Joe Pusateri doesn‘t listen to classical music, so he was surprised at how upset he was by reports that the 67-year-old Louisville Orchestra was about to go under. “I tried to ignore it,” he says of the feeling, “but when I spoke to a group from Leadership Louisville, my own speech convinced me that I should commit to this issue even though it seemed so daunting.” This custom builder is not one to shy away from civic involvement. His volunteer work includes supporting the Louisville United Way, spearheading efforts to redevelop depressed areas of the city, and building show houses to raise money for causes that range from the local PBS station to an orphanage in Romania. So in 2003, when he stepped up to the plate for the Louisville Orchestra, Pusateri was just doing what comes naturally.
The orchestra faced a shortfall of nearly $1 million in 2003. Pusateri could see that to keep it alive would require both raising revenue and cutting expenses. And so he offered a deal to the musicians—he would raise half the amount if they would agree to concessions equal to the other half. He dug deep into his own pockets and convinced the Home Builders Association of Louisville to give as well. That deal temporarily saved the orchestra. But Pusateri didn’t want the orchestra to face the same dilemma year after year, so he joined its board, bringing two other builders with him.
By 2005 Pusateri was president of the board, just in time to renegotiate the musicians’ contract. “I proposed [to the musician’s union] that whatever perks we took back we’d assign a dollar value to and split it in half,” he says, but the union wouldn’t budge on benefits and demanded a 50 percent pay increase. Negotiations were stalled for months and once again bankruptcy loomed. Then Pusateri printed the old contract in the local paper as part of an Op-Ed piece he’d written on the orchestra’s troubles. That caused a public outcry and got the union’s attention. He convinced its lawyers to let him meet with the entire orchestra and after a six-hour meeting, a new contract was forged. The orchestra now has a strong financial plan and a five-year contract instead of facing change every three years. Pusateri even helped to rework the group’s logo and tagline to let the community know the Louisville Orchestra hopes to serve its audience for another 60 years and more.