Chicago’s cultural institutions have educated generations of visitors. Meet the alumnae charged with ensuring their financial health.
- October 10, 2017
- Social Impact
Rose Fealy: One of our biggest challenges is the need for capital investment, particularly in our facility, an 1893 building. People are inspired to donate to education programs and exhibits, but replacing an electrical system or an elevator isn’t nearly as fun.
Marcia Heuser: That is a challenge. Deferred maintenance is huge, and I don’t think it’s unique to cultural institutions. You hear universities talk about it as well, but when resources are tight, you look to operations.
Rose Fealy: The thing that is unique about our business is the need to keep content fresh and to constantly think about our marketing message to the public. We want people to see us as a growing, viable organization and not just somewhere they went as kids. It’s a constant need to upgrade our exhibits, come up with unique approaches. Our CEO likes to say that, unlike the art museum whose assets are appreciating, ours are depreciating fast. We’re constantly faced with the challenges of what it costs to build something cutting-edge such as the [MSI’s current] Robot Revolution exhibit. It’s expensive.
Joyce Simon: My personal mission, and my reason for being at an institution such as the Shedd, is to help good people do good things. It’s a constant balance as to how you allocate resources between formal education, the museum experience, scientific research, and outreach. It’s a tough call. It’s not as easy as doing an ROI.
Marcia Heuser: At the Adler, there is so much passion among the staff to do good that there is a desire to say yes to everything. Being focused with our resources and looking where we can have the most impact is a real challenge.
We want people to see us as a growing, viable organization and not just somewhere they went as kids.
Marcia Heuser: Yes, there is a financial trade-off. I do think, though, there is a true reward in feeling like you’re making a difference. We work hard, but it’s satisfying most days. At least at the Adler—and I am pretty sure this holds true for others—we’re all working executives. We roll up our sleeves and help solve things. We don’t necessarily have teams of 25 to tackle issues, so we have to be right in there helping to come up with effective and innovative solutions to problems. It’s kind of fun.
Joyce Simon: It’s work, but again, as Marcia said, there are great rewards. When I’m having a bad day, I can get up from my desk and go look at animals and young children enjoying them. Then you realize this is what makes it all worthwhile.
Rose Fealy: From my perspective, it’s a great finish to my career, being able to give back in some way, and also being very, very challenged on the diversity of the projects that we undertake.
There is a true reward in feeling like you’re making a difference.
Rose Fealy: I do see that many of the roles in business today assume you have a stay-at-home spouse, whether you are male or female. I have worked in companies where many of the senior-level women had stay-at-home husbands, who were taking care of the house and sometimes taking care of children.
Marcia Heuser: I see a change in attitudes in terms of what is important to people in the 20- to 35-year-old range today versus what my generation simply accepted. They’re demanding work-life balance. I credit this generation for just saying, “These are the terms that we will work under.” Do you see these changes, Joyce and Rose?
Joyce Simon: I do.
Rose Fealy: Yeah, I absolutely do.
—By Deborah Ziff