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MIT Sloan alum Michael Kaiser, of Kennedy Center, wins 2007 Muh award

Michael M. Kaiser
Michael M. Kaiser

Michael M. Kaiser, the "turnaround artist" who led the financial revitalization of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, the American Ballet Theatre and other arts organizations, is the recipient of the 2007 Robert A. Muh Alumni Award.

The Muh award honors an MIT graduate for noteworthy achievement in the humanities, arts and social sciences.

Kaiser, a 1977 graduate of MIT Sloan School of Management who is now at the helm of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., will deliver a talk titled "Cultural Diplomacy" on Thursday at 5 p.m. in Bartos Theater, Building E15.

"We are delighted to welcome Michael Kaiser to campus as the next Robert A. Muh Award winner," said Deborah Fitzgerald, the Kenan Sahin Dean of the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences. "Through his distinguished career as one of the top arts administrators in the world, he exemplifies the excellence we seek to honor with the Muh Award."

Before entering the arts management field, Kaiser was a management consultant in the corporate sector. In 1985, he sold the consulting firm he founded, Kaiser Associates, which specializes in helping large corporations formulate strategic plans. Among his clients were General Motors, IBM, Corning Glass Works and 50 other major corporations. Kaiser Associates remains a major participant in the strategy-consulting field.

Kaiser took over as general manager of the Kansas City Ballet, where he retired the financially troubled organization's deficit and developed a specialty in arts turnarounds--for, among others, the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater Foundation, the American Ballet Theatre and Britain's Royal Opera House.

The Kennedy Center was not in a financial crisis when Kaiser arrived there in 2001, so instead he focused on turning the Kennedy Center into a national destination.

The key to success in turning around an arts center is similar to that of turning around a business, Kaiser said. "If you have a good product, that will help turn things around. All the techniques I learned (at MIT Sloan) can apply to the business world. But success is the hardest thing to measure in the nonprofit world."

Kaiser graduated from Brandeis with a degree in economics and received his master's degree in management from Sloan.

Kaiser has served as a research economist for Nobel prize-winning economist Wassily Leontief and is the author of three books: "Strategic Planning in the Arts: A Practical Guide" (1995); "Developing Industry Strategies: A Practical Guide of Industry Analysis" (1983); and "Understanding the Competition: A Practical Guide of Competitive Analysis" (1981).

He has received the Dance Magazine Award in 2001, Capezio Award in 2002, Helen Hayes Washington Post Award for Innovative Leadership in the Theater Community in 2003, St. Petersburg 300 Medal in 2004, Washingtonian of the Year in 2004, U.S. Department of State Citation in 2005, Blacks in Dance Award in 2005, First American to receive China's "Award for Cultural Exchange" in 2005 and the Order of the Mexican Eagle in 2006. Kaiser was named Impresario of the Year in 2006 by Musical America.

The Robert A. Muh Alumni Award was first announced in October 2000 at the 50th anniversary celebration of the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (SHASS).

Muh (S.B. 1959), a life member of the MIT Corporation and past chair of the Humanities Visiting Committee, endowed the award to honor an MIT alumnus or alumna who has made significant contributions to education, scholarship or performance, academic administration or arts management in the humanities, arts or social sciences. The award rotates among the three major areas in SHASS.


A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on February 28, 2007 (download PDF).

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