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Management Marie-Josée Desrochers on working with a clientele ‘seemingly diversifying by the hour’

Marie-Josée Desrochers, chief operating officer of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, poses near their offices in Montreal on Aug. 23, 2018.

Christinne Muschi/Globe and Mail

Marie-Josée Desrochers is chief operating officer of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. She has more than 20 years of management experience in the cultural field, holds a master of music degree from Université de Montréal and graduated from the McGill-HEC EMBA in 2014.

I spent a great deal of my childhood in a garage, as both my parents worked in a garage they owned. They showed me the ropes of the business, but most importantly, they showed me how to work and deal with customers, as well as develop a sense of leadership. My earliest leadership experience was in fact to go on my own to fuel a car that was waiting for service, as well as help my parents within different areas of the business.

I never thought I wanted to make a career as a professional musician, but because music was a part of the culture in the city I grew up in, I started taking violin and piano lessons as a young girl. A few years down the line, it became a way for me to move away from Joliette, my hometown, and to go into a field other than law, which is where most of my relatives saw me. My parents supported me through my musical education. Even though I trained for over 20 years, I was not a traditional pianist, and already at the time I was gravitating around music as a professional administrator.

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I created my own job, teaching piano and accompanying soloists, but later realized that what I really wanted was to work in marketing, communications and management. This is when I had a breakthrough moment and decided it was time for me to study arts administration.

Young people nowadays are more aware of all the opportunities surrounding them, whereas in the eighties, the clear path for most of us was to go into a liberal profession. One of my daughters moved to Sydney for four months, while the other went volunteering in Africa for a few weeks – something I could have never done back then. Today, there are so many more possibilities when it comes to finding your path and accomplishing yourself.

To choose a career is to choose a lifestyle. I chose to go into music because I wanted to do something creative and innovative. Studying music has shaped me in all senses, as you must be extremely structured, while also being able to analyze concerns that may arise and solve them with creativity.

Collaborating with stars and high-profile leaders is simultaneously rewarding, challenging and inspiring. You must be prepared and ready to push your limits. Yet I truly believe that working for a world-class organization is extremely rewarding, as you get to see the impact your work has on everybody involved, including an audience of over 300,000 a year for live performances.

An institution should never forget where it came from. An institution that is built by leaders who respect and connect with its values and history has better chances of developing an inspiring vision and surviving in the long run. It’s always a question of respecting the past and looking towards the future, so that it remains relevant in the 21st century.

There is a similarity between the music industry and other industries affected by technology in the 21st century. It is no longer only about the quality, but also about the convenience. Adaptability is a must, as the clientele is seemingly diversifying by the hour. On the other hand, in this world of technology, you need to make people want to leave their homes to live a more profound experience. I believe people need to pause from their everyday life to connect with others in the community that the music world has to offer.

My passion is life. Both my parents have the feeling they could have done more with their own lives. This pushed me to live my life to its fullest potential.

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Music is an essential art to society, but one can only achieve great results in classical music through discipline, continuous learning and hard work. Talent is only a part of it. This can be transferred to any and every career!

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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