When Queensland Symphony Orchestra released its annual report for 2014 in January this year, it had something to celebrate. Under its new CEO, who joined towards the end of 2013, engagement figures went through the roof. Maria Roberts meets the woman in charge, Sophie Galaise.
The board at QSO must be patting one another on the back with joy, because only two years after her appointment, CEO Sophie Galaise has already proven herself to be the perfect woman for the job. I catch Galaise on Skype towards the end of her working day in Brisbane, and at the start of mine in the UK. She’s a remarkably easy-going and happy communicator, full of smiles and bursting with enthusiasm.
Along with her two teenage children, Galaise moved to Australia from Canada in 2013, where she’d been the executive director of Québec Symphony Orchestra. In Brisbane, she replaced Patrick Pickett (who now heads up Queensland Pops Orchestra) at QSO.
Galaise has good reason to be happy – QSO’s 2014 season closed with historic box office results, taking in AUD1m for its Maestro Series alone. Likewise, community activity was up: education participants increased by 82 per cent on 2013, to a total of 22,460; QSO engaged with 115 schools throughout the state delivering concerts, workshops and demonstrations; regional touring more than tripled … the list of achievements goes on.
In total, the orchestra delivered 125 performances, and broke world records when it staged the largest ever BBC Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular to an audience of 9,000 people. Even more impressive is that QSO posted its first operational surplus (AUD622,369) since 2011 and boasted a ticket revenue increase of AUD2,158,130, an overall increase of 53 per cent.
‘When I came onboard, QSO was looking for a new CEO to take the organisation to the next level, so that was my mandate,’ explains Galaise. ‘The quality of the orchestra was already there [chief conductor, now conductor laureate, Johannes Fritzsch had spent seven years at the helm], but we needed the finances in good order to expand our reach and so we began developing a strong strategy for 2014.’
Her leadership abilities are no doubt strengthened by the fact that she’s a former flautist, has a PhD in musicology, and completed an executive MBA at McGill-HEC Montréal, during which she specialised in how to develop audiences using social media. As such, an evolving digital strategy has been the cornerstone of QSO’s audience engagement drive.
‘I think social media is essential. For any company, the question ‘what is the return on investment?’ remains an important one – I believe we can see good ROI at QSO. We employ a mixed media strategy and also make the most of our opportunities on television, radio and in newspapers.’
Galaise is keen to share the glory and accredits QSO’s phenomenal success to her hardworking team. ‘I believe in all parties coming together and so the board, the staff and the musicians all meet regularly to agree on a very clear vision. Everybody agrees that we want to engage with communities and be relevant to the people here in Queensland and Brisbane, and then from that point go beyond to other states and be known as champions of music.
‘As a team, everyone works really hard at finding solutions and is prepared to go that extra mile. Sometimes this means accepting that you are not always right, and that’s something I really like. I love working here – when Australians say they will do something, they roll up their sleeves and they do it.’