Business and the arts: a perfect harmony
Trudy Schroeder
TRUDY SCHROEDER, Executive Director
Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra
Asper MBA, 2004

TRUDY SCHROEDER, executive director of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, felt a passion for music from an early age. In high school she took private lessons with the WSO’s principle clarinet player, and later studied voice at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto.

“Studying music helped me listen differently,” she says. “The way the instructors talked about a musical phrase transformed music into a brand new experience.”

It wasn’t until she began singing in a small ensemble – where she was charged with the task of selling tickets and marketing the group – that a newly kindled passion for business management led her to consider a future in arts administration.

“Someone has to take care of those kinds of things, and I started doing it because no one else would,” she laughs. “I got a real thrill out of getting media coverage, filling seats, counting ticket sales and calculating the results of our efforts.”

This led to a business program in arts management at the University of Ottawa. The program combined a general management background with courses in arts policy, budgeting and fundraising. At the same time, she worked as a cultural consultant for the City of Ottawa.

“I realized I could apply everything I was learning directly to my work. Back then, arts organizations were just beginning to realize they needed people trained in management thinking and systems, accounting, human resource management … and I was getting that. But then a light bulb went off in my head: I wanted to take my management skills even further. I wanted an MBA.”

She moved to Winnipeg, enrolled in the Asper MBA program, and got a job as executive director of the Winnipeg Folk Festival.

“People talk about the MBA effect after they’ve graduated, but the moment you can honestly say you have an MBA in progress, it puts your resume and your career potential on a different level. The Folk Festival realized they needed someone who was serious about the business of the arts. I had a solid background in the arts, and the business knowledge and exposure needed in the creative sector.”

Trudy describes the Asper MBA as “a beautifully balanced toolkit that can help a person become an outstanding manager and leader.” Her MBA enriched her business leadership acumen by:

  • Introducing her to diverse points of view. “I met colleagues with such a variety of skills, ages, professional backgrounds and personalities, all of them as committed to their careers as I was. We weren’t just listening to professors talk; we were working together, engaging with one another, learning how each of us would solve problems.”
  • Arming her with effective problem-solving tools. “We learned not to merely react to business and leadership problems, but to use the case method as a process for identifying solutions and quantifying the impacts.”
  • Providing her with opportunities to apply what she learned to her professional work. “We could discuss problems and issues in class and find solutions, or focus on projects that used our business or organization as a case study.”
  • Defining the role of leadership. “The MBA made me much more aware that a leader is like an orchestra conductor. My job is to create an environment in which wonderful people can do their very best work.”

Her current role as executive director of the WSO has given Trudy the chance to bring her business leadership skills and her passion for symphonic music into perfect harmony. One of her first tasks was to help develop a new strategic direction for the organization. “We really focused on ways to deliver an exceptional musical experience to all Manitobans,” she explains. “Our mandate is to do things that are magical.”

These include an extraordinary range of community outreach programs that bring music to the orchestra’s audiences, not just the other way around. Apart from providing outstanding symphonic music experiences, Trudy says the WSO has succeeded by strengthening its relationship with the community it serves, including other businesses and arts organizations.

“The tools I gained in the Asper MBA made me a more confident leader,” Trudy says, “and that makes a difference in the business community. Especially when you’re working in the arts, it gives other business leaders and community partners the confidence that the person managing this institution has not only passion for their art, but sound business sense!”