Magic Castle difficulties

Discuss the latest news and rumors in the magic world.

Postby undercut » 05/13/11 12:03 PM

announced today was the appointment of three new officers.
NPH as President.
Erica Larson as VP
Randy Sinnot as Treasurer.

Interesting choices.

It is hard to understand how someone as busy as NPH can spend the time to guide the AMA, which apparently needs a lot of guiding. We'll see.

Erica comes with a business background, but it remains to be seen whether her focus will be on her family's fiancial interests in the MC, or the broader AMA issues.

The actual real news is in the Treasurer. There was not a vacancy. Until one was created. The previous treasurer had this happen on her watch, so seems appropriate. Randy Sinnot is an unknown actor, politically. This mess occured with two attorneys at every Board meeting. I'm not sure that the trio of Juarez, Newman, and Sinnot materially changes anything.

Kind of makes you wonder what the use of an attorney is?

Speaking of which, it is *instructive* to look the three of them up on the California Bar website. There are a few surprises. :o
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 05/13/11 12:05 PM

This is only the beginning of a large number of changes, but these will take time to implement. Randy Sinnott is a valuable addition to the board.

The removal of the current treasurer was a vital first step in the road of the AMA back to financial health.
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Postby houdini's ghost » 05/13/11 12:40 PM

Undercut is not a businessman, not an attorney, not an accountant, not an active magician, amateur or otherwise.

He made his living, lifelong, as a union member--and he hates unions like poison--or like he hates Matt Patton.
My observation is that Matt Patton has been just about the hardest working person in the club. I am convinced that whatever mission the BOA gives him, he will carry out with great dedication.

Undercut has never served on a Board or a Committee at the Castle. What does he really know?

His posts aren't the posts of a legitimate whistle-blower. He mentioned my hero, James Edwards, in a previous post. It was a bizarre non sequitur. Edwards was a stand-up-for-principle man. He never had the luxury of anonymity. He never could crouch in a sniper's nest and anonymously fire darts at people he doesn't know.

Neil Patrick Harris is a very busy guy. We don't know what the future is really going to bring. I believe the Castle is going to be locked in a fight for its life for some time, and Neil Harris has a very high profile and a reputation for honesty. And I remember seeing him at Swap Meet back around '91.

Undercut served as a Marine--and that is to be respected. Undercut served stateside--also to be respected. Randy Sinnot was a 30 year man in the Marine Reserves, served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and retired as a Colonel.

And while Sinnot was doing all that, and building a multi-million dollar law firm, what was Undercut doing?
Believe me, he doesn't want you to know.
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Postby Brad Henderson » 05/13/11 01:42 PM

See... It's this 'I know something you dont know bs that, I think, will forever keep the castle from existing on solid footing. Whether it's posts by bursky or biro hinting at awful things that cant be 'discussed', or angry letters sent in private telling people they should not voice an opinion because 'you're not there and dont know everything that's going on' - though what's 'going on' remains a secret, apparently to all but a few select 'insiders', we continually see the same games played over and over again. Is there any wonder we find ourselves continually embroiled in the same stagnant state of impending disaster? Is the quest to be 'the guy who knows' so self soothingly pleasurable that it trumps an open and honest discussion? Does anyone for a moment believe that whispering in the corners will ever effect change?

I'm tired of it. Obviously people really don't want to see things change or else they would stop acting like children. As a member I say let's either get it all out in the open and start figuring out now How to put ourselves on solid footing, or just shut the place down tomorrow and call it a good run for what it was.

My prediction is the games will continue and in another year or so we will be right back here with the same problems, the same whispers, and no where closer to having fixed anything than we were last year - or the year before - or the year before that.
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 05/13/11 01:56 PM

Brad, I think that there are circumstances now that will enable the new board and officers to do things and make changes that are long overdue that will save the AMA hundreds of thousands of dollars a year and put it on solid financial footing again. Trying to do that while getting matters settled with the Glover family, or whoever the new landlord is going to be, is challenging, but lots of people are trying to get this done in a business-like manner and hopefully they'll accomplish their goal.

One of the reasons you're hearing so little is because the BOD are kept quiet by a non-disclosure agreement. A majority of people on the board don't like that, and hopefully it will be changed sooner rather than later so there will once again be some communication between the board and the membership.

Because there is a faction that is averse to change (mainly because there's a lot of money involved), things will happen incrementally. But, for the first time in years, I am optimistic.
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Postby Brad Henderson » 05/13/11 02:15 PM

I understand the bod has certain limitations, but that has no bearing on the 'I know something you don't know' nonsense we continually see. People don't want change - even the ones who say they do. People desire drama and want to play a starring role - even if that role is one of narrator.

As long as that is the case, there will always be a crisis and there will never be a solution.

I do not share your optimism. I have reconsidering renewing my membership. I'm tired of the games.
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 05/13/11 02:40 PM

To what extent do these court intreagues affect the average dinner going show attending member of the AMA?
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Postby Dustin Stinett » 05/13/11 02:47 PM

Jonathan Townsend wrote:To what extent do these court intreagues affect the average dinner going show attending member of the AMA?

The very existence of the venue itself.
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 05/13/11 02:51 PM

Brad, you wrote "People don't want change - even the ones who say they do," and that is simply not true.
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Postby Brad Henderson » 05/13/11 03:13 PM

If they wanted change, then they wouldn't still be engaged in these pointless games which have never resulted in improvement and likely never will. In the few years time I have been a member of the castle, how many crisis have there been? How many call to arms and teasing posts? Twice a year, maybe?

No one really wants change, or it would have happened. Instead we get the same stuff just on a different day. Why fix something when the drama and position it affords is so much more rewarding?

Like i said, I remain unconvinced.

If in a year from now we find ourselves in the same sort of exchange, then I will know I am right. I would be thrilled to be proven wrong - but as long as 'progress' remains nothing more than whispered conversations and allusions to things known yet not known, I don't think it can happen.
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Postby Dustin Stinett » 05/13/11 03:26 PM

Theres an enormous difference between people not wanting change and people wanting change, but beingfor various and sundry reasonsunable to affect it.
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Postby Pete McCabe » 05/13/11 04:09 PM

Brad,

I think your same argument could be used against you, to argue that you don't want change. Maybe lots of people want change but they don't all want the exact same change.

I also think you are underestimating the difficulty in bringing about any change at all in a large, well-entrenched system. The people who profit from the current system are numerous and they have power that comes from the profits they make, which they use to stubbornly resist change. Those who want change are not organized and not funded. It's always an uphill battle.
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Postby Roger M. » 05/13/11 05:28 PM

Is it just me that can't believe all of this stuff goes on in what is essentially a "members only" restaurant and bar?

Also, for those who care about such things......it's always the BOD who are responsible.
They are ultimately the ones who can single handedly effect change.
If they hire a lousy Manager, that's their fault and their job to fix........and on down the line it goes.

Rather than effecting change, the BOD to date seem like a bunch of Gong Show contestants.

But I must say further that it's incredibly funny, and completely sad that the various Magic Castle members have to sneak over to the Genii Forum in order to be heard.

I don't for a second belittle the members coming and posting here.......but it's a fricking crime that the management team at the Magic Castle have created the situation such that dues paying members come to the Genii Forum, largely out of fear of retribution in order to attempt to shed some light on what, frankly, appears to be a gross case of mismanagement.
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Postby KirkG » 05/13/11 05:36 PM

Hey Brad has got an opinion. He makes it forcefully. That doesn't make it right, it just makes it his. :)
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Postby Master Payne » 05/13/11 05:43 PM

Neil Patrick Harris President of the AMA?

Does this now make The Magic Castle Dr. Horrible's Secret Lair?
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Postby houdini's ghost » 05/13/11 05:50 PM

Brad,
What "improvement" do you want? More performers? We've got them.
Better performers? We've got them. Better lectures? If you miss the lecture this Sunday, you're out of your mind.
What do you want that you're not getting? More library hours? We've got them. Specifically, what improvement(s) do you need to see?
I saw a bounce in spirit when Magic Food and Beverage was locked out. The shows have been exceptional. The Castle perks are great.
We just need more revenue. That's what has to improve to keep us in our clubhouse.
I have many close, wonderful, thoughtful, friends who began tearing up Obama when it just looked as if he might be elected.
Don't do this with this Board. This is a new fresh Board--all the members, believe it or not, are relatively fresh faces--on the BOD anyway. And they are good people.
I wish there were more discussion on the Castle forum and it's good that the members can turn here to voice their concerns, but, this particular thread is heavy with [censored]. That's because everybody is projecting--like Groucho working himself into a terrible state imagining that the Prime Minister of a neighboring country might refuse to shake his hand--and when the man does approach Groucho, his hand outstretched in greeting, Groucho slaps his face and says, "How dare you refuse to shake my hand."
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Postby Brad Henderson » 05/13/11 06:14 PM

Patrick,

As long as we see these games played - like your post about undercut - the castle will remain a revolving door of impending doom and continual crisis. Until everything is laid bare, free from games and cliques and silliness, we will continue to see the same 'what I heard' nonsense play out again and again. It seems to me it's more a game about Cliques battling to position themselves next to the cool kids as opposed to a serious attempt by adults to fix a problem.

We've seen it again and again. Nothing has been fixed. And as long as the system in place promotes and/allows for this constant state of 'no one 'really' knows what's going on' even viable solutions will likely fail - there will always be someone who 'heard something very bad - but can't say any more.'

Let's meet up in a year. If we dont find Ourself in another whispered about crisis, or listening to accusations of various awfulness, then I will happily concede being wrong.

But as long as some people know somethings and not everyone knows everything, I can't see how anything will get fixed.
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Postby Pete McCabe » 05/13/11 06:16 PM

Roger,

Not to nitpick, but I don't think the Castle is essentially members only. I go most every Wednesday, and in every show the performer asks "How many people are here for the first time?" Almost always, at least half the audience raises their hands. And this is on Member's night.

So whatever happens to the castle, its survival does not depend on what happens to the members only. I think it's more accurate, and more productive, to think of the castle as a nightclub with an extremely dedicated group of regulars.
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Postby houdini's ghost » 05/13/11 07:15 PM

What do you want to see "improved," Brad?
I don't think you know what you're talking about.
Come in tonight. Have dinner, see the shows, use the library. Practice some magic in an area it's allowed.
Then, tell "them" what "they" need to improve.
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 05/13/11 07:20 PM

The AMA is needlessly spending hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on employees who are unnecessary and/or overpaid. In this case, generating revenue means cutting unneeded fat from the operations.
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Postby Brad Henderson » 05/13/11 08:12 PM

What I want 'improved' is a cessation to the continually reoccurring and seemingly constant crisis.
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 05/13/11 08:20 PM

There are two things going on.

One has to do with the situation regarding the ownership of the land on which the Magic Castle sits.

The other has to do with the financial solvency of the Academy of Magical Arts.

At the moment they happen to overlap, making things seem more perilous.
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Postby West McDonough » 05/13/11 10:26 PM

I will say here what I already posted on the Magic Castle Forums a few days ago.

I have as much or more interest in seeing the Magic Castle thrive as a successful business than anyone else out there. Not only have I loved the place since I was a little girl and my grandfather used to take me, and not only has it actively occupied the bulk of my attention for the last 2.5 years (both business and socially), but a significant chunk of my income depends on it. Needless to say, I was dismayed when I saw the annual financial report.

And yet I, like Richard, am more optimistic than ever about the future of the club. I know most of the current Board members pretty well, and I have talked to them extensively over the past few weeks about their plans and ideas. This is a good, solid group of people who love the Castle. Neil is busy, yes, but he seems determined to be a committed, hands-on President. Erika is there to back him up and she is smart as a whip, hard working, and completely dedicated to the Castle. Randy is an impressive addition to the teamI've seen some of the analysis he's already done of the financials and ideas for turning things around, and they're thorough and intellligent, plus his integrity is unassailable. I believe that this will prove to be an excellent team of leaders, and the rest of the Board is similarly committed to providing strong backing to get things done.

I, for one, am in full support of this essentially NEW Board as they work to get things under control. I intend to give them the time and trust to fix what's wrong. If we go several months into the future and nothing has changed, then I will reconsider that position, but for now they have my confidence.
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Postby undercut » 05/13/11 10:37 PM

First, I want to apologize to Dustin, in a previous thread. I gave the impression that I did not respect his business chops. I was frustrated that he was not (I thought) bringing his CONSIDERABLE chops to the situation. We both understand things better, via private email.
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Postby undercut » 05/13/11 10:47 PM

Brad, I remain optomistic about the MC. It remains a remarkable venue, with a huge public that wants IN. Market forces alone, should result in prosperity.

There are huge structural issues in the management. I agree with others, that there is an opportunity....however, there is only one Board member different than last year. That is not a "sea change". BUT, there is vast change in the politics.....potentially. What was previously the minority party is now the majority, apparently. Business people are now a significant part of the Board, which has not been true for decades.

The newly configured Board has to immediately strive for legitimacy. If they are not able to demonstrate fiscal expertise in the next few weeks.......
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Postby undercut » 05/13/11 10:56 PM

There need to be dramatic fiscal changes. For example, the yearly "Academy Awards" program loses HUGE amounts of money. There is not even a budget for the evening, the accountants just have to hold their breath, and see how big the loss will be. (and simply looking at the financials will never tell you that)

Members need to know the serious of things, or they will NEVER be willing to tolerate changes. They will be arguing over the cost of [censored] napkins.
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 05/14/11 01:06 AM

undercut, you are wrong. There may be only one new board member, but when something is on a teeter-totter, adding weight to one side changes the entire balance. Think about it before you reply.

There is a new president.
There is a new vice president.
There is a new treasurer.
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Postby undercut » 05/14/11 02:29 AM

Well, Richard, I suppose it is a matter of perspective. When Enron was going under, had they merely shifted corporate titles, I'd have not thought much reform had occurred.

But we're definitely on the same page regarding the teeter totter....not because of the title shifts, but because of the shift in voting blocks. Interestingly, the position of real power is the President, as the staff reports to him. NPH has apparently been aligned with the previous president, so I guess we'll see how much change happens at his initiative. The sense of responsibility may change his perspective tremendously, as it has a tendency to do.
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Postby undercut » 05/14/11 02:33 AM

Also, Sinnot may represent a major injection of business sense. According to West, he has already presented significant reform info, which I'd not heard. If he is aggressive, backed up by the natural assertiveness of a lawyer, things may change beyond the ability of entrenched mindset to resist.
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Postby KirkG » 05/14/11 02:01 PM

West,

How will you measure their success in the next few months? What rubric will you use?
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Postby undercut » 05/14/11 09:28 PM

Here are some simple things that will indicate a turnaround, the way an experienced management team would do it:

-clean house (immediate)
-eliminate all expenses not needed for routine operations
(immediate)
-clean accounting for the last year, figure out what happened.
(over the next few months)
-initiate openness and transparency with the membership (now)
-begin weekly communications about this crisis, until resolved

If the MC lost $800,000+ last year, one quarter has ALREADY ELAPSED, and there are only three quarters left to fix this.

I would think that one of the toughest things is to not be fearful of informing the membership.
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 05/14/11 09:54 PM

Announcing what you think should be done immediately is not helpful to anyone.
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Postby Dustin Stinett » 05/14/11 11:19 PM

Kneejerk reactions to issues rarely succeed. Sure, sometimes they work, and the executives who make those decisions come off looking like geniuses. But again, its rare. The correct path is creating a solid plan that has steps that allow for midcourse corrections. Cleaning house, for example, only creates panic, uncertainty, and kills morale. (And its quite possible that some of those who are swept out just because they are there actually could be part of the solution versus the problem.)

As for figuring out what happened, that would be my first priority, but I wouldnt just look at last year. Id want to see what happened over the last five years. Id want to see what worked and what didnt. (Based on what I saw in the available financials, the food and beverage segment of the business is not the issue, so Id focus on club operations.)

Id review each position and its function. Then Id interview each employee to learn their views, strengths, and weaknesses. Sometimes one discovers that the right person is doing the wrong job. (Years ago there was an assistant buyer at a grocery company I worked with. He made an enormous error that cost the company a lot of money. Instead of firing him, they banished him into a job that many saw as a deep, dark hole; a place people are sent to die orhopefullyquit before they do. But instead he was given a challenge by management, and in less than a year he turned a department that was considered a necessary liability into a profit center. Its a business model that other companies emulate to this day.)

Undercut and I have had our disagreements, and I too am sorry for jumping the gun on him. But ultimately, while we might disagree on some things and how to go about others, I think weand everyonecan agree that we only care about the survival of the Magic Castle and the Academy. Ive said it before in the past: neither can exist without the other.

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Postby undercut » 05/15/11 06:42 PM

Richard Kaufman wrote:Announcing what you think should be done immediately is not helpful to anyone.


I'm not sure I understand that, Richard?

Even though they don't post here, I am certain that at least some Board members read these forums. Having then gain some understanding of what members would like, and that members would be supportive of such things, would be likely to at least address the issues.

Somewhat clearly, there has not been any sense of urgency to fix things or change things (I mention that due to the 15 month lag in reviewing financial data). The same people who DID see this data, and thought it was just dandy, are still in place. In 45 days, the second quarter is over, without anything discernable being done, yet.
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 05/15/11 06:52 PM

Look, you can make all the prounouncements you like about what should be done. The president who led the AMA into its current financial situation is gone. The Treasurer ditto, though she still sits on the board. Having been treasurer during this period without alerting the other board members to what was happening would seem a perfectly good reason to dismiss her from the board.
But I'm not on the board, see, and neither are you. So it doesn't matter. The good people who are on the board have to negotiate all the bullsh*t from the board members who have their heads up their rectums. Change will come, but it never comes as quickly as most people would like.
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Postby undercut » 05/15/11 07:24 PM

Thanks for the thoughtful response, Dustin.

I agree that there are a number of ways to "skin the cat".

When I say "clean house", which was unclear, I mean dealing with the known issues.....and there ARE known issues. Decisively. As was done with the Treasurer position in the last meeting. Hopefully, other issues were dealt with, but that has not been disclosed.

I guess, being predominantly a numbers man, I focus on what seems to me to be an urgent situation.

In 2010, through Dec 31, the MC ran a loss of $857,884.
Also, as of that date, there was $646,686 cash.
Assuming that the "run rate" of loss has not changed (my best understanding that it has INCREASED, but lets say it is the same, I haven't seen the numbers, myself) That means that the MC will run out of cash in 9 months from Dec 31, 2010.

That would be Oct 1, 2011. However, 4 months have already passed. So that leaves 5 months, 4 really, as it is the 15th. Then they have to sell property/equip to pay bills. Even that only buys a few months, at best (but Irma will have no piano, and there will be no cash registers to collect money)

Usually, one would want to undertake an intervention, then see how it works. I'm not sure there is time for that.

I really like the idea of interviewing the employees. Let's say there are 100 (I'm guessing more). At the rate of 1/2 hour apiece, 14 a day (everyone needs a break, and lunch), that is 7 days to complete. The problem is, who does this? Presumably, the people running the Castle are not the ones you'd want, since they may be the problem, and no employee is going to finger them. The Board people all have outside lives.....plus, you need someone who actually has the skills to ask the right questions, and who the employees will talk to. A consultant? I see this as a time intensive process (and expensive).

I agree that kneejerk reactions are often fruitless, however, decisive actions in crises should not be that. As I think about it, I like the idea of a Marine Colonel involved. I don't know what he will do, but it sure won't be to sit around.
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Postby undercut » 05/15/11 07:34 PM

Richard Kaufman wrote:Look, you can make all the prounouncements you like about what should be done. The president who led the AMA into its current financial situation is gone. The Treasurer ditto, though she still sits on the board. Having been treasurer during this period without alerting the other board members to what was happening would seem a perfectly good reason to dismiss her from the board.
But I'm not on the board, see, and neither are you. So it doesn't matter. The good people who are on the board have to negotiate all the bullsh*t from the board members who have their heads up their rectums. Change will come, but it never comes as quickly as most people would like.



Well, I think the Forces for Change do need political support, to overcome the resistance to change. Time is not on their side, and as things tighten, any change will be met with increasing hostility.

For example, someone posted here about their doubt about renewing, with the uncertainty. Uncertainty is soley the result of lack of infomation. THAT is a curable problem! THAT can be cured through a transparent and open process that reveals decisiveness and SOME sort of clear plan, like the one that Dustin suggested.

Undoubtedly the Directors have been in a room all weekend, working this out with nothing else on their minds, and we'll hear all about it tomorrow.
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Postby undercut » 05/16/11 01:22 PM

Well, good news and bad:

Good, outstanding post by Elton Kelly, making the case for a standing audit committee, and by Harold K, noting that there has been an unused audit committee for years, apparently made up of finance professionals. Something that can jump into action, should the Board deem.

Bad, one of the Board members thought the problems so severe, he went out of state on vacation for the weekend with his girlfriend. Sheesh! A real sense of urgency and devotion to the Castle, eh?
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Postby KirkG » 05/16/11 04:17 PM

Undercut,

I don't know about you, but I plan and schedule vacations weeks if not months ahead of time to correlate with the schedule of my work and family. As a volunteer, I hardly think that I would drop that long standing plan to attend a board meeting.

Urgent input can be obtained via phone and fax and it is likely data needs to be collected before major decisions can be made anyway.

I don't know which member you are speaking of, but I think it is a bit melodramatic and mostly inflammatory rather than substantive.

Let's not panic and throw the baby out with the bathwater.
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Postby houdini's ghost » 05/16/11 08:14 PM

This has to do only with me, but, I mentioned my late friend, James Edwards in a post and I have been asked which James Edwards.
When I was younger, there was only one: the movie actor. Now there are athletes, a political pundit--a lot of people named James Edwards. This is the one I referred to:
http://moviemorlocks.com/2007/10/17/jam ... e-a-stand/
http://www.houdinisghost.com/jamesedwards.html
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