Eric Tillich

Coffee Break

Prathan Chorruangsak / Shutterstock, Inc.

Eric Tillich
President and CEO, Wisconsin Conservatory of Music
1584 N. Prospect Ave., Milwaukee
Industry: Music and education
Employees: 18 full-time, 65 part-time
Family: Terri (wife), Julia (daughter), Jackson (son)

What attracted you to the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music?

“The Conservatory has a rich tradition of serving the entire region and creating great music. I love music, and it is wonderful to be surrounded by so many terrific musicians. I was also very attracted to the Conservatory’s mission to provide the finest musical education to aspiring professional performers, as well as to children and adults who desire cultural enrichment or musical self-fulfillment. It’s a joy to see people succeed in learning their instruments and creating beautiful sounds.
In addition, I love Milwaukee. I grew up in the Sherman Park neighborhood and love the unique culture here. And it’s amazing to see the progress the city has made, especially in the downtown. Milwaukee is like no other place in the country.”

What are the Conservatory’s greatest challenges?

“We have some capital needs at our Prospect Avenue campus, but our biggest challenge is to allow greater growth in the number of students we serve. We’re very interested in serving a larger proportion of children who have had no experience with a musical instrument. We already serve thousands, but I’d like to see the number increase dramatically.”

Who has had the greatest influence on your career?

“That would be Don Cahill. Don was a mentor, colleague and friend. He taught me how to take challenges head-on, the value of listening to donors and staff, and he gave me the ability to succeed and learn from failure. But I would say my parents had the greatest influence. They taught me how to be a straight shooter and how to remain cool in tough situations.”

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career?

“I know it’s a cliché, but don’t sweat about things, big or small. If you can lead a highly competent staff, and if you’re sure of your own leadership, everything will be just fine. I think that applies to life in general, not just the nonprofit sector.”

What do you like to do in your free time?

“I’m a big sports fan, from the Brewers to the Packers to the Bucks and Badgers. I always enjoy catching a game. I also referee WIAA basketball games; you can find me on the basketball court at least twice a week. I also love to watch my favorite basketball player – my son, Jackson Tillich.”

What is the best advice you could give someone working in the nonprofit field?

“Fall in love with the mission of your organization. You have to believe in the organization you’re working for in order to be successful. You really have to love it and be excited about it or you won’t get other people to share that enthusiasm.”

What drives you to succeed?

“I want to be surrounded by excellence, and I’m driven by the idea that the right people can bring success to any organization.”

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