Women & Leadership: Marie-Hélène Bernard’s impact on the St. Louis Symphony

  • December 13, 2018
  • By WashU Olin Business School
  • 2 minute read

Passion

The Women & Leadership series welcomed its third speaker, Marie-Hélène Bernard, president and CEO of the St. Louis Symphony. Bernard always had a passion for music. Growing up in Quebec, she was surrounded by music and became an accomplished musician as just a child. After some time, the mounting pressure got to Bernard and she decided to put music on pause and jump into a career in law.

Support

Like her passion for music, Bernard was driven by her passion for law. More than just passion, she found support from her colleagues. Bernard explains, “The men in my firm didn’t support women or men, they supported talent.” The support she got from her colleagues pushed her to achieve more than she could have imagined. Bernard highly values support in the workplace and shared the importance of finding mentors.

When her love for music once again began to outweigh her love for law, Bernard shifted to orchestra management. Bernard saw orchestra management as the ultimate way to combine her passion of music, law, and business. In moving forward with this transition, Bernard knew she would have to find a strong support system.

Adaptation

AdaptationEntering the male-dominated orchestra management world as an immigrant and a woman, Bernard learned to not underestimate the impact of cultural differences.

Quebec’s emphasis on strong women had taught Bernard to be a bold decision-maker, but she found that her leadership style wasn’t as welcomed in American culture. She received feedback that she was too direct or too rough in her delivery. Bernard learned that she had to soften her leadership style and adapt.

Marie-Hélène Bernard took her adaptive style and applied it directly to her work to attract a larger crowd to classical music. In response to a class question, Bernard noted that classical music is not dying, but needs to be adapted to break down the intimidation factor as a barrier to entry.

Bernard wants to have people interact with the orchestra dynamic in a different way. For example, the St. Louis Symphony has started to play more movie sound tracks to gain access to a larger market and create lasting experiences.

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Washington University in Saint Louis

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