Eric Staley, CEO, Missouri Theatre Center for the Arts
JOB DESCRIPTION: I serve as the administrative head of the Missouri Theatre Center for the Arts and its various for-profit and nonprofit affiliates. The position requires overall responsibility for company management and revenue generation. The buck stops here.
AGE: 62 YEARS LIVED IN COLUMBIA: 32 (1965-81; 1993-current)
ORIGINAL HOMETOWN: Born in Philadelphia, raised in San Diego
EDUCATION: Bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees from MU, all in English; graduate work at Oxford University (England) toward my doctorate; and I hold a management certificate from Harvard.
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: Although I think of myself as just being a friendly advisor when I’m off the clock, I’m told I’ve been a mentor to probably half the nonprofit leaders in Columbia. I have focused much of that energy on United Way, to which anyone with half a beating heart ought to contribute. I’m also involved with my alma mater as a member of the Leaders volunteer group in the English department. Over the years I have served on the boards of numerous civic, business and arts organizations.
PROFESSIONAL BACKGROUND: Over the last 13 years, I have been a full-time consultant to nonprofit organizations, municipalities and for-profit companies in the areas of organizational structure, public-private partnerships and fund development. Prior to that, I spent 20 years as a senior administrator in a variety of both public and private higher education settings, including five years as the CEO of a national arts-in-education organization. Luckily, during all this time, I have been able to occasionally teach classes in literature, writing and leadership.
A COLUMBIA BUSINESSPERSON I ADMIRE AND WHY: I can’t limit my answer to one, and by identifying anyone, I’m sure to leave out others who are deserving of recognition. Nevertheless, in the for-profit sector, I admire Teresa Maledy of Commerce Bank for her rise to the top through a difficult organization while maintaining her home-town genuineness. In the area of volunteerism and philanthropy, I admire John and Karla DeSpain for their consistent, broad and generous commitment to the betterment of our community, and in the nonprofit sector, I admire Peggy Kirkpatrick of the Central Missouri Food Bank for her passionate motivational embrace of mission.
WHY I’M PASSIONATE ABOUT MY JOB: How much more fortunate can a person be than to have the opportunity to help channel and orchestrate human effort and resources in support of changing the world for the better, and to be able to make a living out of it? I am constantly inspired by the volunteers, philanthropists, and fellow workers in my field who put their shoulders to the wheel each day in support of a better world.
IF I WEREN’T DOING THIS FOR A LIVING, I WOULD… do all of the above for free! The only other work I would consider would still be related, such as teaching, “in-the-trenches” nonprofit leadership and administration or leading a community foundation.
BIGGEST CAREER OBSTACLE I’VE OVERCOME AND HOW: Frankly, I haven’t overcome it entirely. I am impatient with people who take on responsibility and then don’t follow through, and I am sorry for people who seek to shift blame. I’ve learned to soften my response, however, by recognizing these situations as “teachable moments,” and this has allowed me go beyond giving credit to where credit is due to the point where giving credit away freely, deserved or not, converts my frustration into peace. This is a work in progress.
A FAVORITE RECENT PROJECT: I honestly love them all. Obviously, to have been able to direct the $207 million campaign in support of the expansion of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City occupies a special place in my professional history. But my work is about “what have you done for me lately?” so everyday is a new opportunity that serves as the latest and greatest priority. So, my favorite recent project is the one I am working on now.
WHAT PEOPLE SHOULD KNOW ABOUT THIS PROFESSION: At the end of the day, most of my professional work is about fundraising. Even though I’d like it to be about the successful fulfillment of mission through the best organizational structure, finding financial resources is the focus of what I do. This puts me pretty low on the totem pole of community esteem. Mothers move their children behind their skirts, and fathers hide their wallets when I walk by. For me, however, it has always been about matching need and the opportunity to change lives with those people and entities that have the financial capacity and motivational embrace of mission to give. Philanthropy is the art of giving, and fundraising has been called the art of getting. I believe that those of us who have been involved in this symbiotic dynamic for a long time consider our profession to be a high calling.
WHAT I DO FOR FUN: I’m one of those lycra-clad cyclists you see on the roads around Columbia, and I ride as frequently as my schedule permits. Because I live in the country near Pierpont, I enjoy the outdoors and jog the trails of Rock Bridge State Park almost daily. And, really, if I didn’t also have fun at work, I would do something else.
FAMILY: My wife of 31 years, Melinda, and I have three amazing grown children and one granddaughter. Our oldest, Amanda, and her daughter Vivian, and our son, Tucker, live in town; while the daughter in the middle, Gretchen, lives in the Seattle area where her husband is a Navy officer on a submarine.
FAVORITE PLACE IN COLUMBIA: I enjoy the District as much as I enjoy Rock Bridge State Park, but what is truly wonderful is how close to one another these two destinations can be. We are large enough to have good commerce, top quality retail, and lots of vibrant people-watching opportunities, while small enough to escape to the country’s simple pleasures in a matter of minutes.
ACCOMPLISHMENT I’M MOST PROUD OF: I am proud of my children, but give credit to my wife and my children themselves who had a major hand in their development. I am proud to have achieved my doctorate after many years away from the direct pursuit of that goal, but acknowledge I had a very forgiving committee. What I can be proud of that I have accomplished through my own effort is the founding of Missionmapping, a successful consulting business whose first client five years ago was the Missouri Theatre Center for the Arts.
MOST PEOPLE DON’T KNOW THAT I: Here’s a short list. 1) I was one of the founders of The Missouri Review and a radio voice on KOPN in the earliest days of its founding. 2) I taught karate classes at the University when I was young and limber. 3) I worked for Walt Girard at the original Walt’s Bike Shop when I first began graduate school. 4) I was once a competitive cyclist. 5) I once had hair. Numbers 4 and 5 are the hardest to believe but a photo of me at the age of 16 in my team jersey can be found on the wall of Cycle Extreme and it hasn’t been Photoshopped.