Suzy Ward make career pirouette to Rochester City Ballet

05:00 AM, Jan 26, 2014


Written By Robin L. Flanigan

It was an offhand comment that led Suzy Ward from a 25-year career in the banking industry to her relatively new position as executive director of the Rochester City Ballet.

A devoted volunteer at St. Louis Church in Pittsford (she’s vice chair of the parish council and chair of the stewardship council), Ward mentioned to a friend last spring that she feels compelled to give to the nonprofit world because she gets so much out of it.

The friend called a couple days later with news that she should call the chair of the Rochester City Ballet’s board of directors.

She did, and in July left her position as a vice president at First Niagara Bank to start a second career as the person who leads the behind-the-scenes operations for the ballet.

I feel I have an opportunity here to take things to another level,” she says. “There’s so much beauty and passion here, and I want the world to know it. I have a lot of work to do, but I feel like I have the most fortunate opportunity.”

In her previous life, most of which was spent as a senior sales executive at Chase, Ward developed a well-rounded sense of what it takes to maximize the use of operating dollars and expand a business.

Now the Mendon resident is using her expertise in a completely different setting, bringing in a streamlined business model to help the ballet company grow.

One of her initiatives, which went into effect this year, was to add a new sponsorship level with promotional rewards for small businesses.

Meanwhile, she has been supporting a collaboration between RCB artistic director Jamey Leverett and Rochester visual artist Brian O’Neill, who is showcasing dancers in original oil paintings that also highlight some of Rochester’s most notable landmarks.

That process is being filmed for a documentary; Ward introduced O’Neill to High Falls Film Festival board member Tony Mangione, who has invited O’Neill to show the documentary next fall.

Other partnerships are on the horizon.

I need to be out in the community and really gain more of these collaborative relationships so that everybody’s helping each other,” she says. “It’s one thing to call on businesses and gain sponsorships, but I want to be able to give back to them, too.”

On any given day, Ward is responsible for marketing and development, accounting, managing fundraising efforts, and more, as well as working closely with Leverett. Always appreciative of the ballet, she says she has “fallen deeply in love with it” after being so close to the creativity and technical excellence consistently shown by the company’s 17 dancers and staff.

During her off hours, Ward, who has two grown children, enjoys volunteering, working out at the gym and spending time on Canandaigua Lake.

Though satisfied in her former job, she says she is ecstatic to have found a way “to do what I truly love, and that’s to give back.”

It is important, she says, to be alert when signs point us in a different direction: “We just need to pay attention to all of our experiences, and where the journey is taking us. Then it all comes together.”