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  Peter Kjome '00
  Peter Kjome '00  Photo © David DeYoung

Peter Kjome '00 merges music and business for the perfect score

By Shannon Sweetnam

Most kids can't decide what movie they want to see, much less what they want to be when they grow up. But by age 14, Peter Kjome '00 had chosen to become a professional oboist and was well on his way to achieving his goal.

After graduating from Interlochen Arts Academy and the Cleveland Institute of Music, Kjome began working in music, rising to become principal oboist for the Grand Rapids Symphony of Grand Rapids, Mich., for the last six years of his career, which ended in 1998 due to playing-related health reasons.

Now back at the Grand Rapids Symphony as president and CEO a decade after leaving, Kjome reflects on the trajectory of his career, half spent performing onstage, half strategizing in the boardroom, with a stop at the Kellogg School along the way. For Kjome, this marriage of music and business began more than 10 years ago when the board decided to add a couple of musicians to help increase connections across constituencies. Kjome was one of two invited to join.

"This first experience with the business side of music helped give me the confidence to apply to Kellogg, and made me wonder if my time in business school might not give me the potential to run an orchestra someday," says Kjome, who, after graduation, worked for eight years in strategic planning and business management for St. Paul, Minn.-based 3M Company.

"My time at 3M was invaluable because it broadened my perspective," he says. "I don't think I would be where I am now had I not had that experience."

Another instigator affecting Kjome's decision to return to music happened a few years ago, when he returned to Kellogg for an executive education course, New Directions in Management, and had the opportunity to hear Dean Dipak C. Jain speak about moving from success to significance. Jain's talk, combined with a letter he wrote to alumni challenging them to discover what they really value in life and to think about whether their work was aligned with these values, made Kjome reassess his situation.

"The talk had a big impact on me," Kjome says. "I'd been thinking about how much I missed music. Though I served on the 3M Foundation's Arts Advisory Committee and continued to be involved in music, I began to wonder if there wasn't a way to combine my business experience with my music background and realign my career."

Back in Grand Rapids, Kjome says his decision to lead the orchestra feels perfect. "I've got the chance now to combine what I learned at 3M with what I learned at Kellogg, with my experience onstage and with my experience as a symphony board member."

Kjome says he is excited about the chance to test the many transferable skills needed in both music and business, such as the ability to collaborate and perform well under pressure, knowing when to lead and when to follow, working with uncertainty, thinking creatively within a structured framework, listening deeply, paying attention to detail, and employing what Kjome calls "diplomatic candor."

"I've come to an orchestra that is very strong artistically — one of the top regional institutions in the country — and in a good position financially," Kjome says. "My priority is to collaborate with our board and other community leaders to further strengthen our financial position, which will continue to provide the foundation for our music director and musicians to make music for years to come and help provide our orchestra with what it needs to reach its potential."

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