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Executive and Artistic Director of Carnegie Hall
Episode 61

Executive and Artistic Director of Carnegie Hall

CI to Eye with Clive Gillinson

This episode is hosted by Erik Gensler.

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In this episode, Clive and Erik discuss Clive's unexpected but monumental career in arts administration. They also talk about the significance of asking the right questions rather than looking for the answers, how partnership is vital to Carnegie Hall's success, and why money follows a vision.

Sir Clive Gillinson: Our view is not, “How do we serve Carnegie Hall?” I mean, that, again, is another value that, to me, is fundamental. We’re not here to serve Carnegie Hall. We’re here to serve people’s lives through Carnegie Hall. And a lot of people think in terms of serving your institution; in that sense, it’s not important. I mean, if you get it right, if your institution is serving people’s lives and transforming lives.

Erik Gensler: Thank you so much for taking the time to meet with me.

Sir Clive Gillinson: Oh, great pleasure.

Erik Gensler: So, you were born in Bangalore, India. Your mother was a professional cellist and your father, a businessman, which seems like are really good role models for where you find yourself now.

Sir Clive Gillinson: (laughs) Yeah, right? By coincidence, I mean, nothing to do with where I was aspiring to go. But yes, it is a combination. Although, my father always wanted to be an artist. I mean, he wanted to write, he wanted to paint, and he did, but he couldn’t do it as a profession. So, he was an artist at heart.

Erik Gensler: And you became an arts administrator by accident.

Sir Clive Gillinson: Totally, yes. In fact, I knew it was the one thing I never wanted to do-

Erik Gensler: (laughs)

Sir Clive Gillinson: … and that I never was interested in. And I remember when I got married, in fact, in the UK, the best man was the man who was the Managing Director of the London Symphony Orchestra and rather insensitively, I remember saying to him when we were all going out for the celebration dinner, “I do not understand why you want to do your job.” (laughs)

Erik Gensler: (laughs)

Sir Clive Gillinson: And wo years later, I was doing it.

Erik Gensler: How did that happen?

Sir Clive Gillinson: It all happened by chance. I was a cellist playing in the London Symphony. We moved into the Barbican new concert hall and the manager completely misconceived how to set that up and he took an American model for subscription concerts, which was completely irrelevant in London because in America, orchestras are basically the only show in town, whether it’s the New York Philharmonic, the Chicago … whatever it is, essentially, they are the great orchestra in the city. In London, you’ve got five major orchestras, so you can’t really repeat concerts. And so, he set this model up with three or four performances a week of the same program. The halls were empty. It was totally catastrophic. So, he was sacked and then, the board tried to find somebody to do the job. The Orchestra was on the verge of bankruptcy and they couldn’t find a manager. I think, probably, nobody wanted the job that sensibly enough. (laughs) And so, they thought they’d get a player to go in temporarily and I’ve no idea where it was me.

Erik Gensler: (laughs)

Sir Clive Gillinson: I mean, there were things I’d done, maybe, that had some relevance—I’ve no idea—because I went off to study mathematics before I went into music. And so, they asked me to do it for three months whilst they looked for a manager and because I loved the Orchestra and cared passionately about it, I thought I’d do it to try and help. And the end of three months, they still couldn’t find anybody and they offered me the job and I said, “No, because firstly, after three months you’ve no idea if I’m the right person. And secondly, I have no idea if I want to do it. So, if you keep my job in the cello section open for a year-

Erik Gensler: (laughs)

Sir Clive Gillinson: … I’ll do the job for a year and at the end of the year, if either you decide you don’t want me or I decide I don’t want to do it, I can go back to the cello section or you find somebody else. And so, that’s what we did. And at the end of the year they offered it to me again. And by then, I was actually enjoying it, at least to some extent. I mean, the first few months were totally sleepless nights because I had no knowledge of management. I had absolutely no experience of any sort and trying to work everything out as you go along is unbelievably difficult. There were no proper financial systems, but that was where the mathematics came incredibly useful because I was able to set up financial systems so that we could understand what all the issues were that we had to address. So, by the end of the year, we were beginning to get back on track, but it was also … in a way, it was fascinating—what a horrible challenge because it was so scary and the future of the Orchestra hung in the balance—but what was fascinating was trying to find the combination of short term solutions, which were, “How do you deal with the short term problems, which are largely financial?” and at the same time, “How do you start planning for a future that is all about what you believe in and dream about?”

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Sir Clive Gillinson: So, one’s got these two parallel tracks and that the initial track of simply trying to get it back in balance meant doing lots of things that I didn’t believe in: lots of doing things with too little rehearsal, doing absolutely popular programming, partly so you cut your costs because you didn’t need so much rehearsal, but partly, also, because the more popular the programming, the easier to get maximum box office revenue. So, it helped to address it. At the same time, the orchestra was being investigated by the Arts Council of Great Britain because they were looking at all the orchestras. They wanted to cut a London orchestra and they came to us and they said, “If you can’t get rid of the deficit in three years, we will stop your funding.” And so-

Erik Gensler: No pressure. (laughs)

Sir Clive Gillinson: Right. And I only discovered years, years later when we actually became the best-funded of all the London orchestras that this guy who’d done the report had written in there that “We’ve given them three years in which to put this right; there’s no way they’re going to do that. There’s no way they’ll be able to succeed, and it will solve our funding problem cause we’ll have one less orchestra to fund.” So, the person who was then responsible for funding when we became the best-funded orchestra said, “I thought you’d actually just like to see this letter”—and we actually did it in two years instead of three.

Erik Gensler: Wow.

Sir Clive Gillinson: And so, you know, that meant then, we were beginning to move forward and really do the things I started to believe in and cared about, which was the only reason for doing the job.

Erik Gensler: That’s great. I love that it came from passion and love from the orchestra, which I think, success at any job has to come from.

Sir Clive Gillinson: It’s going to be rooted in that.

Erik Gensler: Yeah.

Sir Clive Gillinson: And that’s why all of us work all the ridiculous hours we do, cause it’s to try and make happen the things … it’s really to make dreams happen and the reality is, we’ve all got to live beyond our means. I mean, that’s the crazy thing about living in the arts. If you try and come up with practical solutions that are good solutions and that are all the things you can afford, you won’t to anything important. You’ve always got to be dreaming beyond your means and then making it happen. And so, one of my mantras around that is, “Money follows vision,” that you’ve got to have the vision and that vision almost always means you’re reaching beyond your capacity today.

Erik Gensler: That’s awesome. I’m curious about your thinking around the evolution of the role of the concert hall as we’re deeper into the 21st century. I’m curious how you think about Carnegie Hall’s evolution to now from the first concert in the 19th century to being impactful and when you took this job, what you were thinking about what you wanted to do in light of the turn of the century.

Sir Clive Gillinson: Well, I think firstly worth mentioning that from 1891 when the hall opened until the ‘60s, this was a rental hall and there was no curation, nothing. I mean, it was all about taking in rentals and nobody had a strategy. Nobody was trying to do artistic things. It just happened to be an unbelievable magnet for talent because it was such an extraordinary hall. And so, the history is phenomenal, but the history was created by the building, not people, because the building was extraordinary. And so, in the ‘60s when it became a not-for-profit, the initial money was raised to try and restore the building because the building was in terrible state and water was pouring in all over the place. So, there were huge number of things that needed to be done, but bit by bit, they started developing an artistic policy. They developed some of the subscription series. There was some education work, the Perspective Series was started. So, there were a number of things that began. When I came here, I guess, it was completely different from the London Symphony Orchestra because it was in very good shape, Carnegie Hall. I mean, the building was in good shape. It had been really well looked-after. They were doing really good things here. I mean, you know, the greatest orchestras, the greatest sellers. So, there were fantastic concerts. But the thing that struck me was that it was a sleeping giant and that the potential wasn’t even being scratched, hardly.

Erik Gensler: Hm.

Sir Clive Gillinson: And partly, it was very inward-looking. It was about what happened within the building. But secondly, we weren’t really leading audiences on journeys of exploration or discovery. And for me, that’s a fundamental part of the role of the arts.

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Sir Clive Gillinson: You don’t just do what audiences want to hear. I mean, of course, you’ve got to know and understand your audience. But the fact is, if we’re not stimulating audiences to explore … The arts isn’t just about being comfortable and being entertained. It’s wonderful to be entertained. But the fact is, at the same time as being entertained, if the arts doesn’t take you, doesn’t really stimulate you, to explore, then, I think, there’s a degree to which we’re failing. So, I felt we should be doing things that were more challenging, things that actually were about broadening horizons, broadening the role of Carnegie Hall. And the same thing on the education side, as well. I mean, there were some education programs, they weren’t, in general, particularly good and they weren’t structured. There was no strategy around it. So, the first thing I did on the performance side was to start these big festivals, which were about engaging the greatest institutions in the city in the visual arts, film, dance, theater, literature, and so on, and asking them whether they’d be interested in partnering so that we could develop journeys of exploration for our audiences that were really based on trusted curators. I thought, “If we could create journeys where people not only would come for the things that they knew and loved, but would then be tempted to look at other complimentary dimensions, that would be really important. And we had terrific response from institutions around the city. And so, we started with Berlin—I mean we’ve done festivals that have explored all sorts of things. We’ve looked at Vienna, the Venetian Republic, African American music, Leonard Bernstein, South America, many, many things. And then Migrations last year and we’ve got lots of projects coming up in the future, as well and all of them are about what we think are important stories to tell. And my view about all of these projects is, they’re not an end unto themselves. What they are is creating something that is utterly stimulating, utterly compelling, which means they’re the beginning of a life journey for people, so that when people come to Migrations, they’ll continue to be interested in the stories of people who created American culture. The fantastic thing about the festivals is now, something like up to 40% of the audiences here at Carnegie Hall have never entered Carnegie Hall before. I mean, it varies from festival to festival, but for several of them it was 40%—it can be anything from 20 to 40. But with all our partner organizations, as well, they all find their audiences being transformed and for the projects within a festival-

Erik Gensler: Right.

Sir Clive Gillinson: They’re getting people who would never have been to their institution before. So, everybody’s a winner.

Erik Gensler: And then you can develop that audience, yeah.

Sir Clive Gillinson: Everybody can then continue to talk to that audience, develop it. And, of course, not everybody’s going to come back.

Erik Gensler: Right.

Sir Clive Gillinson: I mean, some people will just be attracted by the festival-

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Sir Clive Gillinson: … but a lot of people do come back and a lot of people become part of your orbit.

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm (affirmative). How do you find attendance in terms of tourists versus New Yorkers? When you’re thinking about programming, does that come in to your mind of, you know, some people want to come to Carnegie Hall because it’s such an iconic destination versus developing a reoccurring audience in New York?

Sir Clive Gillinson: Well, the reality is that most of our audience is a New York audience. Now, part of that I think is down to the fact that every night, every performance is different. If you look at a Broadway show or you even look at a theater or the Met Opera, they’re doing multiple performances, which means that they can afford to be reaching out much further with their marketing. I mean, the marketing budget when you’ve got ongoing performances is obviously far greater-

Erik Gensler: Because you’re acquiring new people all the time.

Sir Clive Gillinson: Yes, you’re looking for new people for the same product. We never have the same product two nights running. So, it means that the marketing budget we have for each given concert is infinitely less than organizations who have multiple performances. So, I think that’s one reason why our audience is probably more locally based. The other thing is, I feel very strongly in terms of how we develop our programming that what we’re not doing is following … We’re not marketing-led. We’re not following audience tastes. We have to understand it. We have to know it. But in the end, we have to think of ourselves like an artist, which is that we are developing the things we care about and we believe in passionately and then, it’s our job to engage people-

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Sir Clive Gillinson: … with that vision and with those ideas. And so, of course, I mean, if you’re always leading like that-

Erik Gensler: Yeah, yeah.

Sir Clive Gillinson: … it’s always a risk and you never know exactly what’s going to succeed. But on the other hand, you have to live by risk. It’s like when Steve Jobs was asked about market research and he said, “I don’t really believe in market research because I’m telling people what they want tomorrow. Market research only tells you what they wanted today or yesterday.”

Erik Gensler: Right.

Sir Clive Gillinson: And I think we’ve got to be exactly the same in that sense. We’ve always got to be part of defining tomorrow.

Erik Gensler: There must be a tremendous amount of creative pressure to hold yourself to that standard and I’m curious how you stay inspired or how you are pushing yourself to go in new places with the thoughts around programming and thinking into the future.

Sir Clive Gillinson: Well, I suppose it’s why you’re in a job like this, is because that’s what you care about and that’s what you love. So, we never have a shortage of ideas. I mean, the interesting thing is, there’s always so many things we want to do. There’s always more things we want to do than we can do, and one of the things that’s interesting … I mean, very often, we’ve come up with something and we’ll look at an idea and everybody will say, “Fantastic idea!” but for me, the measure is twofold: one is that it’s really stimulating, exciting, it’s an important idea intellectually; but the second is that it’s gotta be emotionally engaging. And very often we’ll throw ideas out if they are just intellectually engaging. Everything has to have a power of emotion, as well. It’s got to be something that grabs people. And it’s very easy to look at things and be very intellectually stimulated by an idea-

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Sir Clive Gillinson: … but that’s not going to be particularly meaningful to an audience, cause it’s gotta be the combination of both.

Erik Gensler: Yeah, the humanity.

Sir Clive Gillinson: Yeah, it’s got to have intellectual rigor, of course. But it does have to have emotion. And virtually every festival has engaged people emotionally, as well. But the issue you say about, “How do we keep ourselves to that standard?” all I can say is, every year, we always say, “Wow, we think this is one of our best seasons ever, but next year has got gotta be even better.” And it’s no different than an artist. If I think of somebody like Rostropovich, they were never satisfied today. Tomorrow, they had to be better. And like Leonard Bernstein, as well; Leonard Bernstein, when he was in his sixties, threw away all his scores to the Tchaikovsky symphonies cause he wanted to think them through all over again without any preconceptions, as much as you can do that. And so, he then learnt them all over again from a fresh score so that he could actually challenge himself to think about them anew. And I think of us as an artist in that way, as well, that we A, must never be satisfied; and B, we’ve always got to be better tomorrow than we were today. Otherwise, we should be gone.

Erik Gensler: Yeah. It must be fun to work with you. (laughs) And challenging!

Sir Clive Gillinson: Well, we’ve all got to challenge ourselves. I mean we’re all …I think everybody on the team feels that way.

Erik Gensler: You co-authored a book called Better to Speak of It about creativity and business.

Sir Clive Gillinson: Really, it was about my values and the things I care about and using stories from the people I’ve really loved and admired in my life, using stories that really demonstrate those values.

Erik Gensler: What are some of the core tenets that you think would be valuable to the arts administrators listening?

Sir Clive Gillinson: Well, I think one the things is, “Trying to avoid risk is the riskiest thing you can ever do,” because you have to live at the edge of risk.

Erik Gensler: We’re so scared of risk; we’re so scared of change.

Sir Clive Gillinson: Well, and especially when things get tough, people think you retrench. My view is, you do exactly the opposite, you know, and it’s like the saying about, “Unless you’re living near the edge, you’re taking up too much space.”

Erik Gensler: (laughs)

Sir Clive Gillinson: You know, so you have to live with risk. We have to be about that because who’s going to be excited about safety?

Erik Gensler: Right.

Sir Clive Gillinson: People only get excited about something that is exploring new things and compelling. So, I mean, risk is a fundamental piece. I mean, but “Money follows vision,” for me, is one of the most fundamental things because so many people in the arts are tempted by money and to chase money. And if you chase money and allow the money to dictate what you’re doing, you’re lost. It’s all over.

Erik Gensler: What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in your time at Carnegie Hall?

Sir Clive Gillinson: Well, one of the things we did—which taught me a huge lesson—we engaged in a major partnership around an education project with a significant organization and we were all speaking the same words. So, when we talked to each other, we all shared—we thought—all the same values, all the same beliefs. And when we brought the thing together and set it in motion, we found that there was a certain level of complaints, 65-70% satisfaction. And to our partner that was actually … they thought that was a decent benchmark. Our view was, that was totally unacceptable. Basically, you’ve got to be satisfying everybody. If you’re not, then you’re failing and then, you’ve got to make sure you try to. And so, we ended up in an impossible situation because it felt as though all the time we were effectively criticizing them. They were saying it was good enough and we were saying it wasn’t good enough. So, that’s out of the question. You cannot have a partnership. And so, I’d always understood that shared values are fundamental to any partnership and it’s absolutely true. But what I hadn’t thought through sufficiently is, what do people mean by the words they speak? And if they say the same words but they don’t actually mean the same things, then it’s hopeless. And that was the biggest lesson. And now we look much, much harder-

Erik Gensler: Wow.

Sir Clive Gillinson: … at what lies behind the words-

Erik Gensler: Right.

Sir Clive Gillinson: … and don’t just hear the words-

Erik Gensler: … that you want to hear

Sir Clive Gillinson: Just make sure, yeah … well, even, you know, the fact is, the words were right.

Erik Gensler: Right.

Sir Clive Gillinson: The words were the words we were using. We were all … we thought we all share the same values, but we simply didn’t have the same commitment about what we thought was good enough.

Erik Gensler: That’s such a fantastic lesson and it has so many applications.

Sir Clive Gillinson: It was scary, you know, to realize how wrong you can get it when you think you’ve checked everything.

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Well, and especially because so much of your vision is around partnership and bringing people, which hopefully, you learn that lesson early.

Sir Clive Gillinson: Well, and look: we couldn’t live without partnership and do what we doing. We’re now reaching about 600,000 kids a year with our education programs. Just one program for elementary school kids now reaches about towards 500,000 kids and we share it with 114 orchestras, I think, around America.

Erik Gensler: Which is so cool.

Sir Clive Gillinson: We give them all the resources, we help to train them, and so on. So, they get it all free. So, with this project, we give all of that away. Now, if we tried to deliver that program ourselves without partnership, look, we reached something like 20,000-22,000 kids in New York with that program, but around the country, by enabling others to succeed, enabling others to have world-class resources, we are actually reaching nearly 500,000 kids.

Sir Clive Gillinson: The fact is they have got to be people who share our values. So, there have been times when we’ve got partner orchestras in that project where we feel they’re not doing it at the right level and, you know, and they’re not living by the values. There was one international partnership where the organization wanted to take this program on. They’d agree everything and then, at the last minute, they said, “Actually we want to configure it slightly differently in terms of our own market.” Now, in theory, we’re always happy with that cause it’s gotta be locally relevant. But the fact is, they were jettisoning a lot of the things we thought were fundamental values and we said, “In that case, I’m sorry, but we’re not going to be able to work with you.” And usually, people would just walk away then. In point of fact, they decided they wanted to stay with it and they changed and they actually did adhere to the things that we thought were fundamental values.

Erik Gensler: Are you someone who’s not afraid of conflict?

Sir Clive Gillinson: I don’t think one should ever seek conflict, but in the end, if conflict is necessary … look, I’m always going to try and find a way around it. I mean, my whole view of my management style is, I want to take everybody with me. You know, it’s not like the old-fashioned view of management, which is dictatorial, it’s-top down, you just tell everybody what to do. It’s a little bit like conductors were 50 years ago, where they would just terrorize orchestras. We live in a very different world now and we live in a world where you have to work together. And to me, that is a million times better than doing things through conflict or doing things through being dictatorial. But there are times you actually have to meet things head-on, but I think it’s the last thing you do, never the first thing you do. You try and find a way around it. You try and persuade, you try and engage, you try and involve, but there’s time you’re going to fail.

Erik Gensler: Yeah.

Sir Clive Gillinson: And then those times, either have to just say, you just walk away from the partnership or you walk away from a relationship, or you confront people with the fact that what they’re demanding is not acceptable and then you have to be very tough. And I don’t mind doing that, but it’s not something you should be seeking.

Erik Gensler: Sure. In thinking about marketing in the 21st century and thinking about Carnegie Hall’s evolution around digital outreach to extend what you do, I’m curious how you think about the value of, say, someone watching a livestream versus someone who’s buying a ticket in person. Do you think, like, “I want to do a live stream because one day that they could buy a ticket and come here and become a donor or more engaged,” or do you think, like, someone enjoying a concert via livestream is uniquely good enough?

Sir Clive Gillinson: Firstly, I think the experiences are two totally different things and it’s our responsibility to make sure that the live experience is better than anything you can get in any other way. So, I think, in the sense that things are becoming more and more accessible, it’s good that it puts the pressure on us to make sure that the live experience still remains the most important thing you do. Equally, 99% of the world’s population can’t visit Carnegie Hall. So, if they can’t visit Carnegie Hall, I’d like them to be able to share things that we’re doing here at Carnegie Hall. So, I mean, if you’re thinking purely in terms of the dissemination of content—and obviously there’s so many other dimensions as well about the media and use of media and digital media—purely on that level, you try and make the audio-visual digital experience as good as you can make it. And there’s lots of things you can do that are complimentary that you can’t do in the concert, all in terms of contexts and so on. But I think you try and make it as good as you can possibly make it for the 99% who cannot actually come here.

Erik Gensler: Right.

Sir Clive Gillinson: And it’s important that we should always be giving the greatest possible access to music.

Erik Gensler: I’m curious your thoughts around the role of Carnegie Hall’s education programs in audience development. Do you feel a responsibility with just the world changing how arts is in schools? Do you feel that Carnegie has to step in and you have a responsibility to educate people in classical music in a way that otherwise just wouldn’t happen?

Sir Clive Gillinson: Well, I think we have a responsibility to give people the chance to have access, not just to classical music, but to music overall—the best of every sort of music. But I don’t think of it largely in terms of audience development. I think of it in terms of how we serve people and how we use music to enhance people’s lives. Now, you know, a very good example of that is the Link Up program I was talking about earlier with the elementary school program that reaches towards half a million people a year. Now, I would say 90% of those people will never step inside Carnegie Hall because they’re all over the country. They’re miles away. It’s not practical for them to come to Carnegie Hall. Now, if you looked at it as a marketing exercise or an audience development exercise, not in a million years would we decide to invest our money in doing that. The reason we’re doing it is because we feel we have a responsibility to people and the future of music. So in other words, the questions you ask, to me, questions are more important than answers. Very often, people are interested in answers. I’m never interested in answers. I’m only interested in asking the right questions. And so, you know, when I first came here, very often—well, almost at every meeting—at some point ,somebody would say, “What’s best for Carnegie Hall?” and I’d always say, “It’s the wrong question. The right question is, ‘How can Carnegie Hall Best Serve People Through Music?’” Now, if you’ve asked the other question,
“What’s best for Carnegie Hall?” every single answer you come up with after that will be a different answer from the one if you ask, “How can Carnegie Hall best serve people through music?” so it means, you know, by asking one set of questions, you’re going in one direction; by asking another set of questions, you’re moving in a completely different direction. And that’s why if you look at somebody like Muhammad Yunus, who created all this …. you know, the microfinancing guy in Bangladesh, extraordinary guy … he said, “Either one’s looking at life in terms of solving problems, life problems, for people in people’s lives, or you’re looking in terms of making profit.” Now, if you go down the route of saying, “We’re here to solve the world’s problems or to solve fundamental problems in people’s lives,” and that’s your first question, you’re off in one direction. If you’re seeking to make money, you’re off in a completely different direction and every single answer thereafter is different. And I feel exactly the same about this, that if we ask the question, “What’s best for Carnegie Hall?” we’re immediately headed off in a direction which, to me, is the wrong direction and we would never be doing Link Up, sharing Link Up, with 114 orchestras around America. Virtually all of the things we do … we wouldn’t be working in Sing Sing Prison and we wouldn’t be creating the lullabies. None of those have commercial benefits. In fact, they cost money, but it’s something we believe in that’s important to the society in which we live and it’s part of our contribution to the society in which we live and addressing some of the major problems in society and the major issues. And so, that’s why I think asking the questions is the most important single thing. And everybody is so ready to jump to answers and I find so often, you’ll talk to people about an issue and they’ll say, “I think you should do that,” and I’ll say, “I don’t understand. You have not asked any questions yet. You don’t actually know enough to be saying what the answer is.” And I remember, I mean, I learnt the lesson very well early on in my management life where there was somebody who was a board member, a very powerful board member, and I remember him being absolutely wedded to a big project idea and he said to me, “This is what we’ve got to do. It’s a fantastic project. We must do it.” It was my early days here and so, I went to the senior staff team to discuss it and I said, “Look, I don’t know what to do because I think it’s a terrible idea,” and they said, “Well, look, if you say to him, ‘It’s a terrible idea,’ you’re not going to last here very long. You’ll be gone.” And so, I thought, “How do I address this?” And so, I went back to see him and I said, “I’ll tell you what, would it be useful if we wrote down all the questions I think we’re going to have to answer if we do this project?” And he said, “I think that’s a great idea. Please send it to me.” So, I sent him the list of questions. The next day, I went to see him and I walked in the door and he looked at me and he smiled. He said, “We’re not doing this project, are we?” But it was the questions that had killed it. It wasn’t the answers. He’d understood the import of the questions.

Erik Gensler: Wow. I’ve learned so much in this interview. My head is sort of spinning. In terms of stakeholders—and it ties into what you’re talking about of what’s best for Carnegie Hall versus what’s best for the audience and people via Carnegie Hall—and it’s around stakeholders. So, like Danny Meyer, the restaurateur, talks about, in most businesses, the order of stakeholders goes, you know, shareholders, customers, and perhaps, then staff. Right? And Danny Meyer’s flipped that and said, “We put our staff first and by putting our staff first, customers have a great experience and it makes the shareholders more money.” When you think of the hierarchy of board, staff, audience members, how do you think about that?

Sir Clive Gillinson: I think first and foremost comes our role in society and what we contribute to people’s lives because that’s the only reason people want to come and work here. I mean, money of course is important, but in the end, people need to believe in a vision. They need to believe in something they’re excited about, where they go home and where they’re talking about what they do as thrilling. So, of course, you’ve got to look after staff incredibly well. All of that is so important. But if the vision isn’t compelling, it’s not going to be exciting for staff to work here, number one. You won’t get the right people. And number two, you won’t get the right board members. So I mean, I’ll just give you an example, which I found fascinating cause it wasn’t by design. Now, one of the things when I first came here, there was no National Youth Orchestra of America and I’d played in the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain when I was a kid and it was one of the greatest experiences of my life. And so, I felt we had to create one here. So, we’ve now got the National Youth Orchestra of America, National Youth Orchestra Jazz, and NYO2, which is a younger orchestra. And they travel the world now, I mean, particularly National Youth Orchestra and NYO Jazz, they traveled the world as youth ambassadors for America. And it’s unbelievably exciting for the kids. And, you know, they engage with young people all around the world and so on and so on. But one of the things that’s been fascinating, within the last two years, we’ve had two trustees join from Hong Kong, one from Taiwan, and one from South Korea. Now, that’s because we’ve become relevant in all those places. Now, we weren’t … we didn’t do any of this in order to get trustees from around the world. We did it because we believed in it and it mattered. Money follows vision. Those people have come in because they believe in what we’re doing. So, that’s why I feel, in the end it’s what you contribute to society that is number one and out of that flows all the rest.

Erik Gensler: Yeah, I totally hear you. That makes a lot of sense. We’ve come to your last question and we call this your “CI to Eye moment” and the question is, if you can broadcast to the executive directors, leadership teams, staff, and board of a thousand arts organizations, what advice would you provide to them to help them improve their businesses?

Sir Clive Gillinson: Well, number one, I never give people advice.

Erik Gensler: (laughs)

Sir Clive Gillinson: I don’t believe I can give people advice. I mean, you know, I love conversations.

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Sir Clive Gillinson: You know, I think listening is much more important. I mean, you can’t give advice to people where you don’t know anything about their business. And even if you do know something about their business, they know a hundred times more than you do about their business. So, when people say, “Can I come and meet with you cause I’d like your advice,” I always say no.

Erik Gensler: (laughs)

Sir Clive Gillinson: I mean, I’m perfectly happy to meet and have a conversation and be a sounding board and we’ll talk about things, but I think to try and give advice is a bit like thinking that answers are more important than questions. I mean, for me, it’s always questions and therefore, if somebody says something about advice, my advice always is, I don’t give it. I’m more interested in just talking about questions and because you’re going to need to find the answers, but you’ve got to think about what are the right questions for you to ask.

Erik Gensler: Got It. Well, I feel like, indirectly, there’s lots of brilliant nuggets of advice in here, although they probably, they weren’t necessarily attended as advice. They were (laughs)-

Sir Clive Gillinson: (laughs)

Erik Gensler: … your experience that hopefully will provide a lot of that. So, this was really amazing. Thank you so, so much.

Sir Clive Gillinson: Well, I really enjoyed talking and I loved your questions (laughs).

Erik Gensler: Thank you.

About Our Guests
Clive Gillinson
Clive Gillinson
Executive and Artistic Director, Carnegie Hall

Sir Clive Gillinson is the Executive and Artistic Director of Carnegie Hall. He oversees all aspects of the Hall’s artistic, education, and social impact programming as well as the management of the world-renowned music venue. In his fourteen years at the helm of the 128-year-old institution, Clive has been looking ahead to the future with the Hall’s potential to influence music and music education around the world.

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