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Interesting Developments In Denver

The 2/1/2013 edition of the Denver Post reports that Colorado Symphony Orchestra (CSO) CEO Gene Sobczak has decided to leave the organization. Sobczak leaves the position after stepping in for one year following the ugly and very public board split led by former CSO board chair and current League of American Orchestras board officer Bruce Clinton.

150x150_ITA_Guy082The Post article, by Ray Mark Rinaldi, reports that the CSO will fill Sobczak’s position with the unorthodox solution of having current board co-chair Jerome Kern step in as a permanent CEO. According to the article, it appears as though Kern may not draw an annual salary for his administrative position.

A CSO press release from 1/31/2013 states that Kern will “serve as CEO and continue as co-chair of the association.”

It will be interesting to see how the arrangement serves the institution and although it is decidedly unusual, it may be the best solution, especially if Kern was already heavily involved in board development, fundraising, and strategic planning.

If the orchestra benefits from the presence of strong VP level administrators capable of absorbing some additional slack without overloading their current responsibilities, then the organization may thrive under this arrangement.

Some of the more obvious bear traps the CSO will need to avoid include the potential for becoming gradually more insularly as a result of the shrinking pool of executive governance members (Kern’s wife will continue to co-chair the CSO board). In short, too much power in limited hands increases institutional risk but it can also increase the potential for stability via increased efficiency and personal responsibility.

In the end, success will be determined by whether or not the CSO’s current challenges can be best served by this arrangement and if those in control are ideally suited for this unique set of tasks; if so, expect subsequent stability to be followed by parity minded growth. Beyond that, the next problem is recognizing the point where shifting governance back to a more traditional separation of duties and broader oversight is the best option for maintaining institutional harmony. Then again, given the CSO’s recent history, those would be good problems to have.

8 Responses to Interesting Developments In Denver

  1. Thomas Klaber February 5, 2013 at 7:52 am #

    It’s hard for me to believe that nepotism is the answer to our governance issues, but then again they can’t just walk away from each other if there’s a disagreement.

    • Drew McManus February 5, 2013 at 9:40 am #

      No argument there on the nepotism point and general form of governance but it will be interesting to see if it ends up being the right tool for this very unique job.

  2. Kevin Kooiker February 5, 2013 at 5:30 pm #

    That’s the problem we’re dealing with at the St Paul Chamber Orchestra. The administrator left as the Board was preparing to make their unreasonable contract demands leading to the lock-out. Rather than hiring a new professional administrator to come into that situation, the Board Chairman, a merger & acquisitions attorney named Dobson West, took over as the CEO. I believe he actually started drawing the salary after the lockout, when dealing with the public backlash became time-consuming.

    • Drew McManus February 5, 2013 at 5:32 pm #

      that’s interesting Kevin, what is your source for West drawing a salary?

  3. Sarah February 6, 2013 at 9:42 am #

    Would that be a problem, either ethically or legally?

    • Drew McManus February 7, 2013 at 1:03 pm #

      There’s no way to say without additional details.

  4. Sarah February 8, 2013 at 12:17 pm #

    It’s common knowledge and was confirmed to me by a board member, but I don’t know what your standard of proof is. A smoking gun, or at least a pay stub?

    • Drew McManus February 8, 2013 at 12:22 pm #

      That would be secondhand information and when dealing with a topic like this, it is not something I would encourage readers to assume as fact.

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