Kapos: Matsuzawa leads turnaround at People’s Music School

SHARE Kapos: Matsuzawa leads turnaround at People’s Music School

When the young musicians at The People’s Music School took a bow with acclaimed violinist Yo-Yo Ma a few weeks ago, it wasn’t just for a performance well done. It marked a turnaround for the little nonprofit with headquarters in Uptown.

“We’ve made incredible headway,” acknowledges Jennifer Matsuzawa, a former Bain & Co. management consultant who 18 months ago was named president and artistic director of The People’s Music School.

She’s used her business consultant’s toolbox to reinvigorate the organization – meaning strict cash management, looking at the bottom line and keeping troops motivated. Board members are getting involved, too, even performing with students.

The school recently was awarded part of a $250,000 grant by Weill Music Institute at Carnegie Hall to support education and programming at the school. Six other schools in the country also were honored.

And an anonymous donor contributed a $1 million matching grant to the organization, a tuition-free music school for underserved students.

People’s Music School has opened new centers on the South and Southwest sides and has nearly doubled the number of students it serves, from 320 each year to 600 by this fall. A new pilot marching band program on the South Side also may be renewed (it complements its North Side concert band).

Matsuzawa dreams of an innovation campaign to build a third floor on the school’s Uptown building and to develop technologies to help scale the program and accommodate its enormous waiting list, which is capped at 300. Many more are turned away. She hopes the school might one day go national too.

It’s all good news for a school that just a few years ago was in a financial spiral. Its most recent tax forms showed a $200,000-plus deficit in 2014 relative to its $800,000 annual budget. Two more years like that “and we wouldn’t be open,” says Matsuzawa.

The turnaround also includes new board members, some of whom are musicians themselves.

“I was struck by Jennifer’s vision of the school and by her vision for accelerating the speed at which kids learn music,” Mike Buck,  assistant portfolio manager at Driehaus Capital Management, said of joining the board. He plays the cello and last month performed with Debbie Lee, a violin teacher and his fiancée; fellow board member and pianist Jason Klein, who is CFO at HSA Commercial Real Estate Inc.; and nine student musicians.

“It was a good way to introduce people to the school,” Buck says.

Matsuzawa also is a concert pianist. She taught at People’s School as a piano faculty member before going on to earn a philosophy degree from Northwestern University and a master’s in music education from Harvard University. After years helping companies turn around their businesses, she left the corporate track.

She says she’s energized to be in a job that combines her passion for music and business. “I love thinking of the returns on investment in our school,” she says. She credits students, families, supporters, friends, volunteers and funders for “leading-edge results.”

NBA drafts Chicago businessman Byron Spruell

Byron Spruell has been hired as president of NBA league operations.

Byron Spruell has been hired as president of NBA league operations.

The National Basketball Association has hired Chicago businessman Byron Spruell as the president of league operations. He’ll oversee the basketball operations and referee operations.

The 6-foot-4 chairman of Deloitte accounting firm’s central region (he heads the Chicago office) has an athletic background that makes him a good fit for the position that answers to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.

Spruell, who grew up in Cleveland, played offensive lineman and was co-captain for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team. He played for the great Lou Holtz. Spruell serves on the school’s board of trustees. He’s passionate about sports.

Spruell’s been with Deloitte 27 years and landed in Chicago as head of the office three years ago. That move made him one of the most high-profile African-American businessmen in town.

Spruell has become active in the city’s civic and philanthropic scenes, working with nonprofits – United Way, Big Shoulders Fund and the Urban League. He’s also served on World Business Chicago and the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago. Those two organizations focus on how to make Chicago work better.

“Byron is a tremendous leader and a great asset to the city and he’ll be a great asset for the NBA,” World Business Chicago President and CEO Jeff Malehorn said.

In a release, Silver called Spruell an “innovator with strong strategic vision and a willingness to challenge the status quo.”

For more from Shia Kapos, visit shiakapos.com

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