I know I’ve deposited Michael Henson in the bin of irrelevancy. And trust me, I’ve enjoyed leaving him there. But occasionally I can’t resist peering into the bin, especially after Bonusgate…and I want to take another peek now.
I was doing some research for a friend the other day when I came across this article from the Strib.
Minnesota Orchestra trims its staff
It’s from May 9, 2012. In it, the Minnesota Orchestral Association announced the axing of nine full-time positions (thirteen percent of its administrative staff) and seven part-time positions. In all, sixteen people received the soul-crushing news that their jobs were disappearing. Yes, it was acknowledged that some part-timers might come back after the hall reopened in “the fall of 2013” (how’s that workin’ for ya?), but the full-time position reductions were apparently permanent.
But on the plus side, the MOA was going to save $450,000 over the course of the 2012-2013 season!
Of course the November 2013 reader says, “Hey, wait a minute…”
As the entire orchestra world now knows, in the year before this sad story occurred, MOA CEO Michael Henson was granted $619,313 in compensation. This included $202,500 in bonuses (ha) and $386,916 in base compensation. Compensation before retirement and other benefits was $589,416.
Yeah. What I’m saying is that, according to this article, Michael Henson could theoretically have saved the jobs of sixteen people and still had $139,416 plus benefits left over for himself. This figure is, of course, a good chunk higher than a musician’s base pay.
I’m no businesswoman, but how is paying one man all that money a more productive use of organizational resources than keeping sixteen employees onboard? Was Michael Henson’s compensation the year before really more important than thirteen percent of the administrative staff? Who from the MOA wants to argue that point? And of course it begs the question: if this whopper of a bad decision was made, what others are lurking in the MOA’s closet?
The MOA’s greatest strength is supposedly the business acuity of its leadership. But upon analysis, that “strength” actually turns out to be a liability. If the lie of the MOA’s business acuity can be exposed – whether in media, state hearings, private conversations among influential people, etc. – the MOA will be significantly weakened. Once the MOA loses its fiscal credibility, it loses everything…in much the same way that the musicians would lose everything if their artistic credibility was ever seriously questioned. I predict that as more terrible business decisions come to light, board members will have to make increasingly outrageous excuses to themselves to justify all the craziness they rubber-stamped while they were apparently asleep at the wheel and Henson and his henchmen were drunk-driving the car. Yes, those other board members may be pissed at the musicians, and they’ll likely stay pissed at musicians for the rest of their lives. But they should be even more pissed at their current leadership for making so many easily avoidable mistakes, and in the process completely squandering the credibility of the entire board. The leadership created a situation where even if some board members have diamonds of ideas, those diamonds are marinating in so much BS that nobody wants to go digging. And unfortunately for board members, once people like Rep. Alice Hausman, Minneapolis mayor-elect Betsy Hodges, former Governor Arne Carlson, and their allies get involved, the MOA is going to have to play some serious defense in a way it hasn’t had to yet. It will be more challenging than ever for them to keep a united front once the curtain is yanked back and their professional reputations are put on the line. I’m not sure they’re prepared for any potential fallout. We’ll see.
But in short: if the public can make a loud enough noise about the financial failures of the MOA, eventually the board will start playing a high-stakes blame game (but quietly and behind closed doors, of course). Question is, how long will it take for the civil war to break out, and when will the public start to see signs it’s happening?