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Top Florida Orchestra leader leaves for new role

Published Oct. 16, 2014

One of the top officials at the Florida Orchestra is leaving the organization for a job that involves her lifelong love of animals.

The orchestra's chief operating officer Stephanie Gonthier will stay on with the orchestra through Dec. 26, she confirmed Thursday. At that point, she will transition to a job as regional hospital administrator for BluePearl Veterinary Partners, leading a group of specialty and emergency animal hospitals with more than 400 staff members.

"It was hard to leave because I feel so vested in the organization," Gonthier said. "But for me, it was time. The opportunity that I have is a good career move, and it's just a good move for my family."

It comes in an era of change for the orchestra, which this year announced the hiring of new conductor, Michael Francis. The organization also recently lost artistic operations director Erik Finley, who moved to be with a spouse. The orchestra is working with a professional search firm to replace both Finley and Gonthier.

Gonthier came to St. Petersburg from Massachusetts more than six years ago with a background in business and finance. She had worked in higher education as director of finance at the Mount Holyoke College Alumnae Association, and managed a consulting firm whose largest concentration of clients were veterinarians.

At the orchestra, she saw potential to use her skills with numbers and problem solving.

"They didn't understand their finances or business model and what their challenges were," said Gonthier, 45. "I'm really good in those areas, and thought, 'I can make a difference.' I saw an organization that was worthwhile."

The orchestra has undergone a financial renaissance in recent years, including the genesis of the $25 million Music for Life Campaign, which has exceeded its goals so far each year. Gonthier has been out in front of that campaign since its inception. And the orchestra's paid attendance has also increased by tens of thousands.

Gonthier developed something deeper than love for the orchestra's music. She plans to attend most concerts, even after parting ways.

"I had so many mentors here to help me learn what I needed to know," she said. "I'm sort of a good test case for the type of people we're trying to reach. I thought, 'I'll grow to love symphonic music.' But I grew to appreciate how it helps me with the art of living. This is one of the world's greatest arts and it helps us to understand our lives today."

She also found love in orchestra president and CEO Michael Pastreich, with whom she is in a committed relationship. Two years ago, she said, the two went before the board to announce their relationship, expecting one of them might have to step down.

The board chairman didn't want to lose either, she said, and since they were already established, worked out an arrangement in which they could continue their jobs with channels for staff to bypass either of them.

"The organization has spent quite a bit of time thinking about whether this could work and how this should work," Gonthier said. "I think that's absolutely appropriate."

The couple lives in St. Petersburg, where they have a menagerie of animals at home, including backyard chickens. It's fitting, given her new job.

"We have the whole circle of life," she said.

Contact Stephanie Hayes at shayes@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8716. Follow @stephhayes.

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