Tradition and Transformation at the Spanish Riding School of Vienna

Case Solution

James Kennelly, Liza Nagode
North American Case Research Association (NACRA) ()

The Spanish Riding School (SRS) was an icon of Austrian national identity, the oldest riding school in the world and the most important representative of the classical art of dressage (a “ballet” with horses). In 2012, 447 years after its founding, the school faced a serious threat: how to survive the so-called “privatization” by the Austrian government. Elisabeth Görtler, recently re-elected managing director for a five-year term, faced three interrelated challenges: how to deal with the criticism of SRS and its leadership and the avalanche of bad press that sparked it, how to deal with the major ones The organizational changes she implemented during her first five years as Managing Director and how additional income can be generated for the SRS to continue to break even financially and in the long term, achieve the financial sustainability of the SRS and achieve its exalted status as a world leading institution in dressage classical and its responsibility for the conservation and improvement of the Lipizzaner breed. Since her appointment (on a 5-year contract) in December 2007, Görtler had moved quickly to implement a number of initiatives to reduce costs, increase sales, and improve organizational skills. These changes appeared to be successful in containing the financial losses suffered by the SRS, but not without cost. Internally, some seasoned riders had strongly opposed the changes and were later fired; Externally, critics had launched a media campaign claiming that the quality of SRS appearances had declined and “declined” as a result of the changes. Looking forward to his second term as managing director, students are asked to evaluate their efforts to make organizational change and to consider their strategic options for the future.

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