To find out, Scott Moyer, Workday’s director of product marketing for the office of the CFO and former CFO for five different organizations, sat down with Croen and Barnes. Below are takeaways from our conversation, edited for clarity.
Evelyn and Caroline, to start us off, can you share background information about your two great organizations?
Barnes: The Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) is one of the most preeminent and largest orchestras in the United States. Pre-pandemic, we had $100 million in annual operating revenue and about $600 million in assets. Our operations also consist of summer performances at the Tanglewood concert venue, the popular Boston Pops Orchestra, and streaming, educational programs, radio, television, recordings, and tours. We have 1,400 employees, from part time and seasonal to union.
Croen: The WNET Group operates the PBS flagship public television station known as THIRTEEN. We incorporated back in 1959, and we’re home to iconic presentations such as “Nature,” “American Masters,” and “Great Performances.” We have an operating budget of $155 million and an investment fund at approximately $200 million. We have a full-time staff of 400 and many seasonal fixed-term employees due to the nature of our production.
You’ve both shared previously, that one of the reasons you were attracted to nonprofit work is that there’s a purpose behind it. How does finance help drive that purpose?
Barnes: The phrase we use in the nonprofit CFO world is, “No margin, no mission.” That’s it in a nutshell. We need the money to do what we do, and we have to know what the return is on that money. I don’t necessarily mean the financial return, although that’s a big part of it, but what’s the return on the mission investment. It’s a matter of not only understanding annual operating costs, but also making sure we’re sustainable now and in the future.
Croen: When information is stale, when it’s not accessible, we’re not able to help our colleagues make important decisions. We can answer critical business questions by connecting the data. And we’re doing that for everyone in the organization, not just a select group or the finance team. We help people enterprisewide make better decisions across the board.
Tell me about your challenges, such as having the data you need to help drive your mission, pivoting and adapting to change, and attracting and retaining talent?
Croen: Pivoting is critical—and not just during the pandemic. We also need to pivot as we grow, so we can expand and strengthen our legacy. We wanted to become a dual licensee to include radio and operate all of the New Jersey public media outlets on behalf of the state of New Jersey, along with some targeted mission-related acquisitions. To do so, we had to bring those acquisitions online and make sure that they were working at the same speed and efficiency as the rest of the organization. By leveraging the adaptability of Workday, we were able to do that. With the foundations we already had in place, we were able to quickly add companies and employees, so it was a smooth transition. I had what I needed with Workday in addition to a skilled workforce to keep moving and growing.
Barnes: Prior to the pandemic, we’d started to run a deficit after many years of break-even operations. There are not many efficiencies you can build into a symphony orchestra. It takes X number of violins and X number of people on stage to do the piece, so you can’t really redo staff. The pieces are what they are.
But there are other ways to be more efficient. We recently implemented the Workday Enterprise Management Cloud, so I’m looking forward to using more of the insights we’ll gain from that technology update. We’ve also been using Workday Adaptive Planning, which is a powerful tool.
As I mentioned, we were closed for about 18 months. During which time, we pivoted to become a media company; we had our orchestra play on stage with no audience, and then recorded and disseminated those performances through our own platform. We had a tremendous viewership across the world.
It’s an experiment, and we’re still trying to figure out, as many orchestras are, what the future is with digital when an orchestra is really designed for an in-person experience. But our goal is to drive the mission, and to spread the music to audiences beyond those who can walk into Symphony Hall.