Symphony's ex-CEO sold on his new career

dmenconi@newsobserver.comFebruary 26, 2012 

  • Age: 44

    Residence: Raleigh

    Family: Married to Rebecca Worters; two children, ages 13 and 8

    Education: Bachelor of Arts in economics, Harvard University

    First arts organization: Manager, Harvard Glee Club

    1999-2010: President and CEO, N.C. Symphony

    Now: Broker, Hodge & Kittrell Sotheby's International Realty

For more than a decade, David Worters' job was to sell the N.C. Symphony. Now he's selling houses, and while there are some similarities, he acknowledges the jobs are "night and day apart."

Worters' 1999-2010 tenure as the symphony's president and CEO was one of the most eventful periods in the organization's history. Those 11 years saw the symphony bring in music director Grant Llewellyn; begin performing in two key new venues, Meymandi Hall and Cary's expanded Booth Amphitheater; and struggle with the ravaging economic recession that began in 2008 and is still being felt.

After leaving the N.C. Symphony in 2010, Worters went to Texas to be president and CEO of the Van Cliburn Foundation, which oversees the renowned piano competition. But that only lasted six months before he resigned. His family moved back to Raleigh in December, and he recently began selling residential real estate for Hodge & Kittrell Sotheby's in Raleigh.

Q: So how does one move from arts management to real estate?

For 20 years, I pursued my first love, music management, and it was great - even the difficult times. After leaving the Cliburn, I had a chance to do anything. There are a few things I've always wanted to do, like running the business operation of the New England Patriots. Barring that, I've always been fascinated by architecture and homes. I'm also a very downtown-focused guy, so it's part of this revelation that we can do whatever we want while living downtown.

Q: When you resigned from the Cliburn job, you were quoted as saying, "I've found that I don't have sufficient passion for this." What happened?

What happens at the Cliburn stays at the Cliburn. I was asked not to talk about that situation, and I'm going to honor that commitment. But I can say this: Life is too short to do something that is not going to make you really, really happy. So I decided that the best thing to do was to leave that opportunity behind.

(Asked for comment, Cliburn spokeswoman Maggie Estes sent a statement: "The Cliburn is grateful to David for his service during his tenure here, including his oversight of the successful sixth edition of our International Piano Competition for Outstanding Amateurs last May. We wish him all the best in his new endeavor and in his return home with his family to Raleigh.")

Q: Why come back to Raleigh?

There was no job-related reason to go any particular place, so we thought about Austin, Denver, California, Boston. And I decided I wanted to be in Raleigh. It really is the best place to live in the country.

Q: The last few years have been tough for the arts everywhere. How hard was that to get through with the symphony?

When your endowment, funding and ticket sales all nosedive at the same time, as they did in 2008 and 2009, that's not a lot of fun. All we ever spent money on was people. So when there was a need to pull back and retrench, it was going to be felt by people we cared very deeply about. However, I still loved the job. It's a great job, primarily because it's a great organization.

Q: What are the prospects for other arts groups as well as the symphony?

I always felt the symphony was a powerful economic development force for the state, especially in difficult economic times. If we are serious about attracting the world's brightest minds, we have to have a dynamic intellectual economy. The arts aren't just a warm fuzzy, they're about jobs. The symphony is as much a tool for the department of commerce as the department of cultural resources.

Q: Do you think it's more difficult for the arts, given the turnover in state government?

I can't speak to now, but the General Assembly leadership I worked with consisted of people who got it at a very fundamental level. A lot of members had grown up in small towns and remembered the day they first heard the symphony in their local school in Hickory or Edenton or wherever. I'm not in that world anymore, so I don't know about now. But I still think it's about economics and making North Carolina competitive.

Q: Do you think you'll ever go back to arts management?

Never say never. I could imagine doing some consulting in the future, maybe with smaller arts organizations. But this is my new thing and I think it's going to be great.

Menconi: 919-829-4759 or blogs.newsobserver.com/beat

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