Our Founder Rick Lester

Our Founder

William F. (Rick) Lester

January 19, 1952 – July 20, 2013

“A life without the arts is inconceivable to me. It is who I am.” –Rick Lester

Remembering Rick Lester: Rick’s Lessons for the Field

by Jill Robinson, President & CEO, TRG Arts 
July 18, 2016

We think of legacy as something finite—the thing, within measure and boundary, that someone leaves behind.

Sometimes it is—a building, a cherished heirloom, a constellation of memories.

And sometimes, among the things that are left behind is a seed, small but powerful.

In the case of our founder and friend Rick Lester, his legacy feels less finite, more expansive. It’s impossible to believe that this month marks three years since he passed unexpectedly while riding the Courage Classic in to support Denver’s Children’s Hospital in the mountains of Colorado. Yet, he started a company that continues to innovate and grow beyond what he’d built. And he’s left more than an office and group of inspired, intellectually curious people.

He also left us a seed.

Rick believed that teaching and passing on knowledge is critically important for our field. It’s evident in his role as distinguished visiting professor at Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts. Here he brought his passion, sense of humor and data-driven discipline to the students in the arts management masters program through his Audience Development & Marketing in the Arts course.

Rick also felt that continued investment in our learning at TRG is critical. In 2007 he created and led what we then called TRG U, a formal internal training program that inspires our approach to this day.

He envisioned more, though. The seed he left us has sprouted this year, when TRG launched its Center for Results(CFR), a destination and set of professional development initiatives.  Case studies, webinars, classes at the Center for Results, TRG consulting… Rick’s belief in the importance of learning is at the center of all of it.

That’s why he’s literally at the center of the Center. Part of the design, right in the literal center of the floorplan, is our Rick tribute wall. It’s a daily reminder that Rick created a company, but also gave us a compass. His ideas, his intentions for our business still ground us. We see them every time we toast a milestone, as we plan our future, as we celebrate our past.

The Rick Lester tribute at the TRG Center for Results

I can see Rick’s vision so clearly as our first intensives and workshops prepare to launch:  

·        This week, 12 executive leaders will join our CFR faculty for our two-day Executive Summit designed to get CEO’s talking about leading toward sustainable revenue growth.

·        In August, 16 marketing and development department heads will attend a two-day boot camp to build integrated revenue management capacity in their organizations. Both the Executive Summit and the boot camp are sold out, but you can register for upcoming repeat sessions by clicking on the links above.

·        We’re also tickled that Ben Cameron is joining me to launch our first three-part on-line workshop series, Data-driven artistic planning, that examines the relationship between artistic programming and patron loyalty.Registration is still open, but space is limited.

I believe that Rick would have loved these initiatives, and he would have loved teaching participants, and us, in the process. While that is not to be, he is our compass and his ideas our seeds, reminding us that passing it on is part of our ethos at TRG.

Remembering Rick Lester: Rick’s Lessons for the Field

by Jill Robinson, President & CEO, TRG Arts 
July 15, 2015 

Time flies. It’s been two full years since our beloved founder and my friend Rick Lester passed away unexpectedly while riding the Courage Classic in the mountains of Colorado. While it was a tragic and sad day, I’m happy to say that the firm he founded, TRG Arts, continues to thrive serving arts and cultural organizations with data-driven strategies that get results. A strong legacy he’s left, indeed. Results. Data. These are concepts that Rick prioritized early on in his work in the theme park business and with orchestras in Cincinnati and Cleveland. Over time, that work became the firm, TRG Arts. Today, built on that work, the TRG team serves hundreds of clients in four countries across the performing arts and cultural spectrum. At this time of year when we at TRG are remembering Rick with a special focus, we think of lots of things: Rick’s sense of humor, his love of life, his courage to start a business and lead it to success. In this week, I’m reminded about all that we’ve learned as a field from his experiences and wisdom. My guess? Twenty years from now many of his thoughts and statements will STILL ring true. What follows below are some of the things our team at TRG heard most often from Rick, all of which still play a huge role in the field and our work with clients. It feels right to share these thoughts now and regularly. They include:


1. Results are what matters. In your career and in organizations.

Rick used to counsel everyone he knew that the only thing that matters is making results happen. From day one, he spoke about working with TRG (then Lester & Associates) by demonstrating the results of working with TRG. And when it came to talking to administrators in the field, he ultimately got the ambitious ones to listen to his message: campaign results—revenue results—ensure that you advance. Nothing else.

2. Follow the data.

Data always tells a story that anecdotes don’t and it’s the voice of the consumer! Rick was religious about data as the tool that can point the way toward results. He was right about this, and it made him unpopular in some circles. He looked at data the field wasn’t focused on or that made administrators uncomfortable, but it was always about one thing: achieving results. That orientation continues in TRG’s work today.

3. What is this seat worth?

Rick was famous for asking this question of an audience as he threw a chair on a table. The answer? “It’s only worth what people will pay!” This is one of the most frequent and powerful memories that people share about our founder. His point: We must constantly evaluate the data that tells us how consumers value the seating real estate available in the performing arts business. And we must price and manage that real estate accordingly.

4. The field over-prospects and under-retains.

Boy, did Rick get this right. Consider your own marketing and fundraising budgets and evaluate: how much of your investments are allocated to the acquisition of new patrons and how much are allocated to retention of existing patrons? If you look like 95% of the organizations we see, new patrons are your focus. How will we ever get ahead if we don’t focus on retaining the patrons we spend all our time and money to acquire?

5. A strong database is the glue that holds everything together.

Early in TRG’s history, we began to think about how to make patrons “sticky,” more likely to return and do more with an organization. Rick believed in the database as the “glue,” as he often said. Today, we liken the database to our rolodex. If we don’t manage our rolodex, we won’t have enough friends to invite to our parties and events. It’s an over-simplified metaphor, but it demonstrates again that Rick was right. Database management is the foundation concept for loyalty.

6. No more silos—patron loyalty is the job of marketing and development.

TRG’s early work with clients, more than a dozen years ago, focused on what we saw in the data: patron participation crosses organizational silos. Ticket buyers are also members. Donors are subscribers. School parents attend events. And the more patrons buy, the more they buy. Rick preached early on that our organizational behavior must meet the behavior of our patrons and cross the silos. Today, TRG works more than any other firm in achieving those hard-sought integrated results.

7. There is great power in communities that share databases.

TRG started providing community database services more than a decade ago, and because of point #2 above, Rick insisted we learn… about the power of trading on campaign results (positive), about patron behavior (communities where organizations trade aggressively enjoy higher patron retention rates), and about the best ways to create and sustain community data networks (this is a blog post in and of itself!). Today, more and more communities are seeing the powerful resource this type of collaboration can deliver.

As I reflect on the nearly 20 years that I worked alongside Rick Lester and think about the past two years without him, I can see how important and “sticky” his wisdom is. At TRG, we’ll still be talking about him and these thoughts for years and years. And so will the field.

We miss our founder and friend, but TRG continues to hold his counsel and wisdom at the core of what we do.

A strong legacy, indeed.

Remembering Rick: Pass it On

by Jill Robinson, President & CEO, TRG Arts
July 14, 2014

It’s nearly impossible to believe that it’s been a full year since our beloved TRG founder and our friend, Rick Lester, passed away while riding the Courage Classic in the mountains of Colorado. Many of you know that Rick was a cyclist, and on this particular ride he was supporting The Children's Hospital in Denver—an institution that had helped his family and grandchildren. In riding this ride, he was doing what Rick always did so purposefully and well: he was passing it on.

Pass it on. I’ve taken a moment this week to read the memories and thoughts offered up by all of us after Rick died, and I’m reminded how much he did just that. Our business—TRG Arts—is a metaphor, a day-in-and-day-out practical application, of that phrase. Rick’s intent from the get-go was to pass on knowledge, understanding and insight in a way that would sustainably impact the arts and cultural field.  Our goal now is to continue passing it on, for years to come, in honor of Rick’s legacy and intent.

Rick also “passed on” other things: enthusiasm for things he loved; experiences, which he drew people into so that they could share in his fun; and people, whom he viewed as treasures to be loved by everyone around him. Courage. Inspiration. There’s more, documented by so many in our blog post, “In Memory and Appreciation: Rick Lester.”  

The Courage Classic is taking place again this year on the weekend of July 19-21. In memory of Rick, and in the spirit of passing it on, we invite you to join us by donating to the team on which Rick participated last year: the Gene Team. His son-in-law, Chris Wilkerson, is racing on the team again this year and celebrating Rick in the process. You can donate and honor Rick here. 

Together, we’ll celebrate Rick’s legacy to our field, as well as his impact on the world around him.

I feel no differently now than I did last year when I closed my appreciation to Rick by saying, “Rest in peace, friend. We’ll keep going, but the journey’s going to be less fun without you.”

Indeed. But to that I’d now add, “…and we’ll keep passing it on.”

Lessons Learned from Rick

by Jill Robinson, President, TRG Arts
August 2013

In July, I lost my long-term business partner, Rick Lester. I also lost one of my closest friends. Since 1995, I—and everyone who knew him—has been graced by his enormous intelligence, generous sense of humor, and unequivocal interest in living life.

The road of our particular partnership and friendship took us many places, which I’ll cherish forever and ever.  Along the journey, I learned many things about my friend Rick, and about life. They include:

1.         Be an optimist. The alternative—worry—is useless.

2.         Think big. So few people do.

3.         Communicate openly. Trust people—and more often than not you won’t be

4.         Keep your friends close. And treat them like family.

5.         Dive in. With confidence.

6.         Have fun as often as you can.

7.         Take time—to interact…and teach.

And that’s what the company he founded and I’ve had the pleasure of helping lead is, and will continue to be, about. As his son Will (who possesses much of the same strengths and makes his father proud) said, “We’ll come back doing what Rick taught us: discover the best practices in the field and share them.”

Rest in peace, friend. We’ll keep going, but the journey’s going to be less fun without you.

 Read messages of condolence and memories of Rick in the
comments section of our blog post "In Memory and Appreciation".

More Tributes to Rick

Rick Lester: Visionary, Mentor, Colleague, & Friend, Southern Methodist University

Saying Goodbye to Rick Lester of TRG Arts, Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance

Obituary: Rick Lester, League of American Orchestras (log in required)

Five Forward-Looking Blog Posts by 

Rick Lester

Rick wrote “What it Takes to Grow,” which is still one of the most-read TRG blog posts, after clients began to see higher ticket sales in late 2010 as the recession began to ease. In this post Rick examined how organizations can not only survive, but thrive in any market conditions. Read more>>

Every year we at TRG hear the following refrain from our industry colleagues: “If late-buying keeps increasing then soon we’ll have patrons buying their tickets after the performance takes place.” Rick tackled this myth head-on by doing one of the things he did best—looking at the data. Read more>>

 In the past year, Rick thought and wrote often about the importance of data to the future of the arts industry. The big data movement, along with the exponential growth of TRG’s community networks had sparked Rick’s thinking about how organizations could, and should, use data. Read more>>

In his last post, Rick taught us about the no man’s land that exists in audience engagement and diversity efforts. Beginning with the provocative question “What in the heck do the words ‘audience engagement’ mean?”, Rick discussed the special difficulties involved in increasing diversity. Read more>>

Perhaps what Rick was best known for were his insights on pricing. As the TRG consulting team scaled and priced myriad venues throughout the U.S. and Canada, Rick summed up TRG's unparalleled fact-based strategic counsel on pricing and demand dynamics for seated events. Read more>>


An archive of publications and presentations by Rick Lester.

VIDEO: Got Data?, June 10, 2013

The Risk of FreeApril 18, 2013

Profile in BraveryApril 3, 2013

WEBINAR: Make Time to Make Money, February 27, 2013

Dynamic Pricing Blind SpotsNovember 9, 2012

WEBINAR: Dynamic Pricing or Loyalty? (Do Both in 2013-14.), October 31, 2012

Seat-o-nomicsJuly 19, 2012

Who’s a Scalper?June 25, 2012

Teaching Patrons to Buy LateSeptember 1, 2011

WEBINAR: Dynamic Pricing is NOT the Story, August 3, 2011

How Big Is Your Market?February 14, 2011

The Myth of Last Minute BuyersJanuary 31, 2011

What It Takes To GrowJanuary 10, 2011

Temporary AudiencesJune 15, 2010

Bending the Demand CurveJune 3, 2010

My most frequent answerApril 28, 2010

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