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Sage Career Advice from Ask Edna: Graham Parker
By Edna Landau
March 4, 2014
A Successful Switch: How WQXR’s Graham Parker Rose to the Top
In her March 7, 2013 blog, Taking the Next Step, Edna Landau describes how Graham Parker, classical radio station WQXR’s general manager and VP, came to work in broadcast media after a successful career in orchestra administration. She writes:
“I have always had great admiration for people who stay in the same job for long periods of time and who feel no need for change. Typically they are in an environment where their contributions are valued, they have a voice in developing new projects, and they are appropriately rewarded financially. However, I have seen others who stay in jobs that increasingly make them feel unhappy and unfulfilled because they think that they only know how to do one thing, they wouldn’t be happier somewhere else, or they lack the courage to try something new. Contemplating this subject, I spoke with Graham Parker, general manager and vice president of WQXR. Before he came to the station four years ago, he was executive director of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. He hadn’t been looking to leave Orpheus and always assumed that even if he did change jobs, he’d remain in the orchestral world.
Then one day, an e-mail from Laura Walker, president and CEO of New York Public Radio [which had just purchased WQXR], arrived in his inbox totally out of the blue. When he first glanced at the job description, he saw some responsibilities for which he felt well qualified and others that would be new to him. He talked it over with trusted colleagues and ran by them a few statements he planned to make in his interview.
Initially, some were quite skeptical, but they ultimately became convinced. This gave him the courage to take the next step, even though he had never worked at, let alone run, a radio station. He did have artistic, financial, board development, and strategic planning experience that was relevant to the position and that, in the end, mattered more to his employer.
In addition, having developed new initiatives for Orpheus such as commissioning new music and launching live broadcasts from Carnegie Hall on WNYC, now the sister station of WQXR, Parker seemed the perfect candidate for the new visionary leader that Ms. Walker was seeking. She laid down the challenge of expanding the station into a multi-platform media company and he enthusiastically embraced it.
I asked what advice he might give to others contemplating a new career direction. He said it was a good idea to not give undue significance to every word of a job description and to concentrate instead on the capabilities you do have that could prove attractive to your prospective employer. He indicated that he loves hiring people “out of skill set,” even though it takes courage to do so.
He also said that if someone wants to get into a new field, he should have the courage to reach out to people who might be of help. “Everyone will be happy to let you buy them a cup of coffee and if you prepare your time with them wisely, they will generally be more than willing to help you make new connections.” He stressed that relationships are key, and that everyone is well advised to stay in touch with people. Sage advice.”
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