Turnaround King comes home

MIT Sloan alumnus Michael Kaiser, renowned for reviving arts organizations, speaks as part of the Dean's Innovative Leader Series

Michael KaiserHailed as the “Turnaround King” of the arts world, MIT Sloan alumnus Michael Kaiser (SM '77) has made a career out of revitalizing troubled arts organizations at a time when funding for the arts has been scarce.

Kaiser, president of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., will speak at MIT Sloan this week as part of the Dean's Innovative Leader Series, which brings to campus some of the most influential and innovative leaders from the public and private sectors.

Kaiser has pulled numerous organizations from near extinction. In 1993, as the executive director of the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater Foundation, he not only eliminated the foundation's debt, but also greatly increased revenue. After that, he moved on to rescue the troubled American Ballet Theatre. Then it was on to the Royal Opera House in London, where he completed a £214 million redevelopment of the facility, vastly boosted support, and created an endowment fund.

Now, as the president of the Kennedy Center, he again finds himself the architect of a resurrection. Once known as merely another “good” regional theatre and stopping point for road shows, under Kaiser's tenure the Kennedy Center has built a worldwide reputation as a vibrant destination for dance, theater, and music. With his dedication to bold artistic expression and his time-tested formula of developing a performance series around a single theme, Kaiser has attracted audiences and top-notch talent from all over the world.

Rising to the challenge

“When arts organizations have their biggest challenges,” he told U.S.News.com in March 2003, “they have to do their biggest work.”

That philosophy has paid off again and again for the center. The unprecedented Sondheim Celebration in the summer of 2002 featuring six productions of Stephen Sondheim's works received international recognition. Likewise, the exclusive U.S. presentation of the Bolshoi Ballet and Opera and a five-year annual commitment of visits from London's Royal Shakespeare Company solidified the center's reputation as an important artistic presence.

“I believe fame turns into money and money turns into better art,” he told U.S.News.com, and year after year this has proven to be true.

According to The Washington Post, from 2000 to 2004 donations to the center increased by 30 percent to $47.6 million. Ticket revenues jumped 24 percent, from $36.6 million to $45.2 million.

And Kaiser has put the new funds to good use, initiating a number of important theater renovations and building projects. The largest renovation is a planned eight-acre expansion of the front plaza over the existing highways that could, once again, completely reinvent the center.

Related Links

John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts >>
Michael Kaiser bio >>

Cosponsored by the MIT Leadership Center and the MIT Sloan Office of Resource Development, the Dean's Innovative Leader Series brings to campus some of the most influential and innovative leaders from the public and private sectors. They speak frankly, sharing lessons learned from their experiences leading some of the world's most influential organizations.