At the start of a new year many teams may be having discussions around how they want the rest of the year to go. Not necessarily with regards to financial targets, although this is still important, for many the end of the financial year is imminent. Rather about the more difficult to define qualities. Very often the first 30 days of the year can determine the tone for the rest of the year, it can bring a sort of ‘start as we mean to go on’ element to the proceedings. Teams might discuss what atmosphere they would like to work in, how to bring their values to life, how to achieve personal goals that conveniently align to the organisations own goals. All these discussion points are valid and worthwhile. We have also done the same here at Jigsaw@work. That’s when the discussion started about Andre Rieu.
Andre Rieu you might recognise as being an individual that appears on adverts with a violin, a slightly 80’s haircut and a certain amount of Waltzing glitz and glamour. Apparently he chose to concentrate on the Waltz because early on in his career he enjoyed the audience’s reaction to this music. And it appears in our midst we have a fan. I wanted to understand why.
Now I am a convert. Not necessarily to his music, but his working philosophy. Perhaps for those not familiar with Rieu it might be useful to introduce him. André Léon Marie Nicolas Rieu is a Dutch (I thought he was Austrian) violinist, starting to play at the age of five. Soon after, he started to develop a fascination with the orchestra. He certainly has credentials, studying at a number of music colleges and finally receiving his degree “Premier Prix” from the Royal Conservatory of Brussels.
Rieu is also the conductor of the Johann Strauss Orchestra. Together they have turned classical and waltz music into a worldwide concert touring music act, as successful as some of the biggest global pop and rock music acts. And this is where he becomes interesting.
The Orchestra began in 1987 with 12 Waltz members. It now performs with between 80 and 150 musicians. At the time the Orchestra first toured Europe, a renewed interest in waltz music emerged in the continent, and they have since performed around the world. During the first half of 2009, he was the world’s most successful male touring artist, according to Billboard magazine. Despite this success, there is controversy that surrounds Rieu because he does things differently. Especially, for the world of classical music. However as one critic has noticed, ‘Few in his audiences are regular classical music attendees and it could be seen as promising that, via Rieu, they are listening to standards of the classical canon.’ He is not necessarily better or worse than the traditional orchestras, but it is not what he does, rather how he does it.
So how does he do it? He seems to be completely passionate about bringing classical music to the masses, so much so that everyone enjoys it. He has fun. He allows his orchestra to have fun. Indeed, he encourages his orchestra to have fun. He has high standards and encourages everyone around him to fulfil their potential. He treats everyone the same. From the solo artist to the individual who plays an instrument for a few moments, they are all treated equally. It is his attention to how important these things are that is interesting. He brings his own catering service along, as well as all his decorative elements, such as runners, carpets and even chandeliers to change an old drab building into a romantic oasis for his orchestra and fans. Rieu says ‘I wanted to make music in a different way. I wanted to make ‘real’ music, and that entails everything; having fun, laughing, crying. It is not only the technical and superficial presentation, which is mostly the norm and very prevalent in the classical music world. People want to be entertained. Entertainment is not a dirty word. It belongs’.
This is the ‘how’. He realized when he was young and playing in the traditional orchestras he was not enjoying it, not having fun. This is his differentiating factor. There does actually seem to be many lessons we can draw from this philosophy. The difference between the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ is the difference between operational focus and a focus on behaviours. It is the difference between management and leadership. It is the difference between short term success and long term success. It is the difference between focusing on what we do as opposed to the people who do it. It is where we as a leadership and learning consultancy help organisations to grow.
The ‘how’ is worth its weight in gold. It is not a ‘nice to have’ but a necessity to ensure financial success too. Indeed Rieu has demonstrated this. In 2009 he conducted 112 concerts and the revenue earned was more than £95 million. More recently in 2013, he conducted 70 concerts and made £50m. It seems passion, and fun, not only make customers feel great, but also the people working hard in the team. And also, incidentally, the bank manager.