In case you missed the bombshell news over the weekend, the New York Times published an article by Dan Wakin on 1/11/2013 which reported recently hired New Jersey Symphony Orchestra (NJSO) President & CEO Richard Dare had quit in light of a 1996 case in which he was charged with an “attempted lewd act upon” a 15-year-old girl. Accordingly, today’s article will focus on issues related to due diligence and executive recruitment.
In Dare’s case, the New York Times article highlights two primary areas of concern that overlap with due diligence efforts during the executive recruiting process:
- The 1996 “lewd or lascivious acts with a child 14 or 15 years of age” charge, which the New York Times reports resulted from the victim’s mother catching then 31 year old Dare “naked in [her] house with her daughter.”
- An alarming number of embellishments and falsehoods in his provided list of business experience and professional accomplishments.
In the space of a few short years, Dare entered the field of orchestra management riding a wave of beautillion attention. He became better known on a national level following a series of articles published in the Huffington Post and garnered additional attention after being named a “rising star” in orchestra leadership by Musical America. And according to the NJSO press release announcing his appointment, Dare also served on the senior faculty of the League of American Orchestras and lectured at The Juilliard School and Manhattan School of Music on topics of Arts Management and Entrepreneurship.
Clearly, Dare managed to ensconce himself into high profile positions in the field and surrounded himself with individuals capable of exercising considerable influence.
So how did Dare manage to accomplish all of this in the space of a few years?
The Problem With Executive Recruitment And Due Diligence
It is no secret that executive recruitment is a bit of a revolving door in this field. There are only so many jobs and a very limited pool of candidates with direct orchestra management experience. As a result, once someone is a known entity or has the support of influential figures within the field, many orchestra search committees tend to gloss over traditional due diligence efforts assuming that if there was something untoward to uncover, it would have already surfaced and the paid executive recruiter would uncover any potential concerns related to professional accomplishments.
In short, due diligence has become more of an afterthought than a cornerstone of the executive recruitment process.
Interestingly enough, one of the areas of my consulting work which has seen a steady pattern of growth is in confidential executive candidate due diligence. It has become routine to receive a phone call or email from an orchestra board member serving on their organization’s executive search committee inquiring about conducting due diligence on a handful of executive candidates.
There is usually some concern among one or more members of the search committee but they are a minority among the committee or they don’t wish to upset the executive recruiter, the candidate, or the candidate’s professional references (which are usually culled from influential figures in the field).
This is where I usually enter the equation by conducting independent due diligence and providing a confidential report to the search committee member(s). If it all sounds a bit like a black bag operation, then you’re getting the right idea.
Having said that, it is important to clarify that the goal isn’t to uncover anything that would openly disqualify a candidate so much as providing enough reasonable data for search committees to make an eyes-wide-open decision.
There Are Exaggerations And Then There Are Exaggerations
In Dare’s case, it appears that there were a number of outright falsehoods but most of the problems with his professional experience fall into the category of exaggeration.
In my experience conducting due diligence, I have yet to encounter a candidate who doesn’t exaggerate at least a bit, even unintentionally.
Here are a few common examples of areas where due diligence provides greater clarity. Keep in mind, these are not specific examples but drawn from direct experiences.
Example #1 – Fundraising Prowess
A candidate will state that during his/her tenure with an employer s/he generated $20 million in new contributed revenue.
A cursory examination of public inspection financial documents can confirm this statement but a proper inspection might uncover that $14 million was secured one month after the candidate began with the organization and the actual work that produced the gift was due to other individuals.
So on one hand; yes, the $14 million gift was secured during the candidate’s tenure but on the other hand, the candidate was not directly responsible for generating that gift. At best, the candidate has managed not to torpedo the gift and to maintain it but the actual amount of new contributed revenue is closer to $6 million.
Example #2 – Fiscal Responsibility Prowess
A candidate will list that his/her organization managed to produce balanced budgets for four straight years.
Again, a cursory examination of public inspection financial documents can confirm or refute this claim but anyone who really knows this business understands that balanced budgets are accomplished by a number of legitimate and less than legitimate means.
For example, the budget may have been balanced at the expense of severe austerity measures or one-time draws from endowment principal, both of which are usually indicators of financial instability. At the same time, the balanced budget may have been achieved through an increase and/or maintenance of revenue streams and years of building healthy labor relations helped produce non mission damaging concessions. A proper due diligence review will provide the necessary answers.
To reiterate, the current dilemma within the field is proper due diligence is met more with resistance rather than being embraced as a necessary component of executive recruitment. Conflict of interest and cronyism abound in a field that once successfully mitigated these traits thanks to self regulation practices. But those practices have eroded to the point where the dyke has broken and the valley is flooded with agenda laden politics.
Short of adopting a Code of Ethics that contains detailed recommendations for conducting executive due diligence, orchestra boards will need to turn inward to find the necessary courage for exercising acceptable standards.
On that point, and if time permits, we’ll continue examining how Dare managed to rise so quickly in such a short period of time when his history contained so many red flags. We’ll also examine some of the more pressing issues the NJSO faces in light of the Dare scandal.