchestra CEO searches,” said John Isaacson, chairman of Isaacson, Miller. “Specifically, our work on the Juilliard presidency and the San Francisco Symphony gave both orchestras confidence in our ability to network both in and outside the field.”

Leading the Philadelphia Orchestra Association search are Mr. Isaacson, managing associate Katie Rockman and associate Chloe Kanas. The opening came about when Alison Vulgamore announced that she would be stepping down from her job of seven years when her contract expired in December. The role is expected to be filled by this spring.

The new leader will inherit an orchestra much recovered from tough financial times, including a chapter 11 bankruptcy. The Philadelphia Orchestra’s board and search committee are now seeking a leader “who can seize on this momentum, work in partnership with an exceptional music director, internationally eminent musicians, and a committed board, to bring new and exciting presentations of the classical tradition to new and equally excited audiences,” said the search firm.

Greater Financial Stability

The new president and CEO will be charged with leading the orchestra into greater financial stability through ambitious fundraising, including an endowment campaign, said Isaacson, Miller. The individual is required to focus on development, linking audience loyalty to donor loyalty, strengthening existing relationships and cultivating new donors.

Related: Isaacson, Miller Finds Seventh President for Juilliard

The board will be launching an endowment campaign during the tenure of the new president, and the new leader will be expected to leverage the organization’s brand recognition and world-class status in order to build out and better capitalize on national and international fundraising efforts, said the recruitment firm.

The individual must also establish a positive, supportive and empowering working environment. The new president and CEO will tend to relationships within the orchestra and the community. The leader must be a unifying force, strategically convening groups, facilitating meaningful conversation and guiding consensus-building processes, successfully navigating relations between a large number of musicians, staff, and board, donors and partners.

It is important that the new leader support the orchestra’s continued and evolving artistic excellence and work closely with music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin. The next president and CEO is the music director’s essential partner, the producer who channels this newfound excitement and finds partnerships, venues and donors who mirror Mr. Nézet-Séguin’s passion and enthusiasm, said Isaacson, Miller.

Job Qualifications

The search committee seeks candidates with a range of qualifications, said Isaacson, Miller. Some characteristics it is looking for include: respect and understanding of the classical music industry and American symphonic orchestras in particular; the creative capacity to become a leader and collaborator in the cultural community and a partner to the musicians and music director; a track record of building strong relationships with and managing a sizeable staff;  a demonstrated ability to cultivate a strong, collaborative relationship with the orchestra’s musicians, and a capacity to work respectfully, individually, and collectively on issues large and small; demonstrated change management skills; a warm, relational, and healing interpersonal approach; a strong record of success in board-building and support;  significant and tested financial acumen; experience building revenue streams, both earned and contributed; proven skills in donor cultivation and fundraising; attention to and care for issues of diversity, community, and access.


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The Minnesota Orchestra search is led by Sheryl Ash, vice president, with Allison Burson, a senior associate. The orchestra’s current president and CEO, Kevin Smith, is retiring in August. Like Ms. Vulgamore in Philadelphia, Mr. Smith has helped steer the Minnesota Orchestra through tough times, including the aftermath of a lengthy lockout, and left it on stable financial footing.

Isaacson, Miller describes the role as “an extraordinary opportunity to lead and strengthen a premier orchestra, one that is known for its high level of artistic excellence, its loyal audiences, and its international reputation as one of the world’s greats.”

Related: Management Consultants for the Arts Begins Hunt for Music Leader

A Collaborative Culture

The president will be expected to nurture the orchestra’s collaborative culture, ensure ongoing financial stability, support continued artistic growth, and continue to develop and expand the orchestra’s programs and audiences, said the search firm.

Under “the Minnesota Model,” a new approach is bearing fruit for the orchestra, said Isaacson, Miller. Musicians now sit on some committees along with board and staff and participate actively in strategic initiatives and programming. An unusual clause in the Orchestra’s current collective bargaining agreement provides the opportunity for musicians and management to work “outside the contract” through mutual consent and without setting precedent.

The Orchestra has rolled out a 2017-2020 strategic plan that sets ambitious organizational goals, including a fundraising effort of $50 million by 2020 to fund programming, endowment, and retirement of debt. A major part of the plan is to increase musicians’ wages and the number of players, said the search firm. The orchestra has grown in size from 84 musicians last year to 86 in 2018-19 and will go to 88 in 2019-20.

The next president will report to a 58-member board of directors drawn from leaders in the business, cultural and philanthropic communities of the Twin Cities, said Isaacson, Miller. As is typical of orchestral management structures, the music director of the orchestra also reports to the board and the two work in close partnership to sustain and build the organization.

Keep the Momentum

The overarching charge for the next president is to continue the momentum of recent years, sustaining the sense of shared purpose, while bolstering the organization’s financial resources and carrying out its strategic goals, said the recruitment firm. The president will be expected to continue implementing the current strategic plan while crafting over time, in collaboration with colleagues throughout the organization, a longer-term plan for future sustainability and success.

The new leader will be expected to continue to foster a partnership with music director Osmo Vänskä. The president is also charged with partnering with the music director to lead the development of innovative approaches to programming, including the ability to attract outstanding world-class guest artists and conductors to broaden and deepen the audience experience.

The new leader must also nurture the Minnesota Orchestra’s collaborative culture. The next president will be expected to foster the shared responsibility in planning and decision-making to take advantage of collective expertise in the organization and empower everyone involved to take ownership of the future, said Isaacson, Miller. At the same time, the president must strike a balance so that musicians are also able to pursue their primary and essential artistic obligations. The president must also ensure that the ethos of collaboration extends to the organization’s external partners.

Key Qualities

It will also be important for whomever fills the role to grow the orchestra’s revenue base through effective fundraising and continued exploration of new revenue sources, said the search firm. The next president will join the orchestra two years into an ambitious four-year financial plan to raise resources that will yield balanced operating budgets, build long-term assets, eliminate debt and provide technology infrastructure. The president will be expected to develop and lead other campaigns beyond the current one in order to position the orchestra for growth beyond 2020.

A collaborative leader and careful administrator, the Minnesota Orchestra’s next president should:  have experience leading a complex organization, in the non-profit, public or private sector; be caring, friendly, approachable, fun, trustworthy, and a great communicator with high emotional intelligence; have a can do attitude. present strategic skills and business and financial management skills;  demonstrate a passion for classical music and engagement with music either as a performer, music scholar or avid concert goer and informed listener; be the “connector” in an organization; able to listen and encourage ideas from anywhere in the organization and be sure all perspectives are heard and valued; demonstrate an ability to fundraise, particularly with major and individual donors; be able to develop a respected profile in the Twin Cities community of leaders; have a record of innovation and an optimistic spirit about the power of collective purpose and energy in an organization; be flexible and courageous in testing new ideas and taking risks.

A nationally recognized search firm focused on recruiting transformational leaders for mission-driven organizations, Isaacson, Miller has conducted nearly 5,600 placements since its founding in 1982. More than half of the search firm’s historical placements, some 2,800 assignments, have been in academia, involving university presidents, college chancellors and deans.

Related: Alexander Whitehead Places Artistic Director at Arts Club Theater 

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor; and Andrew W. Mitchell, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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