Houston Grand's Perryn Leech Named One Of Houston's Admired Business Leaders
Houston Grand Opera's (HGO) managing director, Perryn Leech, has been named one of Houston's most admired business leaders in the nonprofit category by the Houston Business Journal, (HBJ). A panel of judges chose 35 for-profit leaders and 13 non-profit leaders to receive this new inaugural award. The 48 individuals will be recognized in a special edition of HBJ in the Aug. 24 issue and at a luncheon on Aug. 23 at the Hilton Americas Hotel downtown.
Leech's extraordinary leadership, most recently demonstrated by the organization's recovery efforts after Hurricane Harvey, and his strategic vision have elevated Houston Grand Opera into one of the world's most innovative opera companies. Serving more than 200,000 people each season, with the key priorities of excellence, relevance, and affordability, the company is integral to the cultural fabric of Houston. Working closely with HGO's board of directors, Artistic and Music Director Patrick Summers and the brilliant staff, Leech has been responsible for directing and implementing a long-range planning process that focuses on areas critical to HGO's future: investment in new works, building community partnerships, training the next generation of opera professionals, building staff and infrastructure and increasing HGO's digital footprint.
Leech was named HGO's managing director in May 2011 after previously serving the company as technical and production director and chief operating officer. His close relationships with board members and other major donors have allowed HGO to strengthen those relationships and build financial support from individual and corporate members. HGO's comprehensive, seven-year fundraising campaign, Inspiring Performance, concluded in 2014 and raised $172.9 million against a target of $165 million. Under Leech's leadership, HGO has ended six of the past seven seasons (prior to Hurricane Harvey) with a budget surplus.
During Leech's tenure as managing director, he has led the company through periods of great momentum and also mentored his staff through times of uncertainty and financial challenges. Highlights have included many major artistic milestones and the company's historically successful fundraising campaigns. HGO today is a fiscally sound company focused on engaging the community with great art. Leech has been a tireless champion of HGOco, the Opera's renowned community engagement initiative, and NEXUS, a successful affordability program. New opera commissions are the lifeblood of the company, and of the 65 world premiere operas that the company has launched since 1973, in partnership with Summers, he has overseen the creation of 25 of them.
Under Leech's leadership, HGO has won critical acclaim. In 2017, HGO was the only American finalist for Opera Company of the Year at the 2017 International Opera Awards-adding to the company's distinction of being the only American Opera Company to win Grammy, Emmy, and Tony awards. Working closely together, Leech and Summers have been invaluable in elevating Houston Grand Opera on the world stage.
However, it was through adversity that the community saw Leech's finest qualities. When Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston in the last weekend of August 2018, he first contacted his staff and crew to make sure that everyone was safe. As soon as the rain stopped, he was the first on the scene in the Theater District, assessing the damage and reporting back not only to his team at HGO but also to each of the resident performing arts organizations and neighbors.
It was soon evident that HGO's home, the Wortham Theater Center, would be closed indefinitely due to flood damage, and that the company was facing the greatest financial challenge in its history. Several staff members sustained damage to their property, and many were stranded in their homes due to flood waters. The news that the Wortham was inaccessible for the foreseeable future came as a shock to the entire HGO family.
In HGO's darkest hour, Leech and Summers wasted no time pondering what to do next - instead, they led the charge to salvage the company's season. While other arts organizations had to make compromising decisions, they determined that not a single performance or community program would be canceled or postponed. With singular determination, Leech oversaw the design and construction of a temporary theater (the aptly-named Resilience Theater) inside the George R. Brown Convention Center in a mere 13 days. The entire 2017-18 season took place in this newly configured performing arts space.
"Perryn has overseen the growth of HGO into one of the most highly acclaimed opera companies in the country," says Janet Carrig, HGO's chair-elect of the board of directors. "I deeply admire his good humor and positivity even under enormous difficulties. I'll never forget the fluorescent safety vest he wore with his tuxedo at the Opening Night Dinner celebrating HGO's 2017-18 season. After Hurricane Harvey, the fact that HGO had a season at all was a cause for celebration and a testament to Perryn's ingenuity and determination."
"My pride in Houston's arts organizations was realized when we witnessed Perryn Leech and HGO's response to the devastation of Hurricane Harvey," says Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner. "The unprecedented damage to our theater district hit the Opera particularly hard, flooding its home in the Wortham Theater Center. It never occurred to Perryn and his team to cancel or postpone a single performance or educational program. They got immediately to work, knowing that in times of difficulty Houstonians needed to be comforted and inspired by beautiful music more than ever."
"Remarkably, with their home inaccessible and their future uncertain, HGO staff followed Perryn's lead and gave back to the community," continues Mayor Turner. "They volunteered at the Houston Food Bank, brought music to children in shelters and stood shoulder-to-shoulder with their neighbors helping to restore homes and businesses throughout the community."
"I am so honored to have worked with the amazing HGO staff to recover from the challenges of last year," says Leech. "I am lucky to receive this award as recognition of all their perspiration, inspiration - and resilience."
Leech is chairman of the Houston Theater District and has been a vital part of the community conversation about rebuilding the District after Harvey. He also serves on numerous boards, including OPERA America (serving as chair of the Artistic Services Committee and on the Governance Membership Committee); Central Houston; City of Houston Arts and Culture Committee; Houston Arts Combined Endowment Foundation; the Wortham Operating Company; and Jones Plaza Redesign Focus Group.