What We Can Learn From The President Of BRIC's Career


(Image credit Jordan Rathkopf)

When Leslie G. Schultz joined BRIC, the arts and media non-profit that celebrated its 40th year last month, she had no idea that she would spend the next 13 years at the organization.

She had originally taken the job as a consultant, drawn to the organization because of her experience working on building projects as a lawyer. BRIC was undergoing a building project at the time and she was hired to oversee it.

A few months later, she was running the place.

But she didn’t dive in full force when the board offered her the job. Instead, she took a leave for five months from the law firm where she worked and told the board of BRIC that she would take on the role temporarily and see how it went.  “I felt like I could do it but I also knew that maybe I couldn’t do it,” she explains. She wanted to make sure it was a fit before she gave up the security of her job she knew and loved.

So often women don’t apply for a job unless they’re 110% qualified. But not Schultz. As a lawyer, Schultz came to BRIC with a set of analytical skills and the ability to think ahead three to four steps. But she didn’t have all the skills required in BRIC’s job description. “A lot of what we are doing here can be learned and if you throw yourself in – if you’re passionate about what you’re working on and you’re smart and able to learn from your mistakes than you can go much farther than if you’ve just done the job before,” she says. “When they hired me, there were a lot of people who could have said, ‘what the hell are you doing?’ But they hired me because they saw my potential.”

After a few months of consulting, she knew she wanted to stick around.  “I felt I was bringing my whole self to work. Not just my analytical skills,” she says, acknowledging that’s a rarity in most roles. “We are a mission-based organization. We are doing things here that we personally care about.”

Looking back, it seems laughable that Schultz wasn’t sure the role would be right for her. Since 2005, she has helped the organization grow from $3.7M in annual operating revenues to $15.8M. She has also expanded BRIC’s programming and education initiatives and strengthened its commitment to providing resources and support for Brooklyn artists and media-makers.

When Schultz joined, BRIC was an umbrella organization for a number of very discrete projects that didn’t interact much, she says. Her job was to unite these different teams under a set of common values. The team who organized the free concert series in Prospect Park in Brooklyn was part of the same organization that offered public access media and poetry slams, but no one knew that. “We had to put our name on everything we were doing,” she says. “No one taught me about marketing and branding in law school.”

The first step was to create a 40,000-square-foot arts center in downtown Brooklyn to house her team. “That sense of commonality is what the past 13 years has been about,” she says.

Once her internal team had a common understanding of what BRIC was, the next step was to figure out how to present BRIC to the outside world. On a day when Schultz was running from meeting to meeting it hit her. “I was bored of describing BRIC in the piecemeal way I had gotten used to,” she says. “All of a sudden as I was about to cross the street into yet another office building a light bulb went off: we’re the leading presenter of free cultural programming in Brooklyn!” Now that is the tag line of the organization.

Things haven’t always just clicked for Schultz. Five years ago, she had leukemia and a bone marrow transplant and had to take a step back to focus on her health.

When she thought about leaving BRIC after pouring so many years of her life into the organization, her first thought was: “I’m going to take a rest.” But now she has other plans: She’s going to take five months to work on a congressional campaign. She’s going to see both parts of Angels in America with her best friend. She’s going to travel with her husband. “I just turned 60 and every ten years I’ve made a change. I practiced law, taught at NYU law school, practiced more law, then I came to BRIC.”

Here are five lessons from Schultz’s career that she’d like to share with others:

  • Don’t shy away from things that you aren’t familiar with.
  • Ask questions.
  • Never say never.
  • Process the emotions coming from the workday.
  • If you are a primary caregiver for someone, know that you are probably more exhausted than you realize. Do nice things for yourself.

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