We check in and meet the think-tank considering issues of global importance from within an 18th-century palace hotel.
Organisation: Salzburg Global Seminar
Based: Salzburg and Washington
Staff: 75 in Salzburg and Washington
Annual programmes: 20 in Salzburg
A crucial member of the team at Salzburg Global Seminar, an Austrian-based think-tank, is its headquarters. The 1736-built Schloss Leopoldskron serves not only as its base but also as a revenue-generating lakefront hotel. “This building has so much history,” says Stephen L Salyer, the organisation’s president and ceo of the hotel, which not only survived the Second World War but also served as a setting for the Oscar-winning 1965 musical The Sound of Music. Today, however, it operates as both a cushy setting for Salzburg Global’s programmes and a cash cow for the organisation – meaning Salyer needs a strong team to help him keep things running smoothly.
Salzburg Global was founded in 1947 as a way to spread cultural ideas from the US to a demoralised Europe (its founder, Harvard graduate student Clemens Heller, described it as a “Marshall Plan of the mind”). “When this started it was a place for dialogue,” says Salyer. “At the time, just getting people together to talk was impressive.”
The seminar has been working on fostering conversation ever since, with a wide-ranging programme that spans media, urbanism, politics and technology. Fellows have included Kofi Annan, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Arthur Miller, and over the years Salzburg Global has welcomed more than 36,000 fellows from 170 nations. The idea is to build a network that can help, as Salyer puts it, “transform institutions”. “Off-the-record dialogue is a starting point, not an end point,” he adds. “We want to get deeper into issues.”
Five years ago the organisation decided to create a hotel brand out of Schloss Leopoldskron as a way to capitalise on its historic appeal and generate revenue for Salzburg Global, at which point Salyer’s remit – and his team – expanded. Today his capable crew help with everything from fundraising and recruitment to managing the hotel.
Yet Salyer is always looking for new ways to grow and adapt. “We’ll be doing a lot of experimenting,” he says. “One of my ambitions has been to implement a radio studio here.” If realised, it’s a dream that could see the Salzburg team – and its reach – grow even larger.
A former media executive, Salyer spent much of his career working in public broadcasting in New York. He served as senior vice-president of WNET/Thirteen before becoming president of Public Radio International – the organisation behind programmes such as This American Life – in 1988, where he stayed until he took the helm at Salzburg Global in 2005. Today he splits his time between the think-tank’s Washington and Salzburg headquarters. Under his tenure, Salzburg Global has expanded its focus on media and its impact on society; in 2007 the organisation launched the Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change, which promotes media literacy and civic participation.
Daniel Szelenyi General manager, Hotel Schloss Leopoldskron.
“He brought up ‘Pretty Woman’ in his interview. He wanted to be like the manager in the film: kind, creative, unconventional. This place has so much of Daniel’s imprint.”
Pia C Valdivia Vice-president and chief financial officer.
“She was the first call I made [when our last CFO resigned]. She has excellent financial skills and thinks strategically.”
Thomas Bodnariuk Executive chef, Hotel Schloss Leopoldskron.
“His presentation has taken the food we serve at the hotel to a whole new level.”
Karin Maurer Revenue Manager, Hotel Schloss Leopoldskron.
“She was originally our receptionist. We created a position for her to give her room to be creative about the performance of the hotel. She makes good things happen here.”
Thomas Biebl Director of marketing and communications.
“We hadn’t had an effective communications team until Thomas joined. He has assembled an excellent team that punches above its weight.”
Benjamin Glahn Vice-president of development and operations.
“Ben has recognised that this is a place where people could meet and talk about issues. His team is responsible for raising close to 40 per cent of our budget from grants and other sources.”
Beth Pertiller Director of operations.
“She jumped into her role with both feet – and it has continually grown.”
Susi Seidl-Fox Programme director, culture and the arts.
“She’s been with us for 20 years. She has such good judgement and is so thoughtful. She has mastered a quiet sort of leadership.”
Clare Shine Vice-president and chief programme officer.
“A lawyer by training and a former arts writer for the ‘Financial Times’, she’s been the intellectual leader on developing our programmes.”
Andrew Ho Director of US development.
“We don’t have a huge endowment like other organisations. Andrew is really determined to keep support from existing sources and open up new sources of giving elsewhere.”
Jennifer Williams Director of campaign and individual giving.
“She came to us recently from the Smithsonian Institution. We were at a stage where we needed to look into private funding to reach a higher level of excellence – she’s helping us achieve that.”