Minnesota boss takes 15% pay cut in bid to save his job

Minnesota boss takes 15% pay cut in bid to save his job


norman lebrecht

February 02, 2014

Michael Henson, the vastly unpopular president and CEO of the Minnesota Orchestra, has announced that he will fulfil a pledge to take the same pay reduction as the musicians. Whether this will save his seat is other matter. The musicians are due to meet the new chairman, Gordon Sprenger, next week and Henson’s future will be a major factor in their discussions.

Meantime, Osmo Vänskä has been dropping hints he might return as music director.



  • sdReader says:

    That’s nice of him, but of course he’s been paid all along, unlike the players.

  • James says:

    Henson should be sacked for his role in the 15 month lockout. Are we to assume that he was a misunderstood “nice guy” during that barbaric period? He wasn’t; he stood with the bullies. And in the face of 15 months loss of salaries and health insurance by the orchestra, a 15% pay cut is laughable how much he is overpaid. Meanwhile, we are still calculating the long-term damage of his management.

    Tactics like those used by himself, Davis and Campbell to bring the musicians to heel were brutal failures, and should not be rewarded. Henson should be fired, if only to show that this is not how arts management is done.

    • Terry says:

      Agree, there is absolutely no reason whatsoever to keep Henson onboard. He is a destroyer, not a builder. The argument by the new board chairman, Gordon Sprenger, that Henson is a good leader because he and his staff (with huge help from the musicians, who had already arranged several concerts) was able to quickly put together a 2014 season does not hold water. What else did they have to do, after all, during the 16-month lockout?!

      The first concert back at Orchestra Hall on Friday night (Feb. 7) is virtually sold out — a few partial-view seats remain available — and there is some speculation on social media that shouts of “We want Osmo!” and “Henson must go”! might well be heard in the hall that evening. Personally, I doubt it; that would be very un-Minnesotan!

      Hear it live at 8PM Minneapolis time (2AM Saturday morning in London):



      iTunes / Radio / Classical / Classical Minnesota Public Radio

      • Amy says:

        Not to mention, the better part of that season had already been arranged by the musicians. Henson wasn’t exactly working from scratch.

        And Sprenger mentioned zilch about Henson’s “leadership” during the actual lockout.

        Even if he was a puppet of Richard Davis…it’s Henson’s signature on the whole disastrous plan.

  • ed says:

    We’ll see if Gordon Sprenger (former CEO of Allina Health System) will make real changes or will merely tinker with the image and bad taste left by his predecessor.

    If the article at: http://www.thenationalcoalition.org/Allinaperks.htm is any clue, it could be the latter. So, maybe it would be good to keep up the heat in freezing Minneapolis.

  • Peter says:

    Best he leaves. But if not, he should work for the next 15 months (same length as the strike) for a token $1.

  • Pamela Brown says:

    It may be, from mgmt’s viewpoint, that Henson’s main objective was to keep the MO from going belly-up. In that regard, as opposed to the thug tactics used against the players, he has not completely failed.

    • Performing Artist52 says:

      No Pamela, Henson’s main objective was not to keep the MOA from going belly up, his main objective was to balance the poorly managed budget on the backs of the musicians. He did not want an orchestra of artistic quality, he wanted a Mickey Mouse band to play in his newly renovated multifunctional conference center. If the finances had been managed properly in the first place and without monkeying around with making the numbers “look bad”, the lockout would not have to happen in the first place.

      • Pamela Brown says:

        Fair enough. But then, hindsight is always perfect, isn’t it?

        In order to blame only MOA for this fiasco, it seems one would have to blame everyone involved, not only Henson. Apparently, nobody had counted the cost of taking the MO to the next level, nor anticipated a drop in attendance, thereby leaving things in a very messy state.

        I will stick with my position that, whatever else happened, Henson believed he was doing what was necessary to keep the MO in existence, and to prepare for a ‘sustainable’ future. Even now, those goals have not yet been met, it seems — they will be relying on renewed public interest to make up the difference between what they have and what they need.

        • SarahS says:

          Ms. Brown (do you know Kay Duraska?), you seem disdainful of the notion that Public Interest factors into the well-being of the MO. Did I miss something here… is the Minnesota Orchestra a private band working in privately-owned venues? Or are you simply speculating that the revenue from the Public Interest raises is too paltry for consideration in the plans? Perhaps part of the sustainability for the future might come about from actually including some musicians and the little people who comprise the Public Interest to join the board. You might find that some of us possess the capability of understanding concepts about sustainable futures, money, markets, and so on.

          • Pamela Brown says:

            SarahS, my only point is that when one is responsible for keeping an organization financially viable, there is a completely different viewpoint than that of those employed by the organization. It seems to me the MO was headed for disaster and this tumult and angst has unfortunately been a part of finding a new and better way, hopefully, for everyone to communicate and move forward.

        • Amy says:

          This is a vintage Pamela sentence. An incomprehensible winding road that leads nowhere:

          “In order to blame only MOA….one would have to blame everyone involved…”

          Given the extraordinary number of blogs attributed to you, one would think that your writing would be clear once in a while.

          • Pamela Brown says:

            Amy says,

            “This is a vintage Pamela sentence. An incomprehensible winding road that leads nowhere:

            “In order to blame only MOA….one would have to blame everyone involved…”

            Given the extraordinary number of blogs attributed to you, one would think that your writing would be clear once in a while.”

            I don’t know why you find it necessary to nitpick what I say, or my blogs either, for that matter.

            It seems fairly obvious to me — Mr. Henson was not operating completely on his own. He had support and agreement from others, or this plan would not have gone forward. He will end up as the scapegoat, but what about the others who supported him?

        • Performing Artist52 says:

          Not so Pamela, He knew what he was planning since the days he mislead the legislature about the so called financial stability of the organization when requesting $14 million in bond money and then conveniently showed a deficit. There have been many, many proven facts of mismanagement that have been uncovered early in the lockout. The MOA had no intention of having a season while the Hall was under renovation. And relying on renewed public interest to make up the difference is fool hardy. They were able to raise $100 million for the Building for the Future Campaign but only $51 million was spent on the hall. Where is the other $49 million? Nope, fundraising along with smart marketing is needed right now. The MOA needs to prove they still want an artistically high level orchestra and put their money where their mouth is.

          • Pamela Brown says:

            There were a lot of shenanigans that took place, and everyone involved should take responsibility for the financial juggling. But was Henson alone, or were they all in agreement? What will happen after he is gone of those who enabled this situation remain?

            The main issue to me that is being overlooked seems to be that the endowment had to be ‘protected’ during a time of great upheaval and change. When it became evident that it was being drained, and that the entire organization could go belly-up, then very bizarre things began to happen.

  • Bill Slobotski says:

    Henson is a reprehensible swine who will only deter donors from giving to the orchestra and it’s endowment.

  • Stereo says:

    A total creep. Should go immediately.

  • JC says:

    We can only hope that Vanska will insist on firing Henson as a condition for returning as music director. Besides, I think as long as Henson is in place, donations will suffer — severely.

    • SarahS says:

      Indeed, I will purchase only tickets to concerts so long as Henson is still there. And I am not alone in this decision – there seems to be a general consensus among my network of contacts to withold donations until Henson leaves (and, we hope, Osmo Vanska returns). Why would I send my hard-earned money to a management that has mismanaged the truth as well as their accounting, and awarded bonuses to the person in charge?

      • Stereo says:

        I assume you mean I will not purchase tickets so long as Henson is still there.

        • Amy says:

          Stereo, I think she meant what she said: she will purchase tickets to concerts but make no donations to the MO, as long as Henson remains….supporting the musicians, experiencing great performances, but withholding further support until he’s gone.

  • Margaret says:

    Henson needs to go. This is a no-brainer.

  • Elizabeth Erickosn says:

    Henson has to go. He has lost the respect of his employees (musicians) and customers (patrons). He has publicly made it clear that he doesn’t care who stays and who goes. He created a toxic work environment long before the lock out even began. There is no way to move forward and heal from this disaster as long as he still sits on his self appointed throne.

  • Cztph says:

    I am hoping that retaining Henson is for visual/marketing purposes and that he already knows WHEN he will be leaving and that this will be announced within the next three months and will be gone buy years end. Crossing my fingers that this will happen

  • PK Miller says:

    I agree–Henson needs to go and go NOW. He’s part of the problem not the solution. He could have chosen to stand with the orchestras, give up his pay until there was an equitable settlement. Instead, As someone else put it, he chose to stand with the bullies. On the other hand I hope Maestro Vanska does return to facilitate the healing process.

    The entire Board of the MNO should have the decency to fall on their swords. At the very least, Henson needs to fall on his.

  • MacroV says:

    I have to assume that Henson didn’t not conceive of the lockout; he merely implemented what the Board approved. Nonetheless, I have a hard time imagining any of the great managers – Deborah Rutter, Deborah Borda, etc. – would have agreed to implement such a plan. I for one would be perfectly happy for him to keep all the money he has been paid, and even given a nice severance as a thanks for carrying out the Board’s directive, ill-conceived as it was, but sent on his way since it’s hard to believe the musicians will ever think they can work with him in good faith.

  • Mike says:

    Many orchestras have faced dire financial situations but have approached the problem collaboratively and with a long term outlook. Henson’s approach to “rip the band aid” off in one fell swoop, his demonizing of the musicians as the problem (including inexpicable salary comparisions to audience, staff, PhDs, any anyone else who suited their needs) demonstrate he was more interested in subjegating the musicians than solving the challenges of the Minnesota Orchestra. Local media reported his bizzare obssession with relating all the other orchestras and their salary concession “successes” as opposed to those who achieved financial strength with a balanced approach of expense control and revenue growth. His strategy, his scorched earth policy has failed and now it’s time for him to go, and a real leader to take his place.

  • anon says:

    Do bonuses fall within the remit of Henson’s pledge?

  • Wayne A. Benjamin says:

    Henson is a total jag-off. His pay and benefits during the lockout, as well as the pay and benefits of his bloated staff must be clawed back and distributed to the musicians.

  • William Safford says:

    I am going to take a contrarian position on Vanska.

    I hope he does not return to Minnesota.

    This statement is in full support of him.

    Due to the incompetence of the Minnesota Orchestra Board and its President and CEO, they allowed Vanska to slip through their fingers (among other sins).

    I applaud him for resigning.

    Orchestra boards and administrators need to learn that there are consequences to their actions.

    Short of a mass purge of the Board and CEO, Vanska should stay home, and have an excellent life and career.

    • Pamela Brown says:

      With all due respect, how could Mr. Vanska resist the opportunity to make a comeback with the players who have survived such brutal treatment by MOA? How could this not be perceived as a win-win situation? The only caveat is that no only Mr. Henson, but every board member who enabled his 488-day regime of terror should quit or resign before this happens. Unfortunately, that is unlikely.

      • William Safford says:

        How can it not be perceived as a win-win, you ask?

        It would indicate that orchestra managements and boards can do what they want, with little or no consequence or repercussions.

        Sure, the Board and the President/CEO locked out the orchestra for so long that the conductor resigned. But now everything is okay, right?

        Well, no, it is not.

        That said, taking into account your caveat, how different are your and my positions?

        • Pamela Brown says:

          Let me clarify. How could Mr. Vanska look at an opportunity to return and make a comeback with the players who were treated so badly as anything other than a win-win for him and the players?

          I don’t mean to imply that this would be in truth a win-win, just that it could appear hard to resist. This is, after all, show biz, and who can resist a great comeback?

          It seems to me it is our perspectives that differ, not our positions. I see it as almost inevitable that Mr. Vanska will want to return, whether it is in his best interest in the long run or not.