May 17, 2005, David M. Hillenbrand, Ph.D., became the eighth
of Pittsburgh. As the son of an American diplomat and
a Bayer executive for the past 28 years, the world has
his home, his teacher, his workplace, and his inspiration.
He grew up in Germany and other parts of Europe, where
his intense appreciation for history and the arts was
nurtured. As president & CEO of Bayer in Canada, he lived in
Toronto for eight years in between leadership positions
that brought him to Pittsburgh for much of the ‘80s
and back and forth to Germany. Throughout his Bayer career,
he was active in programs that promoted the arts and children’s
science literacy. At the young retirement age of 57, he
had just decided with his wife Georgianna to live full-time
in Savannah, Georgia—a city they’ve come to
love—when another city beckoned, Pittsburgh. And
while they still plan to retire someday to their Savannah
home, the Hillenbrands are looking forward to their return
to western Pennsylvania.
Why take this position now?
The idea of being able to engage in a completely different
area that appeals so directly to my own interests was
really enticing. This is the kind of opportunity that
is very energizing to me because it combines being part
of an environment that speaks to my intellectual interests
with the discipline of business, which has been my professional
It’s an interesting and stimulating challenge: How
do we make sure that the museums remain viable entities
as we appeal to a new generation of potential
supporters who get their information and their impulses
in completely different ways than we did?
Did anything surprise you as you met with the search committee?
The board’s commitment really impressed me. The willingness
of people like Suzy (Broadhurst) and Lee (Foster) to step
in and take on the active management of the organization
so thatsufficient time could be taken for a proper search
The second thing I found really interesting
was the institutional planning process that the board
and the senior management
team had gone through over the past two years. I think
they not only did a good job, but they also managed to
accomplish a great deal with a very large
people. They needed an extremely strong sense of purpose,
and strategy to align all of these diverse interests
in a common direction. And they obviously had that.
What are some of the things you’d
like to see happen at Carnegie Museums?
I feel there are very real opportunities to market the
Carnegie franchise to a much broader constituency base…to
develop alliances with other museums and institutions and
foundations outside of the Pittsburgh area to try to create
a broader platform for Carnegie Museums.
The truly great
museums go far beyond the boundaries of their own cities
to establish an outreach that has an impact
on people throughout the country and, sometimes, the world.
So that’s something that really interests me: more
widely marketing the Carnegie brand—its collections
Also, we need aggressive advocacy of the arts
in terms of why it’s important to have broad interests,
broad sensitivities, and a great sense of curiosity—and
Carnegie Museums could be an even stronger advocate. Most
of society can agree that the arts and culture are contributing
factors to civilization and the quality of life; but they
cost money, and when there are priorities to be set, we
often make choices not to spend our resources there. That
is not a formula
Did your decision to accept the position surprise people
who knew you?
No, they saw the fit. They knew I had these interests,
and in the corporate world I was always an advocate of
involvement with the arts, science education, and cultural
pursuits in general.
Where does that stem from?
I think it goes back to a number of factors: first and
foremost, I believe very strongly that you are generally
a product of your education and cultural
environment. And to that extent, I had a broad liberal
arts education and grew up in an environment in which I
was provided with many, many opportunities to get involved
with the arts—through my parents and also by being
exposed to some of the great museums of the world.
when I lived in Pittsburgh and was active with the Bayer
Arts Committee, Dr. Konrad Weis (former president & CEO
of Bayer) served as a great example of someone who carried
out his passion for the arts at the same time he was CEO.
Our Art Committee didn’t try to cram it down anyone’s
throats, but we certainly felt that by putting together
a stimulating collection and placing it in the environment
where people worked, it would cause people to react one
way or another. And it did. Our employees didn’t
necessarily like everything, but we engendered a lot of
conversation. It got people to stop and think and talk…and
it created a richer work environment.
Are you an art collector?
Well, my wife and I have a collection of Inuit art that
we’re very proud of. It started with our interest
as expatriates in Canada, trying to understand more about
the indigenous forms of art in Canada.
The Inuit are
one of the three aboriginal peoples in Canada, and
they live in some of the most barren and difficult
physical environments you can imagine. The idea that
they can find so many ways and media in which to create
was fascinating to us.
What do you think is the greatest
challenge facing Carnegie Museums—and, for that
matter, any museum?
Well, I am far too new in the job to talk about specific
challenges facing the Carnegie Museums, other than to say
how impressed I am with the quality and potential of these
I would say generally, however,
that many museums run the risk of losing touch with their
if they have not been able to change and adapt to the requirements
of a new generation of museum goers.
Museums can be pretty
intimidating places if they don’t
constantly reinvent themselves by asking some very, very
serious questions about who they are and how effectively
they are fulfillling their purpose.
I know that many museums
struggle with this. I also know that Carnegie Museums has
been addressing its issues through,
among other things, an institutional planning process that
I’ve found really impressive. I look forward to being
a part of that discussion!