It is a truth universally acknowledged: that when the CEO of one of the Mid-Atlantic’s premier arts organization retires, that arts organization must be in want of a new CEO. And, with all apologies to Jane Austen, the search for Strathmore’s new leader turned out to be much more straightforward and far less convoluted than anyone might have expected.
On Sept. 1, Strathmore’s President Monica Jeffries Hazangeles became Strathmore’s CEO, after 24 years with the arts organization.
Upon Elliot Pfanstiehl’s retirement at the end of August, Strathmore needed someone “to take the reins, right now, and implement all of the outstanding things,” said arts advocate Carol Trawick, whose philanthropic foundation has helped fund programs at Strathmore and whose activism has helped guide it for more than a quarter of a century. “And that’s what Monica will do so well.”
Trawick said that Jeffries Hazangeles has a unique understanding of Strathmore because she has played an integral part in its story. “Monica is the perfect person to provide the leadership going forward,” said Trawick. “She knows how to manage Strathmore because she’s been doing it… whether it’s the expansion of the physical building, the expansion of programs to the east, continuing to utilize our partners — all of these wonderful things that are Strathmore today and Strathmore tomorrow.”
Not to mention Strathmore yesterday. Back in 1994, after an interview with Pfanstiehl that she described as “wide-ranging and full of laughter,” Jeffries Hazangeles was hired.
“I remember walking into the Mansion for the first time and feeling as if I knew I would be there for a long time,” she said. “Strathmore’s mission, sense of community and freedom to explore whatever it dreamed spoke directly to me and what I wanted to accomplish as an arts professional.”
She had grown up in a musical family, steeped in the arts, and came to Strathmore with a bachelor of music degree in flute performance from Florida State University and a master of music degree in flute performance from the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory.
Jeffries Hazangeles credited the “very healthy music and art programs” at her elementary, middle and high schools in Florida with sparking her interest in the arts. And while she acknowledged that every job she held before landing at Strathmore prepared her in some way — “Working on a Pepperidge Farm cookie packing conveyor line taught me to pay close attention to your frontline employees and how they impact the quality of your product,” for example — it was her dedication as a student of the arts that shaped her most profoundly.
“The discipline of studying music, practicing, competing and performing with other artists was a defining pursuit for me,” Jeffries Hazangeles explained. “It taught me so much about how to develop a voice and a perspective, how to be collaborative.” Even now, she added, “I draw on the lessons I learned from music every day; they have informed how I prepare and how I lead. I appreciate lots of perspectives and voices, nuances and ideas.”
One collaborator from years ago is Jen Buzzell, now the director of marketing and sales at Signature Theatre in Arlington. “I started working for Monica as an intern in between my first and second years of grad school,” said Buzzell, who rose from intern to marketing and communications vice president at Strathmore. “She’s extremely smart and very organized. There was never any question about what she wanted from you, what her expectations were.”
Buzzell noted that high standards have always been a hallmark of Jeffries Hazangeles’ management style. “It’s important for someone in a leadership position to both expect high standards from employees and make an example of them in your own work.”
Standards had to be high. Buzzell remembers her early years at Strathmore as a time when everyone worked together out of necessity. “It started as a pretty typical small business, very mom-and-pop, on the fly,” she said. “Not to say there wasn’t any planning, but there was a very small staff, so everything had to be taken as a team.”
Jeffries Hazangeles concurred. “I started with a core team of five people, who worked in the same 12-by-12 room to program 20 to 30 events per year,” she said. “Now, there are nearly 50 full-time employees and more than 300 programs annually.” The scope and scale of operations have changed significantly, she said, but “the culture of our organization — a highly valued and devoted team engaged fully in a shared purpose — has remained our hallmark.”
Another hallmark? Pfanstiehl. While Jeffries Hazangeles has nothing but praise and appreciation for her predecessor, she knows that their leadership styles are dissimilar. “He is action-oriented and prefers to lead from the front of the room,” she explained. “I like leading from the side or the back of the room.”
She called succeeding her mentor as President and CEO “an honor.” And she acknowledged his “lasting imprint,” noting that she will be building on the foundation he created.
Jeffries Hazangeles is “much more formal than Eliot, but that doesn’t mean she’s any less caring, or warm, or familial,” observed Buzzell, noting that while the leadership style at Strathmore will change, change is good.
“Monica has been working at Strathmore for 25 years,” she added. “She probably has a whole bunch of new ideas, different programs that she wants to implement. But I don’t think you’re going to see a major transition in the overall mission of the organization because it really is so community-based, serving Montgomery County.”
Strathmore, she said, “is firing on all cylinders. Now it’s really a matter of expansion and refinement.”
Buzzell predicted that Jeffries Hazangeles will focus on community engagement and service, moving the innovative programs for which Strathmore is renowned, like are the East County Initiative, Strathmore Children’s Chorus, Montgomery Classic Youth Orchestra and AMP — programs Jeffries Hazangeles helped establish and supported during her tenure at Strathmore.
“Monica is not going to throw away the past; she was part of building it,” said Buzzell. “But people are going to be surprised to see a lot of new things come out of Strathmore. I think it’s going to be really exciting to watch.”