02/10/2007 - 22:00

Culture corner

02/10/2007 - 22:00


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Rodney Phillips, Majesty’s Theatre

Rodney Phillips

Chief executive of Ogden International Facilities Corporation (three years); general manager of His Majesty’s Theatre (seven years).

WABN: Describe a day at work.

RP: “Meetings, mentoring, decisions, discussions, expecting the unexpected and great ongoing job satisfaction.”

WABN: What is the best piece of advice you can give someone to motivate a team?

RP: “Lead by example, praise in front of others, discipline in private.”

WABN: What was the most challenging event in your career?

RP: “Taking on the management of His Majesty’s in 1999. The building and its staff were completely demoralised, moribund and enveloped in gloom and pessimism. When I started, the whole management team had been changed and the staff was frightened about possible changes, and was afraid people would be sacked. Added to that, the former management seemed to have lost all interest in running the theatre in its last months. There was no push and the organisation ran dead like a flat battery.

“I lead by example, would not take no for an answer and immediately introduced a range of new artistic projects to which I knew everyone would respond positively.

“I practised an open-door management policy, allowing staff to come in to talk to me or ask my opinion. I had my door open 90 per cent of my time for a few months but nobody came because they were so frightened. I decided to go to them to explain that we were going to do exciting projects together and make His Majesty’s the best theatre in Perth, and that I needed all of their help.

“I showed the staff that we were going to move forward and showed the public that we were back into business.

“We started new projects. Firstly, in 2000, we introduced four community service programs. In the theatre world these are special artistic programs created for particular segments of the population, and are traditionally low-cost events. There were no such things in Perth when I started, so I got my board to fund it. One of the programs was weekly lunchtime concerts of popular music, informally presented and targeting people working in the city.

“Seven years later, we have a situation where people don’t try to find the program they just know it’s there.

“I proved to myself that no matter how negative the culture of an organisation is, if you have a determination to succeed and know your business, there is always a way forward and people will follow you.”

WABN: What is the main quality are you looking for in your team members?

RP: “Passion and commitment, a can-do attitude and a willingness to go the extra mile.”

WABN: What's best measurement of your performance, and can you name a highlight in your career?

RP: “Full theatres, satisfied audiences and happy, talented performers.

“The opening of the Natal Playhouse Performing Centre in Durban, South Africa in 1985, where I was resourced to deliver the very best of everything in the performing arts.

“In the old South Africa, which I left, the government had decided from the 1970s that the four capitals were going to get world-standard performing arts facilities It invested in each of those cities one by one to build superb arts centres and gave ongoing funding for top-quality performances.

“Durban was the last one to get the resources for it to happen. I arrived as chief executive just before it all began. I arrived in 1982, and over six years I had a wonderful challenge and opportunity to build a facility including theatres, workshop amenities, rehearsal rooms, and also to build up companies for ballet, opera or orchestra. 

“Coming from nothing to an organisation with a huge performance centre and 700 talented staff was the most satisfying achievement in my career.

WABN: How do you deal with egos in your workplace?

RP: “The performing arts thrive on egos. I try to harness all the egos to move in a united, forward direction for the good of the business overall.”

WABN: Is there an organisation/business model that you strive to achieve/reach?

RP: “The consolidation of all the best strands in the performing arts – venues, performers, audiences and staff, coming physically together for the benefit of critical mass and economies of scale.”

WABN: What frustrates you the most about your sector and what would you do to change it?

RP: “That Perth’s performing arts venues and facilities are not yet up to the standards of those in Adelaide and Brisbane, which are Australian capital cities of comparable size.”

WABN: What are the specific hurdles that you meet on a daily basis in your sector? How do you deal with them?

RP: “Under-resourcing. We work very long hours and try to work smarter and cut as few corners as possible, as customer service is always our top priority.”

WABN: Have you read a good book on management/leadership that you can recommend? What was so good about it?

RP: “Not lately, I’ve been too busy keeping up with trade publications. I get the most practical information from Australian and international performing arts publications; I find out about new theatres, marketing ideas, personalities moving to what job, new equipment, interactions of other arts forms. Most of my free time in the evening and on the weekend I read media material related to my business, rather than full books on management matters.”

WABN: Which personality inspired you the most throughout your career?

RP: “The general director of the Performing Arts Council of the Transvaal Province in South Africa, Eghard van der Hoven. He had come up through the ranks from actor to become manager of this huge organisation. He had done every job on the way up and when he made a decision, I couldn’t wait to get started, as I had such overwhelming respect for him.

WABN: Who has influenced you personally?

RP: “The older I get the more I realise the subconscious positive influence my late father had on me as a person. So subtle was this that I never ever realised that it was happening to me at the time.”

WABN: Who has influenced you professionally?

RP: “A number of great orchestral conductors that I am privileged to know for their musical skills and inspiration as humans. I would name quite a few.

“One of these, Georg Tintner, had a major role in WA opera life years ago. He was a great Austrian conductor who fled the war and spent his life working around Australia. I would also name British conductor, David Tidboald, and Frenchman Louis Fremaux.

“These people had strong leadership qualities and a certain charisma about them. They were able to inspire 100 musicians and singers at a time. It’s more than being a musician, they are the absolute leaders. I am always fascinated about where their management skills come from, what make them great leaders, what makes them put their stamp on particular performances.

WABN: What were you doing before your current position?

RP: “I have been managing performing arts companies and venues in other places across the world. I worked in London, Oxford, Glasgow and Edinburgh, and I worked a lot on the east coast, I was managing director the Brisbane Lyric Opera House and deputy general manager of the Sydney Opera House.”

WABN: What is your education background?

RP: “I have a South African Commerce Degree specialising in marketing and general management and a post graduate qualification in arts administration from England.”


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