Pat Richards, Pt.2

PRichards2An Extraordinary Board Chair and Leader – As seen though the eyes of an Orchestra Musician.

Part Two of Two Parts

By George Brown

One cannot talk with Pat about her time as Chairman of our Board without also focusing on the years of struggle the recession caused, not just for the performing arts or for the Non-Profit sector, but for the entire nation. When we broached the subject she paused for a moment, the brow furrowing a bit, and then described the feeling that everything she had learned about business, people, governance and music over the course of her entire life would be required of her to help see the Utah Symphony through these harrowing days. “I told myself, THIS is my final exam,” she stressed. However, when one looks back at the last seven years or so — on both a local and national level — it isn’t difficult to imagine how Pat has risen quickly through the ranks at the Board of the Orchestra League.

In the recession’s wake, and in tandem with cultural changes brought on by a dramatic evolution in digital technologies, symphony managements and boards around the country felt gob-smacked and were left seriously questioning the relevancy of the modern orchestra and its entire patron based, non-profit business model. Locally, the Utah Symphony confronted every one of these same pressing issues, as well.

Pat navigated these waters with an approach that, to these eyes, blended both old and newer school thinking. One could argue it was old school for staying the course and not upending the orchestral business model when a number of symphony managements around the country appeared to be scrambling (some, almost desperately) to implement new ones. And one could also call her new school for the high priority she placed upon transparency — towards both Musicians and Community — in the governance of the Orchestra. The same could be said about her continuing the policy of Musician inclusion on various Trustee and Management task forces – even finding opportunities to expand Musician participation when new committees were formed – at a time when this idea is still slowly catching on in many major American orchestras. And unlike some cities recently where Orchestra Boards are going from complaining about ‘donor fatigue’ to simply slashing budgets because fundraising ‘is now just too hard,’ Pat effectively spearheaded the Board’s effort here to get beyond the traditional ‘low hanging fruit” (a common fundraising term) and markedly increased the donor base.

Far from being heavy handed, her leadership style is rather a collaborative approach which recognizes that we – Board, Management, Labor and the Community — are all in this together. And instead of blaming the Union and the Musicians’ Collective Bargaining Agreements as ‘fundamental problems to be solved,’ Pat instead fostered improved relations, trust and understanding between the Board, Musicians and the Local. When asked specifically about this, she mentioned that this collaborative spirit was one aspect of Utah Symphony culture already well in place here when the recession hit, and it was key to helping steer this ship through some very frightening times. Another key element for Pat in getting the organization through this period was the ability to both attract and retain a high level of administrative leadership in CEO Melia Tourengeau as well as in artistic leadership with Music Director, Thierry Fischer: and she takes particular pride in this.

We are fortunate that leaving her post as Chair does not mean “stepping away” from the Symphony and Opera but rather “stepping back” as she has chosen to continue to serve on the Board’s Executive Committee. Personally, I wonder what life, and this industry, will look like to Pat Richards in a year after taking the helm at the League while concurrently stepping back in her role here. I think back on her words — “This was my final exam” – describing chairing our Board during the Recession — and wonder if that final exam is still yet to come. (If so, that would seem to displace us all here to mid-term status, Ahh, well….)

When one ponders her impressive career, twenty years on the Opera and Symphony Boards and a remarkable run of community service on numerous other boards and councils, one certainly could not fault her for wanting to simply “chuck it all” now and go chill at the beach. But that’s not Pat – not YET, anyway.

But a few more years down the road – and if the beach has a really kickin’ chorus – then who knows???

Read Part One of George’s article here.