Pioneer Theatre managing director announces retirement
Long-time Pioneer Theatre Company Managing Director Chris Lino announced that he will retire at the conclusion of the 2018-19 season, after 28 years at the theatre.
Lino assumed the managing director position at the professional theatre at the University of Utah in 1991.
At that time, the theatre had an accumulated debt of $1.4 million and had been incurring operating deficits for the previous decade. During Lino’s tenure, the theatre secured balanced or surplus operating budgets in 23 of 26 fiscal years, eliminated its accumulated debt, and built its endowments to over $4.5 million.
The theatre also conducted two successful capital campaigns, first in 1998 to expand and renovate what became the Roy W. and Elizabeth E. Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theatre, and second in 2010 to create Meldrum House, the theatre’s artist housing project.
“I always told our board that when Colleen [Lindstrom, PTC’s long-time patron services manager and Lino’s wife] retired, I would be exposed as the managing fraud I am,” Lino said. “She retired last year, and I figured I better follow suit before that joke proved true.”
Lino is announcing his retirement 15 months before the actual date to give the theatre’s board and university time to conduct a national search for his successor. At his retirement, he will have led the theatre for half of its 56 year existence.
Speaking about his tenure, Lino said “the best part of the job for 28 years is the people I got to work with. I’ve had the benefit of two fantastic partners – Charles Morey for the first 21 years and Karen Azenberg for the last six – who routinely put up Broadway-caliber work on our stage. For many years I’ve worked with a talented staff that has been making great theatre together for decades, well before I arrived on the scene. And, of course, I got to work with the most amazing and dedicated community leaders on our board – men and women from whom I have learned many valuable lessons, not the least of which are lessons about generosity and civic involvement, and who deserve most of the credit for the theatre’s strong financial performance over the past three decades.”
He continued, “The theatre has also been blessed with a supportive partner in the University of Utah, who showed great patience in seeing us through the financial challenges of the ‘80s and ‘90s.”
Pioneer Theatre Company Board Chairman Dan Lofgren, president of Cowboy Partners, praised Lino’s tenure.
“I have been closely associated with Pioneer Theatre Company for something like 20 years,” he said, “and I don’t recall a time when Chris didn’t have a plan for whatever challenge might lay ahead. He has somehow married an artist’s sensitivity with a rock-solid business sense and the result is almost three decades of theatre magic delivered in partnership with two amazing artistic directors, and a theatre company that he’ll leave in remarkable fiscal and operational condition. The theatre will sorely miss his savvy, and we will all miss his company.”
“Chris is the business bedrock at PTC. When I arrived in 2012, he gave me a solid footing – through his brilliance with numbers, his connections and his willingness to listen to a new artistic voice,” said Artistic Director Karen Azenberg, who has partnered with Lino for the last six years, said. “I marvel at his ability to articulate our programming. His passionate one-on-one meetings with patrons and newcomers – often at intermission – have been vital to growing our audience. We’re a multi-million organization, but Chris never loses sight of wanting to talk to folks as if PTC is a small boutique.
“He’s been a fiery and diligent partner. Together, we’ve created a new play reading series, Play-by-Play, and have begun our Musicals-in-Concert program. We’ve launched several world premieres, have found new audiences and have brought wider national attention to Pioneer Theatre Company. Chris never says ‘No.’ He says ‘Let me see how I can make it happen.’ Pioneer Theatre Company is richer because of him.”
Charles Morey, PTC’s artistic director from 1984 to 2012, had this to say about Lino: “For 21 years I had the great good fortune to partner with Chris Lino at Pioneer Theatre Company. When Chris arrived in Salt Lake City in 1991, PTC was in pretty dire financial straits. We were in the process of re-structuring our relationship with the university and simultaneously professionalizing the theatre and re-focusing the repertoire, all of which had financial ramifications. Chris immediately threw himself into the work. In short order he streamlined the administrative staff, significantly improved PTC’s fundraising and began to build the strongest Board of Directors of any arts organization in Utah. Within three years the financial situation had been turned around and PTC began a long run as one of the most successful and financially stable regional theatres in the country. I know all connected with PTC are deeply grateful for his years of commitment and recognize the importance of his unparalleled contribution. Pioneer Theatre Company will miss Chris greatly. His will not be a ‘hard act to follow;’ it will be an impossible act to follow.”
Other civic leaders who worked with Lino over the past three decades offered their assessment of Lino’s tenure.
“I first met Chris over 20 years ago, working on the Zoo, Arts & Parks campaign, where his participation was critical to the establishment of the single most important source of funding for Salt Lake County’s arts community,” said Harris H. Simmons, chairman, president and CEO of Zions Bancorporation and immediate past President of the PTC Board of Trustees. “His love of the arts, and of the theatre in particular, is matched by his business savvy and good judgement. He leaves very large shoes to fill.”
James Macfarlane, founder and chairman of IC Group, who served as the theatre’s Board chairman from 2008-10, also commented.
“Chris Lino has proven to be the best leader of a cultural not-for-profit organization that I have ever known,” Macfarlane said. “He has a unique talent in managing the financial dollars and meeting goals in a very difficult business arena. He will be sorely missed by the community he has served.”
Peter Meldrum, co-founder of Myriad Genetics, who served as the theatre’s board chairman from 2006-08, said, “Chris’s passion for theatre, strong leadership skills and excellent business acumen enabled PTC to completely retire its long-outstanding debt and operate successfully, without incurring a deficit, for almost three decades. This is a remarkable achievement for any arts organization. Chris is respected in both the arts community and the business sector. His vision, charm and quick wit will be greatly missed.”
During his tenure, Lino was also very involved in the passage and renewal of the Salt Lake County Zoo, Arts and Parks Program.
“Chris Lino has not only contributed to first-rate theatre in Utah, but thanks to his leadership of Zoo, Arts and Parks re-authorization and preservation efforts, he has also played a significant role in supporting a vibrant arts and culture scene throughout Salt Lake County,” said Leslie Peterson, vice president for the Utah Symphony-Opera. “Those of us in the arts owe him a debt of gratitude for many years of insightful and expert service to the ZAP community.”
The theatre’s board has formed a search committee to look for Lino’s successor.
The committee will be co-chaired by former PTC Board Chairmen Paul M. Durham, a partner in the law firm of Durham Jones & Pinegar, and David E. Gee, a partner in the law firm of Parr Brown Gee & Loveless.
“The search committee will have big shoes to fill, because of Chris Lino’s extensive experience and track record in managing the theatre over the past 28 years,” Durham said. “His remarkable planning abilities and attention to detail prevent anything from falling through the cracks, and the financial condition of PTC is the envy of regional theatres throughout the country.”
Search committee co-chairman David E. Gee indicated that the theatre would be engaging the services of a national executive search firm to assist with the search and expressed the hope that the committee could identify a new managing director by March 2019, in time for that person to collaborate with Azenberg and Lino on the 2019-20 season before assuming the position full-time in July 2019.
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