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10 to Contend: Joe McKenna

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  • | 5:00 a.m. December 30, 2009
  • Sarasota
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Asked to describe his management style, Sarasota Orchestra CEO Joe McKenna came up with an unusual description.

“I’m like a tugboat,” he said. “Steady in rough waters, able to withstand turbulence, reliable, dependable.”
The orchestra was in need of a tugboat the past several months, when contract negotiations with its musicians’ union became contentious. The musicians were deciding if they wanted to go on strike.

But last month, a seven-month negotiation process ended with a new two-year contract that met the approval of both McKenna and the union.

Slow and steady helped get the job done.

“The contract provides a level of stability for the orchestra and tells the community that we work through issues,” he said. “We will go forward from here.”

McKenna sees the orchestra as an extension of his family.

“I want the orchestra to be the best it can be and keep as many people employed here as I can, because it’s good for them and good for the organization,” he said.

And while he takes his job at the orchestra seriously, McKenna said his most important job is raising his two children.

“The world is in such need of good, solid people,” he said. “It’s important for my daughters to see me being civil, working hard and helping people. I try to live my life in such a way that my daughters can see how they can chart their path in life.”

To help guide his daughters, McKenna uses lessons learned from his own parents. His father taught him the value of integrity and hard work, but it’s his mother’s biggest lesson that he refers to most often — get a good night’s sleep.

“I learned that if you got a good night’s sleep, you can do your best,” he said. “It’s a really good lesson I now teach my daughters.”

Getting enough rest, he said, allows him to take care of his two families, the one at home and the one at the orchestra.

The tugboat will need his rest as he faces more challenges this year — coping with a reduction in donations and trying to appeal to a wider audience.

“We’ve heard from some donors who say they can’t donate this year,” McKenna said. “But others have picked up the slack.”

The orchestra has found that baby boomers want shorter programs that are more interactive, so it has incorporated video with live music in some programs.

“Some of the real excitement comes from taking creations of the past and updating them with technology and with video,” he said.

The S.S. McKenna shouldn’t have difficulty meeting those challenges.

Contact Robin Roy at [email protected]

Age: 44
Hometown: Bristol, R.I.
Came to Sarasota: 2001
Favorite part of Sarasota: The bayfront
Hobby: Outdoor exercise
Interesting fact: He’s the fifth of six siblings
Passion: Family


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