New Administration Structure?

There is something interesting/puzzling going on locally with the Honolulu Symphony organizational structure. I was going to let Drew McManus over at Adaptistration because he is the authority on the strange world of orchestras. But dang it, the whole thing is making me curious so I gotta say something.

And if Drew doesn’t like it, well he is 5,000 miles away 😛 What’s he gonna do? He has friend here though. If you hear I got killed in a freak oboe accident, you will know it is him!

Anyway, enough jabbering here is the story.

Honolulu Symphony President Steven Bloom is stepping down apparently to leave symphony management altogether. The chair of the board will be taking over administrative duties until a replacement can be found. Here is the interesting part–they are going to appoint a volunteer CEO of the Symphony who will oversee whomever the replacement is.

According to the Honolulu Advertiser:

“As the symphony’s CEO, Cayetano would “oversee the administration of the symphony and … the president of the symphony would report to and be accountable to her,” Jackson said. “But her main role will be building the board and working on fund-raising.”

The interesting thing is this. Usually, the president/executive director of a non-profit answers to a volunteer board of directors of which there is a chair. The board sets policy and approves plans for the general direction of the organization. The president/executive director oversees the staff efforts in the execution of these general policies. Often he/she may go to the board for approval of a program the staff has proposed that will help in the pursuit of the organizational mission.

As the top administrator, the president/executive director is usually paid. However, the symphony is proposing an unpaid CEO position to whom this person will report. Presumably, the CEO will report to the board.

A bunch of questions come up. Since it ain’t easy running a symphony, how much time a week will the CEO be devoting to the job? Is the president pretty much doing the same as before, but essentially under more direct supervision of a board representative? Will the CEO oversee the staff then as well?

Is current president leaving because he resented the fact someone was being appointed to be his personal watchdog? (According to another article, the CEO position was the suggestion of an outside consultant.) If the person is only supervising the president, it could have that appearance.

But that might be better than the alternative where the CEO is supervising the whole staff. Since it is an unpaid position, the CEO might be part time and some decisions might have to be deferred for her return. Either that or any decision made by the president in her absence could end up conflicting with hers.

This is all wild speculation though. Knowing as little as I do, I wouldn’t normally give voice to it. However, I did want to take the opportunity to talk about possible pitfalls in such an arrangement since exploration of management decisions is part of the blog’s purpose.

Given that the board chair is only a part-time resident, it might be that they are just looking to have a consistent representative of the board authority on the island.

I am interested to see what the full story is. The articles talk about this person focussing on board development and fundraising. If the CEO is taking some of these responsibilities away from the President, I might applaud the move given my entry on how leaders don’t have the time to focus on the organizational future for all fundraising they must do.

Between Drew and myself, I am sure we will get the full story out sometime soon. (Actually, I shouldn’t speak for him. I don’t know if he is intrigued enough to pursue it himself. I am sure I will end up consulting him to put what I learn in context in any case.)

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


Leave a Comment