- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 20, 2000

Like a hired gun, Michael Kaiser often is called in to restore the luster to struggling arts organizations or build up their dwindling coffers.

Then the management maven moves on to his next assignment.

With yesterday's announcement that Mr. Kaiser will take over as president of a healthy Kennedy Center, he appears headed for a curious career challenge.

It's unfamiliar territory, to be sure, but Mr. Kaiser insisted the same rules apply.

"The reason why you study troubled organizations is you learn what makes them healthy ones," Mr. Kaiser said yesterday at a press conference held on the Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater stage.

Mr. Kaiser is wrapping up a two-year stint as executive director of the Royal Opera House in London. Before moving to England, where he erased the opera company's 19 million pound deficit (about $28.5 million), he restored the American Ballet Theatre to financial health as its executive director. Earlier, he performed similar fiscal wonders for the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater Foundation. He also served two years on the Washington Opera's board during the 1980s.

Mr. Kaiser was selected after an "international search," according to Kennedy Center Chairman James A. Johnson. He will replace Lawrence Wilker, who announced his resignation in April to form an Internet arts and entertainment company.

"In Michael, we have someone who has impressed the world with his capacity to lead arts organizations," Mr. Johnson said. "He has a … love of the arts and a tremendous talent for management and leadership."

Given such flowery praise, the event seemed like the start of a honeymoon period between Mr. Kaiser and Washington's art patrons.

He said little to anger the arts community during his first comments as unofficial president.

"It's too early for me to say what I'd like to do," Mr. Kaiser, 47, said during a perfunctory question-and-answer session. He did say the Kennedy Center should embrace technology to push its educational efforts and that he supported "cutting edge" dance programs.

Joining the Kennedy Center was "an easy decision once I knew the scope of the job," said Mr. Kaiser, who became entranced with the theater at the age of 4 when he peered beyond the scrim at a production of "The Music Man."

Although he has been known to bounce quickly from one post to the next, Mr. Kaiser promised this situation will be different at least for the next five years.

Christine Hunter, chairwoman of the executive committee of the Washington Opera (now the National Opera), who worked with Mr. Kaiser on the opera board, expressed admiration regarding his appointment.

"He was a very dedicated trustee and gave a great deal of time and energy to building the company up," she said by telephone from Wisconsin. "He has an appreciation of the arts and a hands-on approach to all that goes into arts management."

Tom Wheeler, chairman of the Kennedy Center's search committee, praised Mr. Kaiser for his financial wizardry.

"He is, first and foremost, a manager who's been a consultant to Fortune 50 companies," Mr. Wheeler said, which complements Mr. Kaiser's passion for the arts.

Mr. Kaiser seems uniquely prepared for his new role, which begins in February, given the choppy financial waters most arts organizations must navigate.

"I have this bizarre personality quirk. I love to fund raise," he said.

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