The right balance

June 21, 2006

As a music devotee and drummer, Michael G. Bronfein recognizes that the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's greatest asset is its musical artistry. As a successful businessman and venture capitalist, he has balanced budgets and knows what it takes to live within them. Mr. Bronfein is a fiscal realist at a time when the BSO must be financially conservative, and he's realistic about what's key to the BSO's financial health - an orchestra that sells itself. That's a winning combination for the new chairman of the BSO's board of directors as the organization begins contract negotiations with its musicians.

With just about anything he has accomplished, Mr. Bronfein, 50, worked at it. The BSO is no exception. He was invited onto the BSO's board in 1993 - after he spent several years volunteering on special events. A self-made millionaire and political fundraiser, Mr. Bronfein has the confidence and contacts to help put the BSO in the black. For the past several years, the BSO's operating losses have increased as its contributions have declined or leveled off. A healthy BSO relies on both ticket sales and donors.

But this isn't just about raising money. It's also about ensuring that the BSO is managed properly. Tacked to a bulletin board in his Mount Washington office is a list titled "Bronfein's Rules For Engagement." He didn't create them, but they are his guiding principles. Rule No. 4 reads: "What gets measured, gets done!" As board chair, Mr. Bronfein says he will expect the new management team of the BSO to set achievable goals, and its performance will be judged accordingly. Accountability can't be emphasized enough in this area.

When he was asked to consider the board chairmanship, Mr. Bronfein flew to Denver to talk one on one with the incoming musical director, Marin Alsop. It was a smart move; Mr. Bronfein sees his role as facilitating the rebuilding of the BSO brand, and Ms. Alsop is critical to that endeavor.

But he is also committed to transparency. In a recent interview, he talked about the BSO and the board in the context of a "public trust." Indeed, if the BSO is going to shine as Maryland's preeminent arts organization, it will require the support of the public, from the single-ticket-holder in the balcony to the suburbanite with a pops subscription to the gala patron.

In the weeks ahead, the BSO family should subscribe to Rule No. 3 on Mr. Bronfein's list: "Face reality, it improves the chances of affecting it." It's sound advice for an arts organization in transition.

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