Including an interview with TSO Board Chair Richard Phillips.
As reported yesterday, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra announced that Jeff Melanson has resigned as President and CEO of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.
The official story is that he was not fired, but rather the decision was mutual and amicable. Our conversation with TSO Chair of the Board of Directors, Richard Phillips confirmed that there was no ill-will, and that “Jeff and the Board felt that the TSO would be better off with him stepping aside.”
More than a few eyebrows were raised after the Globe’s Marsha Lederman wrote a severely critical report tabling allegations from a court document filed by Melanson’s estranged wife, Eleanor McCain — a singer and heiress of the McCain food empire.
According to the allegations in the court filing, Melanson deliberately misrepresented himself and “tricked” her into marriage to take advantage of her wealth, business, and political connections. It also revealed he was subject to a sexual harassment complaint, gave girlfriends plum jobs, and left Banff in the lurch in an attempt to run away from the problems that were allegedly quickly beginning to spin out of control. “The real reasons for Jeff’s departure from [Banff] were his harassment of female employees and his inability to deliver on his grandiose plans,” the court document states.
Melanson responded to the court document via Twitter claiming the allegations against him were both “inaccurate and undignified.”
The Other Woman
The filing included details on an impropriety at the TSO involving a woman whom Melanson is currently dating. Melanson hired her as TSO’s Manager of Social Media in July 2015.
The Board learned Melanson had hired her and deemed her employment at the TSO “totally inappropriate”. She was terminated in November 2015.
The document revealed Melanson and the woman traveled extensively to classical music festivals, including trips to Switzerland and Italy using TSO funds, a not-for-profit with limited financial means.
Our research revealed the woman’s name is Caroline Márkos, an arts and culture enthusiast with a specialization in Social Media and Content Marketing from Vancouver. Márkos responded directly to the allegations on her facebook page on March 14, but when reached, declined to comment further.
In her facebook post she suggested that readers should use the (Globe & Mail) paper to line their garbage can with, or use it to wipe excrement off their shoes. She also said it was an attempt at character assassination, and denied the allegations against Melanson. She asked friends to send notes of support to Melanson.
The post included a photo of the two embracing while on vacation (see above).
Toronto Symphony Damage Control
When asked about Melanson’s relationship with the TSO Board over the past few weeks, Board Chair Richard Phillips described it as “open and constructive.” Phillips said the Board was made aware of the allegations against Melanson, but also said it was not heavily focused on them. He underlined that they were concerned with how the orchestra is going to thrive in light of Melanson’s personal troubles.
“Jeff has something to deal with in his life outside of the TSO that requires his attention. I don’t want to speak about his personal life but that is stuff that he is focusing on outside of the TSO,” Phillips said.
“This isn’t corporate speak or anything like that. We really do like a lot of the initiatives that Jeff took,” Phillips added. “When it comes to making sure that the TSO is relevant to people in our city, he did a good job of improving that. The TSO is in a better place than it was, and we will carry on and will build on that direction.”
That direction will now be the responsibility of board member Sonia Baxendale, who has stepped down from the board and is now TSO Interim President & CEO. Baxendale was also once the number two at CIBC, and was named one of the “Top 100 Most Powerful Women in Canada”.
While she has no direct experience running a major arts organisation, Phillips described her as “a very capable set of hands.” He estimated that the search for a new CEO and President will take as long as it needs to take; “We want to make sure we get it right.”
Phillips pressed that this is obviously a very difficult time, but the board is thoughtful and focused on getting a really good result for the TSO.”
As for Melanson’s radio show “Sunday Night With the TSO” on 96.3 FM, it was just renewed for a second season and is the number one show in the time slot. TSO show producer Michael Morreale confirmed that the show will go on, without Melanson at the microphone.
Is this game over for Jeff Melanson? Not likely. His track record as an effective fundraiser, leader, and arts visionary is still in place. And as crisis management consultant Allan Bonner, told the Star, “Everybody does have short memories. The turnover in the executive suite in private industry is massive.”
While the TSO comes to terms with the loss of its leadership, it will likely experience a period of reflective adjustment. Like the Banff Centre before them, which Melanson also resigned from suddenly, life will go on. With larger than life personalities, organisations like the TSO must be careful to protect the legacy and brand equity they have spent nearly a century building.
As for Jeff Melanson, this is far from over, and with a potentially lengthy legal battle ahead, I have a feeling we’ll be hearing from him again very soon.