Innovative Leadership

Impacting Every Facet of the Talent Pipeline

San Francisco Conservatory of Music’s new Bowes Center building will be home of the Center for Innovative Leadership.

“Insane in the best way” is how I’ve responded to most people who have asked how it’s been going in the five months since I announced I’d be leaving the California Symphony. I told the world then that I wanted to have a greater impact beyond one organization, and over these last several months, non-profits of all budget sizes, across all artistic disciplines (as well as some non-arts orgs), in all corners of the U.S. and beyond have reached out, including several top tier organizations. Call it insane, call it exciting, or call it whatever — the point is people literally all over the globe want change in their institutions. Leaders in our field on stage, off stage, and in the board room are actively seeking a new path forward. This makes me more optimistic for the future of our field than I have ever been.

The honest and pragmatic other side of that coin, though, is that I have also seen some common themes and problems across arts managers at various levels of seniority which need to be addressed in order to make this hopeful future a reality.

First, I’ve become more acutely aware of and concerned for the arts management pipeline. The arts industry is a hard business, and navigating the challenges requires a highly skilled workforce. Frankly, if we don’t open up the talent pipeline in this industry, starting with teaching music students about the non-performance aspects of the business and continuing through training all roles and ranks, we will not have the expert, pioneering, courageous leaders and professionals needed to achieve this hopeful and successful future that I know — and now know so many others also know — is possible.

Another major theme is the need for group trainings. It’s quickly become clear that my time one-on-one doesn’t scale and is cost prohibitive for some people and organizations. Group workshops and seminars are more time efficient and cost effective for the recipients, as well as allow for more people to participate and share in learning together.

The San Francisco Conservatory of Music invited me to help tackle these issues head on, and we’ve been working on a plan together since this summer.

Today we announced the launch of the Center for Innovative Leadership, of which I will be the Founding Executive Director and which will be housed in SFCM’s new Bowes Center building, opening in 2020. In this new role, I will oversee training and professional development programs to serve and build the strategic changemakers this field needs and deserves. I will still continue select one-on-one consulting work — it’s a blast working with you, and I love the opportunities to join you on site. Lastly, I’ll also take on the role of SFCM’s Vice President of Strategic Communications, overseeing the marcom team of the 21st century I’ve written about before (P.S. I’m hiring, and I want you, reader and follower of this work, to join my team).

So how do we train an entire leadership pipeline to pursue innovation, execute ideas that others in the business may have previously looked down on, color outside the lines, and, shall I say, change the narrative? There are five top areas for group instruction and development that address the themes I’ve seen seeing emerging:

1. Students need to know the full spectrum of career paths in the arts available to them. Conservatories are generally designed to do one thing: help students win a job in a major orchestra. I’ve said before that we need our talent off stage to match the talent on stage, and that this business needs more gifted musicians who choose to use their talents in an administrative capacity — a decision that’s not a back-up plan, or something they “fell into,” but rather a proactive pursuit that serves the art form just as well as exceptional playing. SFCM is already ahead in this area as every freshman is required to take finance, and every student participates in Winter Term, a few weeks near the beginning of the new year set aside for immersion into subjects beyond the standard curriculum. All the programs offered via the Center for Innovative Leadership will be open for SFCM students to audit and/or participate.

2. Early career professionals need training from proven high performers in the business. We as humans emulate what we see. When we see more women code, more young women pursue STEM in college; when we see Serena Williams win more Grand Slam titles than any other active player, more black girls take up tennis; when we see the U.S. National Women’s Soccer Team fight for pay equality, others are empowered to negotiate for their own salaries; when we see Stephen Hawking, we’re reminded that a physical disability has nothing to do with one’s intelligence; and when we see successful, diverse people in arts management across every type of job function, we see our future selves doing this same good work in those different roles. The entry point into the talent pipeline is so critical that a seminar for early-career professionals will be the flagship offering of the Center for Innovative Leadership, taking place over 7–10 days in the summer when participants can live in the brand new Bowes Center dorm suites. For every subject, top established leaders will not only share their own path in this industry, but cover the tools and strategies that are relevant in today’s changing landscape of funding, technology, and people management — and how they personally stay on top of trends in order to remain effective in their work. We are going to bring in the best and most diverse lineup of faculty and participants we can for this, so that everyone sees more people that look like them (more on this below).

3. First time Executive Directors, whether in the role for seven minutes or seven years, need guidance on the things that, no matter their arts management background, they just don’t experience first-hand until they’re in the hotseat: union negotiations and building musician trust, managing up to the board, casting a vision and bringing everyone along, setting company culture, and how to assemble a dynamo staff. Both while at the California Symphony and since, this is among the biggest cohorts from which I get calls. And all of that matters because this is the group of leaders that by-and-large constitute the talent pool for bigger CEO roles in the industry going forward. This short, 2–3 day “Level-Up” workshop will help this significant group get on-the-job training and support from me and from industry icons who have successfully navigated that first-time chief chair. The sooner in our careers we are refining our own leadership skills, the better for all of us — at our current organizations and future institutions.

4. Revenue generating professionals — i.e. marketing and development leaders — need to know the effective trends of today, not the best practices of 10 years ago. Just about every call I get, regardless of who from, has something to do with the need to increase revenue, for organizations large and small alike. Anyone who knows my work knows that I do not believe that audiences have to be fleeting, loyalty in decline, that subscriptions are dead, or growth unachievable. The “Level-Up” workshop for this critical employee segment will train marketing and development leaders of all budget sizes how to combat these challenges head-on; present case studies of marketing and fundraising successes inside and outside the arts; and talk through how to structure our teams to do this work well, how to become customer-obsessed, how to conduct UX research and listen to our users, how to deliver content that drives interest and raises organization visibility, how to follow the data (and which data to prioritize in a time-scare and data-rich world), and how to break down siloes and focus on revenue over the long haul — all not at the expense of the art, but in order to better fund it.

5. Boards need training just like the rest of us. Their entire, very successful careers generally take place in the for-profit sector, and then that success combined with a passion for the work our organizations are doing ushers them into these utmost important roles governing our very not-for-profit institutions. Similar to first-time executive directors, they often have to learn the ins and outs of the role on the fly. Yet boards are uniquely positioned to lead our organizations forward, to select the visionary and courageous CEOs needed, to help redefine what’s essential on and off the podium from the Music Director, and to advance the entire board as we navigate an ever-evolving paradigm in the arts. This special forum will be for board leaders who seek to forge new paths for the institutions they serve.

“Don’t you want a team of people behind you and a beautiful new building to do all this in?” SFCM President David Stull asked as he was pitching the vision to me. If I’ve learned anything in recent years, it’s that the deeper I drive a stake into the ground for what I stand for, the more people who feel the same enter my orbit. In this case, it was for the opportunity to amplify the work I was already doing in a role and venue that I hadn’t previously thought about because it didn’t previously exist.

This past September, Forbes published a list of “America’s Most Innovative Leaders” featuring their top 100 picks. The trouble is that only one leader on the entire list was a woman. One.

That list came out the week after David Stull and I agreed on the title for this role. What a credit that someone thinks a woman can not only be an innovative leader, but run an institution that trains others to do the same.

And before we all shake a finger at Forbes for their gross misstep (though the Internet pretty much took care of that for us with an equally gross, but deserved, backlash), consider that the performing arts industry is sadly not too different. Currently, 68% of all Group 1 orchestras in America (i.e. the top 25 orchestras by budget size) are led by men. All but one are white. Those men often have majority-male and majority-white senior staffs. The Forbes committee that determined their selection methodology consisted of three male business school professors and one male consultant. No wonder the methodology was flawed and the list so homogenous. No wonder it’s taking so long for our programming to become more inclusive of all the composer talent available, or why classical music audiences are 83% white (source: NEA), or why it’s “so hard” to recruit high performing underrepresented board members, or why we still see very few women on the podium and Marin Alsop is still the only woman music director at a major symphony orchestra 12 years after her appointment.

From the beginning, meaning in my earliest meetings with David Stull, we said we want diversity and inclusion to be at the core of this work. We already have a growing list of potential curriculum faculty and advisory council members that we’ll continue building, and yes, we are measuring both gender and ethnicity breakdown because what gets measured gets managed. We are serious about increasing representation and visibility for leaders of all stripes across the field doing excellent work.

Chart of gender breakdown among top orchestras.

Everyone in this industry, especially those of us already in positions of power and influence, must get serious about acknowledging our unconscious and unintentional biases in order to fully open up the talent pipeline. That takes courage and vulnerability, which I wrote about when leaving the California Symphony.

By this time next year, faculty will be assembled, curriculums nearly finalized, and applications and registration likely open for the first rollout of a few of these programs. Meanwhile, I’ll continue working with some organizations one-on-one as well as working with the rock stars already on the SFCM team to ignite this vision.

When I moved on from the California Symphony, I said I wanted to make a bigger impact beyond one organization. I said I had hope and excitement for the future of classical music. I said I believe we can change the narrative.

All of this is as true today as it was five months ago. And I am betting that we’ll be making it more true together very soon.

Aubrey Bergauer defies trends, and then makes her own. In a time when many arts organizations are finding it more and more difficult to meet rising ticket, subscription, and fundraising goals, Bergauer has dramatically increased earned and contributed revenue at organizations ranging from Seattle Opera to the Bumbershoot Music & Arts Festival to the California Symphony. Hailed by San Francisco Chronicle as a “dynamic and innovative administrator,” her focus on not just engaging — but retaining — new audiences grew Seattle Opera’s BRAVO! Club to the largest group for young patrons in the nation, led the Bumbershoot Festival to achieve an unprecedented 43% increase in revenue, and propelled the California Symphony to double the size of its audience and nearly quadruple the donor base.

A graduate of Rice University with degrees in Music Performance and Business, for the last 15 years Bergauer has used music to make the world around her better, through programs that champion social justice and equality, through marketing and audience development tactics on the forefront of trends and technology, and through proving and sharing what works in the rapidly changing landscape of funding, philanthropy, and consumer behavior.

Bergauer has shared her ideas in speaking engagements across North America, including conferences for Adobe’s Magento, Capacity Interactive, Opera America, Orchestras Canada, and the League of American Orchestras. Praised for her leadership which “points the way to a new style of audience outreach,” (Wall Street Journal) and which drove the California Symphony to become “the most forward-looking music organization around” (San Jose Mercury News), Bergauer’s ability to strategically and holistically examine and advance every facet of the organization, instilling and achieving common goals and vision across what are usually siloed marketing, development, and artistic departments, is creating a transformational change in the audience, in the office, on the stage, in the community, and is changing the narrative for the classical music industry.

“The Steve Jobs of classical music.” (Observer) Working to change the narrative for this business.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store