Michael Kaiser To Head Kennedy Center

New Kennedy Center president expected to take office Feb. 1.

Michael Kaiser, the director of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in London, has accepted the presidency of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

His appointment is scheduled for announcement at a Kennedy Center press conference Wednesday. He is expected to take office Feb. 1.

Kaiser, a 47-year-old New Yorker whose life has combined top managerial experience and intense dedication to the arts, announced last month that he would leave his Covent Garden post.

At the Kennedy Center, Kaiser will succeed Larry Wilker, who announced in April that he will leave the center at the end of the year to set up a new performing arts enterprise on the Internet.

Born into a family with strong artistic interests (his grandfather was a violinist with the New York Philharmonic), Kaiser aspired to a career in the performing arts and trained as an opera singer. He went into management consulting after deciding that his voice was not good enough for a major operatic career.

After a successful career as a management consultant for Fortune 500 corporations, Kaiser sold his firm, Kaiser Associates in McLean, Va., a Washington, D.C., suburb, and put his skills to work for the arts.

He has an impressive record of turning around performing arts companies with problems, including the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, American Ballet Theatre and the State Ballet of Missouri.

He has been a familiar figure at the Kennedy Center, having served on the board of the Washington Opera in 1985 and 1986.

But his chief claim to fame is his record at Covent Garden, an institution in a dilapidated building that was riddled with artistic, financial and political problems when he became its director. In 19 months, he eliminated a variety of scandals, presided at the reopening of a restored and modernized building, paid off a $30 million deficit and left the company with a $30 million endowment.

At the Kennedy Center — besides running a diverse performing arts complex with a half-dozen performing spaces of varied sizes and functions — he will face two major challenges. One is fund raising, not only for regular projects that need subsidies but also for an endowment fund that is hoped will reach $100 million. The other is growing competition from suburban performing arts centers in the Washington, D.C., area, with at least four in operation or scheduled to open in the next few years.