Peter Gelb’s ‘business plan continues to fail, and the board continues to support it’main
The quote above is from one of several resignation letters by board members of the Metropolitan Opera, published in an exhaustive article on the Met’s troubles by James B. Stewart in the New Yorker. Read the full article here.
The article, by a business journalist who knows his numbers, is familiar with the ways of extreme wealth and is a regular Met-goer, had been anticipated with great anxiety at Fortress Gelb. In the event, it earns more sympathy for Gelb than for anyone else in the organisation – as a lone ranger, committed to a strategic plan and confronted with abrasive, self-gratifying, plutocratic egotists who occupy his boardroom.
In an early paragraph, Stewart overstates Gelb’s achievements prior to the Met: He took the Boston Symphony to China after the Cultural Revolution (actually, credit for arranging the tout belonged to Seiji Ozawa and the BSO management, not its publicist), arranged Vladimir Horowitz’s widely publicized return to the former Soviet Union (he assisted but did not initiate the visit), and, as president of Sony Classical, produced a series of film soundtracks and crossover hits (the soundtracks were imposed on him and few of his crossover titles were hits).
Stewart presents Gelb’s past without much fact checking. However, once inside the boardroom he lays bare the complexity of his job:
At the top of the board’s pyramid were the eleven members of the executive committee, who include Ann Ziff, the chairman; Mercedes T. Bass, the vice-chairman; Morris, the chairman of the executive committee; and Kevin W. Kennedy, the president and chief executive officer.
There are forty-three voting members, known as managing directors, followed by nine honorary directors, who attend meetings but don’t vote; forty-nine advisory directors; thirty-three members (directors); and twenty-one young associate directors—a hundred and fifty-five people in all.
That’s unmanageable. It is also irreconcilable. This is a board structure that cannot readily reach agreement on anything. Gelb’s survival over nine years is founded in part on his own jungle skills but mostly on his board’s sclerotic structure.
This bodes ill for the Met. Stewart demonstrates that the company is way behind all financial targets for the present season. The next crisis is just around the corner. The Met needs to look urgently at how it is run, not just at who is running it.