An Extraordinary Board Chair and Leader – As seen though the eyes of an Orchestra Musician.
Part One of Two Parts
By George Brown
Patricia A. (Pat) Richards, has been a strikingly busy woman since retiring from her position as Senior Vice President at Wells Fargo in 2009. And by all indications, this pace is hardly about to let up anytime soon. This month, Pat takes on, potentially, her biggest challenge when she assumes her new role as Chairman of the League of American Orchestras.
When she steps down from her position as Board Chair of the Utah Symphony and Opera at the end of August, she will have logged a remarkable nine years at the helm. And that auspicious run comes on the heels of a previous eleven years of service here, beginning in 1994, on the Board of Trustees of the Utah Opera prior to the merger.
To say that Pat is a unique leader among Symphony Board Chairmen nationally is an understatement, for so few of her peers can lay claim to her background in music and performance to pair with her impressive background in business. Indeed, for her twenty years on our Board, she’s performed with us for twenty-six seasons as an Alto in our Utah Symphony Chorus, and continues to sing with us to this day. (Jaws tend to fly wide open whenever I mention this detail to professional orchestra musicians around the country.)
Like many of us in the Utah Symphony, Pat is an out-of-state transplant. Born and raised in northern Illinois and educated in Chicago, she was a Midwest girl until age 24 when a fateful trip to Salt Lake to see an old friend back in the early 70’s revealed a radically different path for her. It wasn’t long before she had transferred from Northwestern University and moved here to resume her post-graduate work at the University of Utah.
Then once again, it wasn’t long before she assumed her first position at First Security Bank, as – she would discover – the first female ever hired as an Officer in a Salt Lake Bank. In her first year, she even noticed strange, well dressed men walking by her desk at the end of her lunch hours. Upon inquiring about this, a co-worker informed her that these were bankers from their other departments coming by to gawk at the new female officer.
In traversing four decades in banking here, Pat has worked a myriad of different departments learning the business from almost every angle, including Corporate Trust, Private Banking, Charities, Endowments and Foundations, Business Financial Services, Employee Benefits — and the list goes on — until retiring five years ago from her position as Senior Vice President for Wells Fargo’s Wealth Management Division.
Interestingly, soon after her arrival, she also won an audition to join the Utah Symphony Chorus, where she sang for twenty seasons before her work began to demand too many of her energies. However, shortly after leaving the Symphony Chorus she was invited to join the Board of the former Utah Opera in 1994, which as a result of the Symphony/Opera Merger, then blended with the Symphony Board in 2002.
A few seasons after assuming the Chairmanship of the Utah Symphony and Opera Board, her musical fate took yet another twist when she found herself back in the Chorus in 2008. This time however, her role was as member of the Orchestra’s Music Director Search Committee when a Conductor on the short list to replace Keith Lockhart had programmed the Mozart Requiem as part of his audition concert. Fortunately, Pat had kept up her singing chops and still remembered the Requiem choral part quite well. This was a creative new opportunity to engage her musical skills from the angle of a chorister, but through a ‘filter’ of observing what it takes for a conductor to be an effective leader of such a sizable group and project. She was grateful to the Choral Director for trusting her musically to be able to hop aboard late into the rehearsal process and still hold her own. And, in that process, she rediscovered her internal Choral Bug and from then on, she has remained an active member of our Alto Section.
In our next quarterly issue, we’ll focus on the recent national financial downturn, and what’s ahead for Pat.