Transitions in Leadership

A non-profit organization’s identity is often intrinsically linked to that of its founder, as the organization itself is an extension of that founder’s unique vision and passion. But for any organization fortunate enough to endure the test of time, eventually it will encounter a point when the torch must be passed to a new leader – which often evokes questions about how the identity and mission will endure, evolve, or change entirely.

Over the years, The Silverman Group has successfully navigated this tricky terrain on behalf of a range of non-profit cultural institutions. In 2007, San Francisco Ballet Assistant Artistic Director (and former Joffrey Ballet company member) Ashley Wheater assumed the role of Artistic Director of The Joffrey Ballet, taking over from company co-founder, Gerald Arpino, who was only the second Artistic Director of the esteemed 50+ year-old company, following Robert Joffrey. In 2010, the Chicago Sinfonietta announced Mei-Ann Chen as its new Music Director, taking the reins from founder Paul Freeman, who had built the organization over 20+ years into the country’s most diverse orchestra. Also in 2010, Luna Negra Dance Theater appointed Gustavo Ramírez Sansano as successor to Founder & Artistic Director Eduardo Vilaro, who was moving on from the ten-year-old company he had built to give voice to Latino choreographers.

Through very careful positioning, The Silverman Group was able to successfully communicate the message that the former and new leaders were not only compatible, but in complete alignment about the respective company’s identity and future. Not only was it imperative to spread that message among the general public, but also within each respective artistic community – dance or classical music, in these cases – since similar concerns existed about artistic integrity, which could be addressed via niche trade publications. Press events introducing each new leader, opportunities making him or her accessible so people could get to know him or her, personal one-on-one introductions to key media, plus securing and publicizing clear endorsements from the former leaders, all contributed to smooth leadership transitions in the public eye, augmenting each company’s own internal transition.

For the Joffrey, Wheater demonstrated that his extensive history with the Joffrey and his lifelong work in the ballet world meant he was more than capable of taking the Joffrey into the next century. For Chen, it quickly became clear that an exceptionally talented Taiwanese female conductor was the ideal candidate to champion an orchestra all about diversity; while Sansano demonstrated a passionate commitment to Luna Negra’s original mission and his unique aesthetic and gifted choreographic skills soon won over even the most skeptical press and audiences.

Major infrastructure transitions can be rocky terrain for any organization, but with The Silverman Group working behind the scenes, that transition can appear smooth and seamless in the public eye, an important key to continued integrity and longevity.