Timothy Potts, who began as the Getty Museum's director on Sept. 1, will earn a $690,000 base salary plus a $150,000 signing bonus and unspecified moving expenses. The most highly compensated Getty Trust employee typically is James Williams, the vice president and chief investment officer responsible for managing the huge endowment that generates nearly all its revenue. Williams earned $1.21 million in salary and retirement plan contributions in the 2011 calendar year; the Getty says he gets a base pay package of $852,000 plus incentive payments pegged to how well its investments perform.
Many onlookers shake their heads in disbelief over the big bucks pulled down by some nonprofit executives. But it should be noted that arts executives' jobs are not the same as running a business, where the only thing that really matters is profit.
Besides the managerial skill to lead a staff and the artistic and fiscal savvy needed to develop a strong creative program within a prudent budget, an arts executive's job involves getting people to do something for nothing. They have to be able to recruit and motivate volunteers, including trustees who not infrequently are highly privileged people used to having their own way. Crucially — and this is a skill that turns the common bottom-line business transaction upside down — executives must woo donors whose largesse usually dictates whether an organization can become, or remain, top-tier.