How Don Braunstein’s Varied Career Path Led Him to University of Phoenix

Don Braunstein has served as a business instructor at University of Phoenix for 13 years. He also runs a consulting practice. Prior to starting a new career in business education, Braunstein worked as a chemical engineer, business manager, and in the publishing industry. His last position before signing on with University of Phoenix had him working closely with authors Danielle Steele, Judy Blume, and Kurt Vonnegut.

What Went into Each of Braunstein’s Career Changes?

Braunstein decided to return to college to get his Master of Business Administration (MBA) while working as a chemical engineer. His employer, Allied Engineering, knew he was in the process of earning his MBA and asked him to act as a liaison between the engineering and finance departments.

The engineers were drafting proposals for new chemical plants and oil refineries. They required Braunstein’s expertise to translate highly technical wording from the proposals into more straightforward terms that the finance department could understand. The finance team would not be able to approve the proposals otherwise.

Thanks to Braunstein’s work as a chemical engineer and his finance training while pursuing his MBA, Allied Engineering offered him a position as a financial analyst. His next job took him to the marketing department of Getty Oil, and from there he went to Doubleday Publishing as a financial analysis manager. After just one year with Doubleday, the company made him executive vice president of book clubs.

Doubleday acquired Dell Publishing and asked Don Braunstein to transfer. From there, he went to Putnam, Grosset & Dunlap where he served as president. Braunstein estimates that he spent 35 years of his career in book publishing. He also credits his MBA with giving him the flexibility to make several career changes throughout his life.

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How Braunstein’s Early Life Influenced His Later Success

Braunstein grew up under his mother’s care in the Bronx. Since he did not have a father or siblings, his mother often consulted him on decisions. He believes this helped him to feel comfortable with decision making and taking risks. His mother also worked long hours to support them, leaving him to care for himself much of the time. Braunstein’s childhood experience taught him to be independent and to look for new opportunities in every situation.

Braunstein’s Experience with Students at University of Phoenix

Braunstein encourages his students to take risks and have confidence in themselves. Since the students he works with are mostly employed adults, he counsels a lot of people about the possibility of making a career change. To help students build confidence, Braunstein often assigns public speaking assignments.

Braunstein also advises his students that their current employer may struggle to see them in a new role especially if they started with the company in an entry-level position. If the problem persists and employees find themselves with no opportunity to advance, Braunstein recommends that they find a different employer willing to support their desire for professional growth.

While teaching a marketing class, Braunstein worked with a student who was a receptionist at a tanning salon. This student stood out to him because she seemed to grasp new marketing concepts easier than her peers and always turned in quality assignments. With his encouragement and practical support during the job-hunting process, this student landed a job with a technology company and is now working her way up to a management position. Braunstein takes this approach with all his students especially when he feels they have self-limiting beliefs.

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Braunstein Always Embraces Opportunity

During his time as a book publisher, a customer brought a stuffed dog called Spot into the office because it resembled the character in a children’s book the company already published. Braunstein immediately saw a new opportunity in the publishing world, even though others shot down his efforts at first.

Undeterred, Braunstein had his sales and marketing team create a product shaped like a doghouse with a stuffed dog and the book inside. The new product sold 50,000 copies on its first run. This is just one example of what Braunstein means when he tells his students to be prepared to seize every opportunity. The publisher got even more creative after that, creating books that children could turn into toys. Within two years of starting his role as president in publishing, Braunstein took the business from a net worth of $5 million to $50 million dollars.

Adult Students Should Take a Personal Inventory

When adult students come to him seeking advice on a career change, Braunstein counsels them to take an inventory of their strengths and weaknesses first. He also lets them know they can always pick up the skills to reach their goals by taking certain classes. In Braunstein’s experience, just as many adult students return to college to gain the skills necessary to become an entrepreneur as those desiring to qualify for a promotion or work for a new employer.

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The Intersection of Education and Business

Braunstein noted that technology has changed the way people get an education today, particularly when it comes to online learning. He also states that University of Phoenix was one of the first educational institutions in the country to offer online learning when the internet was new. With technology constantly changing, students and instructors alike need to invest time in keeping up with it. At the same time, he cautions people not to rely on technology to the point that they lose the human connection.

When asked whether business influenced education or the other way around, Braunstein replied that he felt each had equal influence over the other. Business lets education know what it requires from graduates, and education delivers workers with those skills and experiences. It must be a cooperative experience for both industries to benefit.

Above all, Braunstein encourages students to be adaptable like he was throughout his career. He feels this is even more important today with the rapid changes in technology and the opportunities they might bring. Lastly, he tells his students to read, study and pay attention to the world around them. His reasoning is that life happens outside their sphere of influence, and this will prepare them for any impact current events might have on their career.

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