Staff Profile: Rick Lester

Rick Lester, Founder of TRG Arts

Rick Lester


What I work on

My work centers on finding applications for TRG’s knowledge and skill sets for new or different industry segments. When TRG first began, all of our clients were symphony orchestras. Today we work with clients from most genres of the arts and entertainment industry, including commercial entertainment. I spend a considerable amount of time writing. This includes articles for TRG’s blog and preparation for time in the classroom teaching and speaking at industry conferences.

How my career has evolved

In a sense, TRG started way back in 1982. While working at The Cleveland Orchestra, my phone started ringing with people asking me to come consult. For the next twelve years, I consulted extensively on a part-time basis around my full-time jobs. After my departure from the Charlotte Symphony (my last “real” job), I decided not to seek another full-time position. Instead, I wanted to see if my part-time consulting work could become a real business. Three months later, I had five clients. And I’ve never looked back.

What sets TRG apart from its competition?

TRG’s ongoing study of arts patron transactions means that we know more about patron behavior than anyone. The scale of the company is a key difference as well. Because we work in so many communities, across so many artistic genres, with clients that have budgets ranging from very small to some of the largest in the industrywe have the chance to see more of what works and what doesn’tand why. There is nobody out there that can match the experiences TRG has as a team.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

I get to interact on a daily basis with some of the smartest people on the planet. I’m surrounded every day by people who are renewed by the question “why”. The continual quest to understand is a lifelong challenge that I look forward to each day. And because I get to travel so much, most evenings I can usually be found where a curtain is about to go up or a gallery is about to open. I get to see the best of the best every day.

Why I love the arts

I sang in public for the first time when I was 3 years old. I saw my first Broadway show when I was 10. I won a young artist competition with St. Louis Symphony when I was 17. I paid my way through school as a singer and a dancer. A life without the arts is inconceivable to me. It is who I am.

Biography: Rick Lester

Rick Lester built TRG Arts on a 30-year career in entertainment marketing. Since founding the firm in 1995 as Lester & Associates, Rick and his partners have built TRG into America’s largest consulting company dedicated to arts and culture.

Rick leads TRG’s counsel on patron behavior trends and their impact on patronage and revenue generation for organizations and communities. His pioneering work in demand management, pricing and cost-of-sale focus in marketing have become industry best practices. Hundreds of organizations in North America have generated successful revenue and audience results by following the data-driven strategies and counsel that Rick and his TRG colleagues recommend.

In his frequent appearances as presenter, workshop leader, and panelist at arts and culture conferences nationwide, Rick has influenced the industry’s ideas about ticket pricing, patron loyalty, and metrics for institutional health. Rick also invests in developing the next generation of arts and culture administrators. He is a distinguished visiting professor at the Meadows School of the Arts at Southern Methodist University (Dallas). He also is a guest lecturer for arts management programs, including the Yale School of Drama at Yale University, the Bolz Center for Arts Administration at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Business, and the Breech School of Business Administration at Drury University (MO).

Early career success leading the marketing programs for the Cincinnati Symphony and The Cleveland Orchestra led Rick to senior leadership positions in the orchestra field. He was president / executive director of the San Antonio Symphony, the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra of North Carolina, and the Knoxville Symphony in Tennessee. In each of these organizations, Rick helped achieve records for both earned and contributed revenues. For more than a decade before he founded Lester & Associates, Rick had also been a freelance consultant to orchestras, as well as to numerous state and national nonprofit organizations.

Rick has assisted with projects for the American Symphony Orchestra League (now the League of Orchestras) where he was both vice chair and chair of Group 2 Orchestra Managers and a frequent presenter. For the National Endowment for the Arts, he was a member of the National Endowment for the Art’s Challenge Panel for Policy Review, the Pew Charitable Trusts, and the Cleveland Foundation.

He holds a B.A. in political science from Drury University and today serves as an officer on his alma mater’s board of directors. Rick earned his M.B.A from Queens University in Charlotte.   He also serves on the board of SMU’s National Center for Arts Research.

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