Michael J. Passaro (production stage manager for “Pippin” on Broadway) in “The Corner Office”

Posted on: June 28th, 2014 by bobmorris

PassaroAdam Bryant conducts interviews of senior-level executives that appear in his “Corner Office” column each week in the SundayBusiness section of The New York Times. Here are a few insights provided during an interview of Michael J. Passaro, production stage manager for “Pippin” on Broadway and head of the stage management concentrationat the Columbia University School of the Arts. He believes, “The sooner you realize that this is a business about people who have dedicated their lives and souls to their craft, the better manager you’re going to be.”

To read the complete interview as well as Bryant’s interviews of other executives, please click here.

Photo credit: Earl Wilson/The New York Times

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Were you in leadership roles growing up?

I’m the oldest of four. When you’re the oldest, you’re put under a leadership spotlight, whether or not you know it or like it. When I was in junior high, my mother re-entered the work force and said to me, “I need you to keep things in line here at home.” I approached that with great enthusiasm. I put together cleaning schedules and work lists, and there were meetings and clipboards and a chart on the refrigerator.

My brothers and sister still laugh about this. I quickly realized that top-down managing, with me standing over the clipboard checking things off, was not working. So I changed my strategy, and we made it a little bit more team-based.

What else were you doing outside of classes?

I worked at McDonald’s, and I was quickly promoted to part-time manager. I worked there in my senior year and during summers and vacation breaks during college. I learned more about how to stage-manage in the few years that I spent at McDonald’s than I learned in any college course, because it’s essentially the same work.

At McDonald’s, you’re working with teams of disparate people with very specific skills on a high-pressure schedule to create a uniform product on a daily basis. It’s no different from doing “Pippin” or any of the other 25 shows I’ve done on Broadway. I consider myself lucky to have had that experience.

Tell me about your leadership style today.

I always say that I’m a hybrid C.E.O. and chief operating officer for the producers and the creative team. On a musical, if you include the crew and cast and even the musicians, there are about a hundred people, on average, who work at the theater on any given night. I am a huge proponent of trying to check in with everybody as much as possible face to face — “How are you doing? What’s going on?” — on a nightly basis.

They’re more likely tell me about something in person, as opposed to sending email or texts. It’s also my opportunity to give them direction or notes I might have from previous performances. I call it being the mayor. I walk around, say hello and find out how everyone is doing.

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Adam Bryant, deputy national editor of The New York Times, oversees coverage of education issues, military affairs, law, and works with reporters in many of the Times’ domestic bureaus. He also conducts interviews with CEOs and other leaders for Corner Office, a weekly feature in the SundayBusiness section and on nytimes.comthat he started in March 2009. In his book, The Corner Office: Indispensable and Unexpected Lessons from CEOs on How to Lead and Succeed, (Times Books), he analyzes the broader lessons that emerge from his interviews with more than 70 leaders. To read an excerpt, please click here.

His more recent book, Quick and Nimble: Lessons from Leading CEOs on How to Create a Culture of Innovation, was also also published by Times Books (January 2014). To contact him, please click here.

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