An interview with Bill Findlay

by Jonathan Dubay

It was supposed to take only ten meetings. Instead, what Bill Findlay describes as the most dramatic experience in his nine years on the Oregon Symphony Board of Directors amounted to 410 hours of work over eight months. In 2000, Bill had been asked to become part of the contract negotiations between the Symphony Association and musicians. “It was a far greater time commitment than I ever expected, but it was time well spent.”

Bill joined two fellow Board members, Symphony staff, six musicians, Union officers and Federal facilitators to work out changes to the collective bargaining agreement, the document that governs compensation and working conditions for Symphony musicians. “The key thing that came out of it was that we all really worked together for the common good, despite a difficult financial environment.” He confides that this intense encounter produced significant revelations for him, including about the working conditions that musicians experience on a regular basis. He adds, “I admire the musicians for agreeing to raise the pay of entry–level positions at the expense of more senior orchestra members.”

“No group of people is going to agree on everything — you’ve got to keep communication open, and respect.” Bill has kept this his goal ever since joining the Board in 1996, two weeks after the first strike in the Symphony’s then 100–year history. “I got involved with building trust.” One way he did this was to organize regular social events for all members of the Symphony family. His relationship with the orchestra has flourished. “You guys are in a prime location,” says Bill, pointing to the signed portrait of the orchestra that hangs on the wall of his artfully decorated townhouse in Portland.

Bill arrived in Portland fresh from the prestigious architecture program at Iowa State University. His new employer’s project at the time was the renovation of the Civic (now Keller) Auditorium. “My first job was letter placement for the restroom signs,” he remembers with some chagrin. His boss told him to get season tickets to the Symphony (then performing at the Oriental Theatre). “That was in 1966, and I haven’t missed a season since.”

His parents have had a lasting influence on his community service in the arts. His mother held a degree in Fine Art and taught high school art. His father, a utility executive, was a strong believer in dedicating time to community organizations. Bill also credits an inspiring band teacher for fostering his love of music while growing up in Ottumwa, Iowa. “I’ve surveyed Symphony Board members, and almost all have played an instrument at some time.” At the age of 27, he became the youngest member of the National YMCA Board of Directors. “That was a big catapult for me.”

Now officially retired from the Board, Bill has been asked to be a member of the Oregon Symphony Planned Giving Committee, a position he has held at the Oregon Health Sciences University and the Japanese Garden Society, as well. The list of organizations that have benefited from his service also includes the Portland Art Museum and Oregon Public Broadcasting. His current vocation is personal and business financial planning, as a Registered Representative of Axa Advisors. His philosophy for his clients and the organizations with which he volunteers is the same: “Know their purpose in life and how they want to get there. And, know why they’re asking you.”

Bill’s ideas for the future of the Symphony are clear in his mind: “Continue the growth and excellence of the music we create. Continue to increase outreach and education — there is a lot of richness here that would allow us to involve many arts organizations. Continue to chip away at the assumption that Classical music is only for the erudite — we are starting to see that crumble. Continue to educate the public about the need for financial support of the Symphony. If a city commissioner could pull into Portland a company of this size, with 135 employees and a budget of $13 million, he would be on the front-page headline.”

To learn more about Symphony contract negotiations and other relevant topics, see Point and Counterpoint.

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