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Wilkinson to take reins as symphony CEO

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Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2011

The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra on Monday named James A. Wilkinson its new president and chief executive officer, effective immediately.

Wilkinson was appointed after his predecessor, Lawrence J. Tamburri, resigned at the end of a two-hour meeting of the executive committee of the board.

"Larry has done good work," said board chairman Dick Simmons. "This might be the time, as he said to someone else, to step back and decide what he wants to do."

Tamburri did not return a call for comment.

Wilkinson has been vice chair of the symphony's Board of Trustees since 2003. He joined the board in 1984 and its executive committee in 1988.

"Recognizing we needed someone to step in, there is no one better than Jim Wilkinson to fill that job," Simmons said. "He knows far more about the symphony, the orchestra, the issues."

Tamburri became president and CEO of the symphony in 2004, succeeding Gideon Toeplitz. Tamburri was born and raised in Pittsburgh and was president of the New Jersey Symphony in Newark, N.J., before taking charge at Heinz Hall, Downtown. His total compensation in 2010 was $359,249.

Career high points occurred in the first part of Tamburri's term, including hiring Doug Kinzey as senior vice president for audience development and Manfred Honeck as music director.

Progress in subscription and ticket sales stalled when Kinzey left three years ago. The symphony's financial picture has darkened in recent years, along with the general economy. It has run $2 million deficits each of the last two seasons, which would have been worse without the symphony dipping into unrestricted portions of the endowment.

"There is no question that the organization faces a number of significant challenges, not the least of which is the deficit," Wilkinson said. "While we have pledges for the $80 million capital campaign, we're going to continue fund-raising.

"As Dick (Simmons) noted to me a week or so ago, 'My family has given more than $12 million to the capital campaign and I don't believe a penny has gone to the endowment. It's been used to cover the deficit.' "

Wilkinson said an ad hoc committee of the board will recommend to the full board that the strategic plan not be changed, but that its implementation be improved.

"I am genuinely looking forward to more closely working with the staff and board in meeting the challenges our organization faces," he said. "I am quite confident we will address those challenges over the next couple of years. We will get it done."

Wilkinson is a lawyer who was a senior financial analyst for USX Corp. from 1974-82, and chairman of the health care division of Buchanan-Ingersoll law firm from 1982-88. He was part owner and held executive positions from 1988-2006 with Meritcare Inc., which operated 50 long-term-care facilities in 11 states.

Wilkinson is a life trustee of the Carnegie Institute and has served on the board of the Andy Warhol Museum since 1998. He was executive director of the Society for Contemporary Craft from 2007-09, having served on its board from 2000-04.

"Having sat across the table from Jim Wilkinson for negotiations on several occasions, I have a lot of faith in his abilities and a lot of respect for what he brings to the table," said Harold Smoliar, chair of the orchestra committee.

"While I know he may never have had the job of general manager of an orchestra, I think he knows an awful lot about the Pittsburgh Symphony and what makes it tick," Smoliar said.



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