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Yo-Yo Ma, back, takes a bow with performers from the People's School of Music. 0

She’s teaching ABCs of business at People’s School of Music

July 1st, 2016

When the young musicians at The People’s School of Music took a bow with acclaimed cellist Yo-Yo Ma a few weeks ago, it wasn’t just for a performance well done. It marked a turn-around for the little nonprofit with headquarters in Uptown

“We’ve made incredible headway,” acknowledges Jennifer Matsuzawa, a former Bain management consultant who 18 months ago was named president and artistic director of The People’s School of Music.

Jennifer MatsuzawaShe’s used her business consultant’s tool box to reinvigorate the organization–that means strict cash management, looking at the bottom line and keeping troops motivated. Board members are getting involved, too–even performing with students.

The school recently was awarded part of a $250,000 grant by Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute to support education and programming at the school. Six other schools in the country were also honored.

And an anonymous donor has contributed a $1 million matching grant to the organization–a tuition-free music school for underserved students.

People’s School has opened new centers on the South and Southwest sides and has nearly doubled the number of students it serves, from 320 each year to 600 by this fall. A new pilot marching band program on the South Side also may be renewed (it complements its North Side concert band).

Matsuzawa dreams of an innovation campaign to build a third floor on the school’s Uptown building and to develop technologies to help scale the program–and accommodate its enormous waiting list, which is capped at 300. Many more are turned away. She hopes the school might one day go national, too.

It’s all good news for a school that just a few years ago was in a financial spiral. It’s most recent tax forms showed a $200,000-plus deficit in 2014 relative to it’s $800,000 annual budget. Two more years like that “and we wouldn’t be open,” says Matsuzawa.

The turnaround also includes new board members, some musicians themselves.

“I was struck by Jennifer’s vision of the school and by her vision for accelerating the speed at which kids learn music,” Mike Buck,  assistant portfolio manager at Driehaus Capital Management, said of joining the board. He also plays the cello and last month performed with Debbie Lee, a violin teacher and his fiance; fellow board member and pianist Jason Klein, who is CFO at HSA Commercial Real Estate Inc.; and nine student musicians.

“It was a good way to introduce people to the school,” Buck says.

Matsuzawa also is a concert pianist. She taught at People’s School as a piano faculty member before going on to earn a philosophy degree from Northwestern University and a master’s in music education from Harvard University. After years helping companies turn around their businesses, she left the corporate track.

She says she’s energized to be in a job that combines her passion for music and business. “I love thinking of the returns on investment in our school,” he says. She credits students, families, supporters, friends, volunteers and funders for “leading-edge results.”

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