Who is the Newest (and Youngest) Executive Director of the Boston Ballet?
By Jill Radsken Photography by JJ Miller| April 20, 2015 |
Meredith Hodges steps up as the newest—and youngest—executive director of the Boston Ballet.
Photographed on the stage of the Boston Opera House, Meredith Hodges has a knack for numbers, and it’s keeping the Boston Ballet pirouetting. Shell, Tory Burch ($195). Copley Place, 617-867-9140. Pants, Max Mara ($595). 69 Newbury St., 617-267-9775. Cuff and pumps, Hodges’s own
Meredith “Max” Hodges is a fast climber. Bounding up the stairs at Boston Ballet headquarters, the organization’s new executive director leaves less-conditioned mortals in her wake. “A lot is catalyzed in this building on these wonderful stairs,” Hodges says. “The dancers are running up and down in their toe shoes, and I’m running up and down in my heels.”
Those five flights of stairs could easily serve as a metaphor for Hodges’s drive. In her young career, she has ascended to her current position with a sense of focus and determination that marries two distinct passions: quantitative analysis and the arts. “My parents were both public school teachers, and we went to New York City frequently,” recalls Hodges, who grew up on Long Island. “The Museum of Modern Art was my favorite.”
Her commitment to a career in the arts began in earnest while attending Harvard. As a junior, she ran CityStep, an extracurricular program at the university that brings dance to public elementary schools in Cambridge. “Harvard was academically demanding, but there were also high expectations for what you plan to do with yourself,” she says, “how you were going to make your mark on the world. I began to think about how I could incorporate those things into my career.”
Erin Sweatman, her roommate at Harvard, remembers Hodges as having equal parts creativity and smarts. “She had a bin under her bed for things she saved to use later,” she says. “It would be Halloween, and she could pull out that bin and make a costume out of seven pieces of string and a sheet. That is so Max. She’s able to put them together and make something amazing.”
After graduating in 2003, Hodges worked for the management consulting firm Bain & Company in Boston and New York for three years, a time she calls “fast-paced and ruthlessly quantitative” and a learning experience she continues to draw from on a daily basis. “I distilled complex information into a format that busy people can use to make decisions,” she says, “and I learned how to thrive in an environment of high expectations and high performance.”
Looking for another opportunity to use her know-how, Hodges cold-called the COO of the Museum of Modern Art in 2005 and was hired to help the institution navigate its post-expansion membership strategy. That six-month project led to a full-time job as finance manager. “I was managing a $150 million operating budget,” she says, “and I was 24.” Jan Postma, the museum’s chief financial officer, says Hodges made herself invaluable from that very first project: “We’re still using the benefits of Max’s work to this day. She’s an exceptional thinker and believes in the mission of the arts.”
For Hodges, building a sustainable arts organization means throwing herself fully into the work. That was her mission after she left MoMA to become executive director of the young Brooklyn based troupe Gallim Dance, serving from 2012 to 2014, an experience she describes as a “rewarding entrepreneurial venture. We happily experienced strong growth.” Gallim had a budget of just $1 million, but Boston Ballet is a far bigger stage for Hodges, with a $34 million budget, 60 dancers, 720 staff members, and three locations.
“I have a lot of fun bringing ruthlessly quantitative approaches on this side of the house,” she says. “People’s connections to ballet are so emotional and visceral—mine is—but that doesn’t mean you can’t be very rigorous.”
A tour of her office—a nondescript space with dated office chairs and piles of files—reveals her work ethic. “Mikko Nissinen is the one with the strong aesthetic in the partnership,” Hodges says, referring to the ballet’s beloved artistic director. “I asked for a whiteboard.” Statistics may not be as thrilling as Boston Ballet’s magical production of Swan Lake last year. But immersing herself in them will help meet fundraising goals and fill seats at upcoming productions like Edge of Vision (April 30–May 10) and Thrill of Contact (May 14–24), she says. “This is such a hard job,” Hodges adds. “It takes a lot to support dance. You have to believe so strongly in the product.”
Her nerdy enthusiasm bubbles over, and Hodges—who lives in the South End and is engaged to marry Tarik Bolat, vice president of corporate development at the Renewable Energy Trust, later this year—tries to put her work into simple terms, using her hands to demonstrate. “The lever is sensitive to the application of effort,” she says, pushing her wrist down to force her hand up, as her grin widens. “If I work hard, things get better.”