What do you want to become?
Symphony Business Manager
Alternate Career Titles:
Business Manager, Director of Business Operations, Finance Director
Career Overview: Supervises general accounting, including accounts payable and receivable and sourcing competitive bidding for office equipment. Attends board meetings and staffs finance committees.
General Salary Range: $25,000 to $85,000+
Become a Symphony Business Manager
To get an overview of what it’s like to work as a Symphony Business Manager, we spoke with two individuals: Barbara Tate, the longtime Director of Business Operations for the Kansas City Symphony and Linda Tucker, the recently-appointed Finance Director for the Winston-Salem Symphony.
In describing her work, Barbara Tate says, “I supervise accounting, information systems, investment management, office equipment, human resources, and benefits management. Since we are a staff of four in my department, my days vary substantially depending on what is going on. I attend board meetings. I staff the Finance and Audit Committee. I staff the Retirement Committee. [There is] lots of interaction with the Treasurer and the other managers and vendors.”
Linda Tucker describes her day-to-day responsibilities, saying, “In any accounting position you have a monthly cycle, so you close the books ideally in your first two weeks and that way you can do the analysis on that information and prep for the finance executive and board meetings. In the middle of all that, I do payables once a week. In my position, because it’s a small non-profit, the Accountant really does everything. You are the department so you’re doing accounts payable, you’re helping with receivables — a lot of our receivable work is done through our fundraising and marketing department — but I assist if they need me. You do everything from all the accounting — the payables, balance sheets, account reconciliation — everything that goes into that. I also do cash receipts and that goes straight to accounting, but I usually remote deposit and do the journal entries so that’s a daily cash receipt as well. For the most part, that’s the day-to-day.
Once the daily work is done, I’ve also got higher level duties because I’m in the position I’m in. Like right now our insurance is going to be up in January so we’re looking at renewals and competitive pricing; we’re getting competitive bidding on our copiers, our copier service, and office supplies. Basically, for anything we spend money on, I’m in the process of looking for competitive bidding and vendors we can work with long term who can give us that competitive bidding. Along with that, we’re also in the process of writing up policies and procedures as well, so that’s a big part of it. You’re doing a multitude of tasks: writing policies and procedures, making new ones where they didn’t exist or altering the current ones. You’re doing high-level and entry-level accounting in this position because you’re it.
We just finished our budget process for FY18 [fiscal year]. We’re currently in Season 18 but we’re actually working right now on FY19 so I’m also prepping the budget for that, working on budgets with my departments, and that means getting a new template in Excel, training the departments so they know how to do budgets, and working with them so they know how to input budgets. That’s a whole process of review and analysis, cuts and adds.
I have a monthly schedule that has all the details, with like twenty items on it that’s a process of things you do every month and you have to make sure it gets closed out. There are a lot of reports, a lot of reconciliation, a lot of making sure different software match. For us, we have a paper manager software that does the ticket sales and that has to match our financial reporting. So from an accounting standpoint, there’s a lot of reconciliation you have to do that’s ongoing. It’s fun, though. You really do enjoy it. It’s a lot of fun and I enjoy my work.
It’s just me. It’s a small non-profit; we’ve got about twelve full-time employees in the office. I do work very closely with the departments; we’ve got an artistic and an education department, a production department, and fundraising and marketing. I work very closely with those departments, helping them in any way I can, whether it’s the day-to-day accounts receivable or payable, coding payables, how to purchase, budgeting processes.”
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Most individuals in a Finance Director or Business Manager position with an orchestra begin their careers as a Staff Accountant. From here, they may go on to take an Accounting Manager position. Advancement to a Director or Manager role comes with time and experience on the job.
Education & Training
Symphony Business Managers set the foundation for their careers with an MA in Accounting. With years of experience under her belt, Tate says, “I’m a CPA who has worked in not-for-profit management since 1973. I would recommend Accounting and HR Laws courses, most definitely.” The majority of finance professionals have attained their CPA designation (Certified Public Accountant), although this isn’t strictly necessary, according to Tucker, who believes having a background in the non-profit world will impart the necessary experience and on-the-job education. She explains, “You get a non-profit class in your Accounting degree. Depending on the school, sometimes you get a government/non-profit class (they’re very closely tied) with a few differences, of course. Government is completely different but they’re both to do with fund accounting, temporary funds, and unrestricted funds. I definitely recommend an Accounting degree. I don’t think you have to have a CPA. If you’re one of those individuals who loves learning, you would need to get that non-profit foundation and be in a continual state of getting information about the non-profit world.
I think what’s important really is if you have a knowledge of the performing arts, if you are an individual who likes to learn, who is excited about learning new things, it really honestly doesn’t take that long to learn the business. I’ve been here almost six months and I feel very comfortable about the business knowledge. There is stuff I don’t know and I’ll learn as I go, but the basics and the foundation I’ve got. I think the important thing for someone to know from the accounting standpoint is non-profit accounting. It’s fund accounting. It’s a different general ledger. It’s a different financial statement. It’s working with endowments — that’s a whole different realm of things.
In most of the performing arts, it’s working with donors. They may even have endowments related to those donors. Accounting for endowments can be very challenging. Also, keep in mind that you’ve got temporarily restricted funds versus permanently restricted funds versus unrestricted. They may be looking into changing that; FASB [Financial Accounting Standards Board] is talking about going restricted and unrestricted. The important things are to 1) know your non-profit accounting and 2) keep up on what FASB is doing in the non-profit world because especially right now they are making a lot of changes.”
Experience & Skills
To lead an orchestra’s finance department, Tate says, “one needs accounting experience. I have an MA in Business Administration and Management. Business law courses have been helpful.”
When asked about the level of experience required for a role such as hers, Tucker explained, “When I first came here, there were a lot of things that needed to be upgraded and processes put in place. They were working with 2007 Quickbooks and now we’re in 2017. Their payroll was manual and now it’s very automated. There were a lot of upgrades we did. It’s a very subjective question because it depends on the individual, in my opinion. Some people would say, ‘You have to have ten years of experience,’ but the bottom line is if you’re the kind of person who can jump in and fix what’s broken — there is that [skill] of being able to determine what’s broken and if you don’t know that’s another thing. They do need to be in the business world long enough to be able to identify what needs to be fixed, what’s broken, and [to know] how do I fix it.”
“Someone who can explain technical issues in lay language,” Tate says, is ideal to head an orchestra’s finance department. It also helps to be “someone who likes to interact with lots of different types of people.”
“I don’t think I’m the typical Accountant,” Tucker explains. “Most Accountants are very serious, at least the ones I’ve met. I think Accountants, in general, should be helpmates, should be partners, to their departments, to their team, to whomever they work with. They should be an asset. I think some people in accounting think they’re the rule makers and you have to follow their rules and abide by whatever they say, but the bottom line is we’re just the ones who report the information. The people who are actually doing the work are your program administrators, your department. We just report what they do.
I think it’s important to have a good working relationship with anyone you work with and to have that mindset that you’re there to assist and be an asset to them. I feel like a lot of people, even Auditors — and again this is my own personal opinion — I meet a lot of Accountants who feel like they’re in a silo and that’s just not true. We’re just reporters. We just tell the story and the story is who we work with. So you need to be able to work well with others, to communicate, to be open and transparent.”
The work lifestyle of an orchestra’s Business Manager can change based on the size of his or her department and the organization as a whole. Tate, who works with a larger staff, says, “I work closely with all departments of the Symphony, especially with the development department, since fundraising is such a large part of our budget. I usually work days and few weekends, but that can vary depending on what my priorities are. Also, this wasn’t always the case; I have been here almost twenty-one years.”
Tucker, who is the only person in her orchestra’s Finance Department says for her, “most of the time it’s standard hours but sometimes it’s seasonal and events come up. You work the hours you need to work to get the job done. In a public accounting firm, that’s going to be January to April and that’s going to be sixty hours a week. Here it’s seasonal and our season hasn’t started; I might not have anything to work overtime on until November or December. Our season is September to May and it really doesn’t impact me so much as it does the program departments but again, I’m an asset that’s available to them if they need me.”
Gaining a foot in the door with an orchestra’s finance department can be difficult, as there are only so many symphonies with available positions. Tate explains, “In a larger orchestra, one may have positions that can move up into the Director position. However, that is unlikely in the mid-size and smaller orchestras. Having a background in non-profit accounting (fund accounting) would be helpful.”
Tucker, who works for a smaller finance department, elaborates, “In our organization, they wouldn’t have that opportunity because there’s not enough people and funding. But if they wanted to start in an orchestra or a non-profit organization, my recommendation would be a bigger non-profit where they come in as a Staff Accountant and learn the business and learn the work there. My path wasn’t non-profit; I’ve had a multitude of experience between public, government, non-profit, and private and I think that experience alone has been really helpful. I’m a CPA, too. For me, it was my years of experience and certification that made it possible to come in without doing multiple steps. If you’re right out of school, start with a Staff Accountant position.”
Symphony Business Managers are salaried employees who earn standard benefits (insurance, paid time off). The range of pay varies widely based on the size and budget of the orchestra. For example, a smaller community orchestra may have less work for a professional in this role to do and therefore the rate of pay (and hours) will be less than a major metropolitan orchestra with an international reputation.
Unions, Groups, Social Media, and Associations
For aspiring performing arts finance employees, Tate suggests, the “League of American Orchestras would have [job] postings.”
“They are a great asset,” Tucker agrees. “Our President/CEO is very involved. They have a finance area and once we get the budget done, one of my ‘to-do’s’ is to get more involved in that area. I think that would be a great resource for this industry.”
For people who are just getting started in their finance careers, Tucker suggests:
- Focus on “education, because it’s always changing and evolving. FASB is always coming out with new stuff. You have to stay relevant. You’ve got to stay on your toes, so education is huge.”
- Be a “team player, [with] communication and transparency. Those are all so very important. I say ‘transparent’ because, in my experience, you meet a lot of Accountants who think the numbers are secret and well, they’re not! It’s the department’s information and they can’t make wise decisions unless you help them make those decisions. They need to know what their budget is. They need to know what their actuals are. They need to know where they’re going. So transparency in communication is very important.
- If you have drive and education, just stay open.” Don’t avoid working in other fields, even if symphony finance is your goal. Experience in fields outside of the performing arts is valuable.
- “Even if you’re an introvert, I think it’s important to know how to interact with your group. That’s something I think Accountants have a hard time with, in general. We’re so used to sitting in front of our computers and I think we just need to get out from behind the computer and interact.”
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?
Tate: “It’s important to be able to write and express yourself well and clearly.”
Tucker: “If they’re really wanting to make this their career path and this is their passion, there’s volunteering. We love volunteers here and they can always come in and volunteer or intern. I would love an Intern for Finance! Even if they didn’t want to do the finance department, they should come in and just get a feel.
We have a huge volunteer base. Most of the time they’re volunteering for the program departments. Right now they’re building violins for an education event two weeks from now, which is really cool. They got to build light sabers for one of our discovery concerts.
I think one of the most important things for young people is until you actually work the job or at least have been exposed to it, you really don’t know if that’s the path you want to take. It’s important to get that exposure. If someone is serious, coming in and being an Intern for Finance would be a really good way to do that because then they can see what I’m doing all day and say, ‘oh my gosh, I really don’t want to do that’! That’s just as important: to know what you don’t want to do as what you do want to do.”
What’s the #1 mistake people make when trying to get into this career?
Tucker: “When I think of building a career my first thought is the interview process. One of the important things they need is to be able to present themselves — because they only get one shot. They’ve got to really show who they are and all their skills in that one moment. I guess one of the biggest things I’ve seen, when working with people in this career, is they will tell me they know something or they’ll pretend they know something and they really don’t. For me, that’s a big drawback.
I don’t have a staff here but I’ve had staffs in the past. If you don’t know something, just say ‘I don’t know’ and you’ll learn. You’ll figure it out. Or ask for help. The biggest thing someone can mess up is to not ask for help and not admit they don’t know something — because that’s a problem.”
What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?
Tate: “How often are you interrupted during a day and have to regroup, especially when you are trying to deal with numbers? The answer is a lot!”
What is one thing I should have asked which I didn’t?
Tate: “How long can one expect before one knows how an orchestra runs?
At least a year. Orchestras are cyclical and if you haven’t experienced the Christmas Festival or the Memorial Concert, you are likely to make invalid assumptions.”
If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?
Tate: “Love. I love this orchestra, its musicians, staff, and volunteers.”
Tucker: “Communication. To me, that’s huge. It doesn’t matter who you’re communicating with, whether it’s a finance executive, department manager, coworkers, staff, donors, or volunteers — communication is so important.”
Linda Tucker is the Finance Director of the Winston-Salem Symphony in North Carolina. She holds a BS in Business Administration in Accounting from the University of Central Florida, an MS in Accounting from Kaplan University and is a Certified Public Accountant in North Carolina, Florida, and Texas.
Barbara Tate is the Director of Business Operations with the Kansas City Symphony. She received her bachelors in Speech Communications from the University of Missouri – Kansas City and her master’s in Business and Management from Webster University. She has been with the symphony since 1996.