Farewell to a great Chair and the importance of the board.

At the end of last weekend’s Bruckner Seven concert we paid tribute to our departing chair of the board, Alick Shaw. Alick has been a long-time supporter of the orchestra and had previously served on its board many years ago. I first met Alick 25 years ago when he was the chef and owner of Zino’s Restaurant. It was my favorite restaurant in Wellington at the time because of the great care and consideration that Alick put into every aspect of the restaurant. Subsequent to this, Alick became a major force in local politics and was a councillor as well as the Deputy Mayor of Wellington. 

My next dealings with Alick were when he was in that role. Christine Pearce, the then General Manager of the orchestra brought me to his palatial office next to the town hall (complete with a massive Toss Woollaston oil painting). It was clear that the orchestra but also the wider arts community had a strong advocate for the sector. Alick is a man who understands what the arts bring to a community and his support during his role as Deputy Mayor made my job particularly gratifying. 

Nothing lasts forever in politics and Alick left to join a number of boards, including the Parole Board. Four years ago the orchestra found itself with serious challenges that demanded strong and decisive governance.  Many of us decided that we needed a man of Alick’s reason, intellect, experience and love of the arts to join us. Alick needed some degree of persuading and I distinctly remember a pleading phone call to him. 

Happily, Alick decided to stand for the board and literally in one Annual General Meeting, the orchestra found itself with a new board – one with uncommon focus. Literally overnight there seemed to be a great sense of shared purpose and agreement on direction in the entire organization. Indeed, I felt that the clarity with which the board operated had a significant effect on artistic standards. 

Alick was clear that he would only stay for one year but in the middle of his term, the entire orchestral sector found itself under review from the national arts funding body. During the review, Alick proved himself to be once again, the right man at the right time. He was able to steer the orchestra through uncertain times in the most politically savvy and virtuosic manner I have ever been privileged to witness. 

His example throughout these four seasons has brought home the importance of good governance in orchestras. There is the old saying about the three “G’s” for boards (Give, Get or Get off) but this basically refers to money and the role of a board goes further than that. An orchestra board that lacks vision and understanding can never bring about a thriving orchestra. A great arts board fashions a framework and shared vision for an organization. When arts organizations have the benefit of this vision, they have every possibility of thriving artistically. 

For an orchestra to thrive, the wider orchestral family must share a vision and I include the artists, community and sponsors in this. In particular, the Chair, the Chief Executive and the Music Director must be in alignment. 

Thank you Alick, for your tireless work, vision, talent and your great cooking!