A month after taking the operational helm of the Screen Actors Guild, A. Robert Pisano has started chipping away at an entrenched and fractious corporate culture.
By virtually all accounts, the new national executive director of the world's largest performer's union is getting high marks for his efforts to streamline the organization's notoriously unwieldy management structure and bring together its warring factions.
Pisano, 58, said the board's decision to hire someone with his background is evidence of a strong desire for managerial reform within the guild. Many believe Pisano, because of his studio experience and ties, will be welcome addition for SAG in collective bargaining talks.
The task, however, won't be easy.
The union counts 107 board members and 97,000 cardholders from coast to coast. Pisano will need to learn to deal effectively with outsized egos and a constant stream of niggling complaints, said David Prindle, government professor at the University of Texas and author of "The Politics of Glamour: Ideology and Democracy in the Screen Actors Guild."
"More important than his background is his ability to deal with (the union members)," Prindle said. "It's a situation where 85 percent of the membership is unemployed at any given time. That means that most actors are disgruntled most of the time and they are often disgruntled with union leadership even though it's not their fault."From outside in
Pisano is a SAG outsider whose career has led him from a partnership at law firm O'Melveny & Myers to executive jobs at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Paramount Pictures. He has worked quickly to shore up his power by establishing four top management positions that will ensure the command structure leads directly to his eighth floor Wilshire Boulevard office.
Pisano also has been working since his Sept. 10 hiring to win over the union rank and file by tackling the internal conflicts that have polarized the guild in recent years.
Those issues include a power struggle pitting Los Angeles board members against their colleagues in New York and deep dissatisfaction among some guild members with the current elected leadership, headed by outgoing President William Daniels. All of which was brought to a head during last year's lengthy and some say unsuccessful strike of commercial actors.
"The fact that the guild has been fractionalized and unable to speak with a single, clear articulate voice has been a serious problem," Pisano said in an interview last week.
"That doesn't mean there can't be disagreement or opposing views. It means that once the majority has spoken, the obligation is for everyone to get behind that position and advocate it forcefully and effectively," he said.
Pisano's selection comes in the aftermath of the Guild's earlier hiring debacle, in which former J. Paul Getty Trust executive John Cooke was brought on in June after a lengthy search spearheaded by Korn-Ferry International, only to resign almost immediately.
Nevertheless, SAG insiders and those outside the organization say Pisano is making headway.
"A number of people I trust have sat down with him and they have been very impressed with his even-handed approach," said Amy Aquino, a SAG board member running for union treasurer as part of a slate of candidates headed by Melissa Gilbert. Aquino's group has engaged in pitched battles with the current SAG elected leadership on a number of issues.
"At first I was concerned about his lack of labor experience, but the more I listened, the more I thought, 'He's our guy,'" she said.Reaching out
Pisano said he conditioned his acceptance of the national executive director job on receiving what he called the traditional "tool kit of the CEO," namely final say on personnel decisions and the power to reallocate money within the budget that is set by the board.
Beyond internal management issues, Pisano must deal with a host of financial matters that were left unresolved during the negotiations that resulted in a new, three-year labor agreement with the studios in early July. They include the spread of U.S.-made content into global markets, the evolving digitization of production and distribution, runaway production and the repercussions of increasing vertical integration in the entertainment industry.
"The balance between producers and other participants in the creative process is difficult to maintain as producers get bigger and more concentrated," he said. "More than ever, the creative side needs to be united in dealing with producers."
Armed with his experience on the management side, Pisano said he hoped to help ratchet down the level of acrimony in future negotiations.
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