Board of Directors
Hanna Tikkanen Merk: President
Hanna is originally from Finland where she enjoyed not only one of the most heralded educational systems in the world, but also the strong and broad music instruction provided by a network of state-supported music schools. After graduating from Brown University, where she studied engineering and economics, Hanna worked on Wall Street, as well as in London, in investment banking. She completed her MBA at INSEAD, France, before spending several years working at the management consultancy firm Bain & Company, in several European countries.In 2001, Hanna and her husband Axel Merk decided to move to Palo Alto to raise their family and to grow their own business, Merk Investments. In addition to the active parenting of four wonderful children, Hanna spends her energy on supporting non-profits in the fields of education and music. She is president emerita of the German-American International School and currently teaches at the Finnish School of Silicon Valley. She is an avid equestrian and enjoys the outdoors, as well as music, literature, debating with her clever kids in multiple languages, and continuing studies at Stanford.
Vanna Shir: Vice Chair
A Bay Area native, Vanna grew up playing the violin and piano. She earned a BA in International Relations with a Minor in Sociology from UC Davis. She is currently the Director of Human Resources at Triage Consulting Group, a healthcare consulting firm based in San Francisco, where she has firm-wide responsibility that includes human resources, compensation and benefits, leadership development, and employment engagement strategies. Vanna began her career as a healthcare consultant and staffing specialist, and she now holds the professional designation of Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR). For several years, she served on the board of the California Child Care Resource & Referral Network.During her work sabbatical, Vanna and her husband visited every single MLB park. She loves rooting for her two sons at their little league games and for the SF Giants at the ballpark. Her latest joy has been watching her boys learn to play piano and appreciate music.
Alison Twiss: Secretary
Alison Twiss grew up in Northern Virginia and has always had a love of music. Alison works in the hedge fund industry and has worked in finance for over 15 years. While she resides in San Francisco, she commutes back and forth from New York on a regular basis. Alison holds both a BA and an MBA from the University of Virginia.
John Houghton: Treasurer
John Houghton is a CPA of over thirty years with his own tax and accounting practice in Redwood City. His office prepares tax returns for many nonprofits; he himself serves on four different nonprofit boards, offering financial and business advice.John has always felt a love for music and the arts. An accomplished jazz pianist and lifetime member of the Musicians Union, he has performed in numerous San Francisco venues over the years.
Josh Elkes is New York raised and San Francisco based. He currently works at Getty Images in strategic sales and business development. He has also enjoyed a rewarding career in the music industry and is a respected advocate and consultant for several highly regarded non-profits. Elkes holds seats on the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Committee, Lincoln Center’s Young Patrons Committee, the Guggenheim’s Young Collectors Council Acquisitions Fund, the New Museum’s Curators Council, SF MoMA’s SECA, FAMSF ArtPoint Board, the MoMA Junior Associates, Team Tassy’s (non-profit in Haiti) Board of Directors, and Grassroot Soccer’s (AIDS/HIV Prevention in South Africa) Ambassador’s Council.
Violinist Robin Sharp is in demand as a solo performer, chamber musician, concertmaster, and teacher. In addition to maintaining private teaching studios in both San Francisco and Palo Alto, Robin teaches violin at Stanford and UC Berkeley and is on the faculty of California Summer Music. Robin has appeared in recital at many prestigious venues, including Carnegie Hall in New York, the Musikverein in Vienna, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, the National Music Hall in Taipei, and the Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco, where she performed on Jascha Heifetz’s del Gesù violin.
Justin Simon, M.D.: Chair Emeritus
Justin joined the SFCO board in 2002 when Ben was appointed music director. He served as board chair in 2008 and 2009. Justin is a music-loving Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, and maintains a private practice of psychoanalysis and psychiatry in Berkeley.
Kathie Sollers: Chair Emerita
Kathie was raised outside Philadelphia and has a BA in american studies from the University of Pennsylvania. She has lived in San Francisco since 1975. Kathie worked in the accounting department at Stone & Youngberg, an investment banking firm, until the early 1980s when she left to raise the first of her two daughters.
Kathie has been an active volunteer at the Hamlin School in San Francisco, both as a parent and as a board member, and has served in several leadership positions within the School. Kathie was president of the Parents Association and was on the board of directors for eight years, during which time she was chair of both the committee on trustees and the personnel committee.
Music has been a part of Kathie’s life since childhood, when she took piano lessons and sang in the church junior choir. About a decade ago, she began lessons in classical piano once again, encouraged by her children’s teacher. She is currently part of a group of adults who gather twice a year to play for each other. Apart from listening to all types of music, Kathie also loves to ski, play tennis, and read.