Disappearing Nonprofit Execs: New CEO Leaves Symphony After 3 Short Months

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July 31, 2013; MySanAntonio.com


Executive transitions are hard in many organizations, but they can be made much more problematic by a lack of careful and objective consideration. The problem with flubbing up the transition, beyond all the organizational strife and sense of unsettledness, is the loss of credibility with the public, including donors.

Take, as an example, the departure after three months in the job of Jack Downey, the president and CEO of the San Antonio Symphony. Apparently, he and the board chair had “philosophical differences” about the budget. The symphony has now appointed David Green the interim CEO while another search is conducted. Green is the former president of the symphony and the chief operating officer at the symphony’s future home, the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts.

Dennert Ware, the symphony’s current chairman, commented, “I have a tremendous amount of respect for Jack, but we were unable to reach agreement on a budget strategy,” in a prepared statement. “We’ve worked hard to build momentum in this community, and we can’t afford now to lose that momentum as we prepare…to move into the Tobin Center” in September 2014.

About the search, he said, “I’m going to take my time and do a thorough job.” Probably wise, since Green will be the fourth person to sit in the CEO position since Jack Fishman suddenly announced his departure last November. The news coverage of that abrupt resignation (which happened in the morning of a board meeting which Fishman did not attend) was eerily similar.

From the coverage of the Fishman departure:

“It was a personal decision. It’s time to move on to another direction,” Fishman said by phone Wednesday. Asked if he has another position to move to, Fishman said, “I cannot say more.”

Ware said Fishman’s decision was sudden. “I did not see it coming. We were good friends before the resignation, and we are good friends now,” Ware said.

He did not think the symphony’s shaky financial situation was a factor in Fishman’s resignation. “But fundraising is always an issue. We’ll always be working at fundraising,” he said.

From the coverage of the Downey departure:

Reached by telephone, Ware declined to elaborate on the symphony’s budget situation. Asked if the symphony finished its 2012-13 season with debt, Ware said the budget year doesn’t end until August 31st.

“We are still raising funds,” Ware said.

The musicians seem to be taking the news with aplomb. Is there a story behind the story?—Ruth McCambridge

  • Jim

    There’s always a back-story, but often it is covered by a release agreement – especially if the separation wasn’t amicable. Budget is really the CEO’s responsibility, not the boards, so I’m not surprised this element was the cause of his separation, Boards have a difficult time moving away from a management posture after a leadership transition.

  • Bob

    The San Antonio Symphony has had 8 executive directors in the past 15 years, plus 2 interim executive directors. That sound like a “story,” doesn’t it?