General Director & CEO
W.R. (Bob) McPhee, C.M. is recognized as a leading force in the Canadian arts scene. With over 30 years in artistic and administrative leadership, Bob McPhee is currently General Director and CEO of Calgary Opera, one of Canada’s top opera companies.
Bob was born and raised in Winnipeg, where he received his initial education and music training, graduating from the University of Manitoba. He served as artistic director and conductor for several choral groups and taught private classes.
Gradually, Bob became more involved in arts administration and studied at Grant MacEwan University, The Banff Centre School of Management, and Stanford University. His first administrative position was the Royal Winnipeg Ballet as Development Officer, then as Director of Development. He joined the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra as Director of Development and Marketing, and was later appointed Assistant General Manager.
Bob served as General Manager of Orchestra London, prior to joining the Edmonton Symphony as General Manager. In 1992 he was appointed President and CEO of the Edmonton Symphony Society and Edmonton Concert Hall Foundation. He successfully led these organizations to the on-schedule and on-budget completion of the state-of-the-art Winspear Centre for Music, complete with a $5M operating endowment in place. The orchestra was in a very stable fiscal position with a solid base of support of over 13,000 subscribers. They introduced a very successful summer festival, began a touring program, made significant commitments to the development and creation of Canadian works, and release numerous recordings. In addition, the organization had grown to a total operating budget of $12M with just over 200 employees.
Bob joined Calgary Opera as General Director and CEO in 1998. During his tenure, Calgary Opera has more than doubled its operating budget from $2M to $5.8M, achieving surplus seasons, performing to more than 80% capacity. In addition to attaining financial stability, Bob has also led the company to great artistic achievements. Calgary Opera holds the distinction of being one of the most recorded companies in Canada, and is one of only three Canadian opera companies that has an active Emerging Artists Program, which provides up to eight young singers with the opportunity to study and perform under a highly prestigious professional staff of teachers and performers. Bob also mounted Canada’s only outdoor summer opera festival, Opera in the Village, in 2013 which provides free and ticketed operatic programming to the community at large. In 2005, Calgary Opera became the second opera company in Canada to have its own facility, located in the historic Wesley Church in Calgary’s Beltline District.
In 2016, Bob announced a partnership with Calgary Stampede that will see the Calgary Opera move to the Calgary Stampede’s Youth Campus within five years. Under the agreement, Calgary Opera will build a 50,000 square foot Opera Centre, which will include public space, a 300-seat rehearsal and performance space, classrooms, practice halls, administrative offices and more.
Bob has been featured in the media on numerous occasions, both as spokesperson for the various companies he has led, and personally as a visionary in the Canadian arts community. Throughout his career, Bob has been active in many professional associations and is in demand as a clinician and lecturer. He has been an adjudicator, assessor and board member for numerous organizations. He was the first Canadian invited to speak at an Opera Europa Conference in Paris. He is a founding board member of the Calgary Arts Development Authority, Past Chair of Opera.ca, is a member of the OPERA American Board of Directors, sits on the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Arts Award, as well as the Premier’s Council for Culture.
Bob has been the recipient of many awards, including receiving the Order of Canada in 2013, and an Opera Canada Lifetime Achievement Award, also known as a Ruby (2015). In addition, he has received the Alberta Achievement Award (1988), Syncrude Canada Scholarship for Innovation in Arts Leadership (1992), Grant MacEwan University Alumni of Distinction Award (1994), Chalmers National Award for Achievement in Arts Administration (2000), a Fellowship at Stanford University, Graduate School of Business – Executive Program in Non-Profit Leadership -Arts (2004), and a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal (2012).
In November, 2016, Bob was honoured to be a recipient of an Honourary Degree, Doctor of Laws, the highest honour conferred by the University of Calgary, and delivered the convocation ceremony address. Watch the Convocation Address.