TPAC President and CEO Kathleen O’Brien speaks to a group at an event organized by Williamson Inc. // Photo Matt Blois
By MATT BLOIS
The president of the Tennessee Performing Arts Center told a Williamson Inc. group on Wednesday afternoon to pay attention to a project’s natural life cycle and recognize when it’s over.
That was one of laws of leadership that Kathleen O’Brien follows as the President and CEO of TPAC. She spoke Wednesday at luncheon for women in business organized by Williamson Inc.
Hundreds of women filled an auditorium at Brentwood United Methodist Church for the presentation. O’Brien started off by listing 10 axioms that she has discovered as a leader:
TAPC President and CEO Kathleen O’Brien’s laws of leadership
- Everything you need to know, you already know
- Life is nothing but change
- Everything has a natural life cycle
- We will repeat the same lesson until we learn from it
- Relationships are the best way to learn about ourselves
- People are different
- Every cause has an effect
- You reap what you sow
- Intentions matter
- Be authentic
O’Brien said she started her journey to becoming a leader years ago at a career center in Bristol, Virginia. She took a personality inventory and the results suggested she would be a good preacher, lawyer or marketer — all professions that require the power of persuasion. She chose marketing.
“The primary one that bubbled up to me was the marketer because … you have to be thoughtful, reflective and strategic in all of those,” she said. “I went after that, a marketer with a public relations emphasis.”
TPAC’s board of directors named O’Brien President and CEO in 2005 and she plans to retire in July 2019 at the end of the fiscal year.
She started out as the public affairs director in 1988. She is the first and only woman to lead the organization. TPAC hopes to find a replacement for O’Brien early this year.
To illustrate how to apply these universal laws of leadership, O’Brien explained why TPAC decided to become an independent Broadway presenter.
Previously, TPAC partnered with a company in New York to bring national tours of Broadway shows to Nashville. The company in New York would negotiate with producers and then bring the show to multiple cities.
Partnering with an outside company helped TPAC connect with popular Broadway shows and reduced the amount of risk the company was taking. But as the company gained more expertise in presenting live theater, O’Brien said that partnership started to make less sense.
TPAC analyzed how much it would cost to negotiate directly with Broadway producers rather than going through a third-party company. The analysis showed that TPAC would likely save money by becoming an independent Broadway presenter.
“The life cycle of that model had come to an end, but there were a lot of things that we had to look at before we made that change,” O’Brien said. “We did navigate through some very, very careful risk analysis and we made the jump. If you want to do something … you have to do your homework for facts and you’ve got to listen to yourself and you’re probably always going to have to take a leap of faith.”
O’Brien said the switch turned out to be more beneficial than originally predicted, and said it was one of the best decisions she made as president.
Making the switch freed up the organization to pursue other ambitious goals. TPAC has started supporting original works that are connected to Tennessee, which O’Brien said could provide a revenue stream in the future if they become successful.
The Women in Business steering committee organizes the luncheons to provide professional development for women in Williamson County. The next luncheon is scheduled for March 27.