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Photo: Cole Wilson
Chad Cooper gave up his Wall Street career to run a music school.

There’s nothing like a story of a guy turning from the big bucks to pursue service to others. One such story was recently reported by Martin J. Smith in Fast Company. It’s about a managing director at Deutsche Bank in New York who left the Wall Street life behind to save a community-oriented music school.

Fortunately, his wife was totally on board.

Smith writes that Chad Cooper’s banking job “came with a substantial salary, bonuses, a generous expense account, and business-class travel. [But] two years ago, after a 16-year Wall Street career [he] walked away from all that to take the executive director’s job at the nearly insolvent Brooklyn Conservatory of Music. …

“Since Cooper took the reins in August 2016, the 121-year-old nonprofit institution in Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood has seen a 71% increase in individual donors over fiscal 2016 and a fivefold increase in attendance after shifting its development model from a single annual gala to a handful of special events. Assets have shown a net increase of $400,000 over fiscal 2016. Attendance at its flagship Community Music School is up 19%.”

Fast Company (FC): ” ‘After 16 years as an investment banker, you opted out. Why?’

Chad Cooper (CC): ” ‘Even as a Stanford GSB student, my intention was to work in the private sector, then ultimately return to the social sector. But once you start down a private-sector path, it can be daunting to pivot. For me, the stars aligned when the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music, this incredible organization whose board I’d joined, was in dire need of management skills I’d spent my career developing. …

” ‘Before I went to business school, I worked for four years for the city of St. Louis doing inner-city economic development. I also launched a grassroots nonprofit organization that helped mobilize younger people to take an active role in city revitalization efforts. That was a really big part of my life, so when I came to Stanford, I had a strong sense of what I wanted out of business school, and I wanted to bring that back in some way to the nonprofit sector. I had planned for that and tried to save up a little money to have enough security to take myself out of moneymaking for a while. …

” ‘I’d been serving on the board of directors at the conservatory for two years, and just after the business school reunion, the conservatory’s executive director resigned. Having served as the conservatory’s treasurer, I knew it was in dire financial shape. …

” ‘I worked for a guy named Charles Kindleberger in St. Louis for four years — he ran the urban planning department — and I always marveled at how extraordinarily intelligent and thoughtful and effective he was as a senior manager for the city. He could have been a great professor, or a lawyer, or businessperson.

” ‘He would have been successful at whatever path he chose in life. But he had committed himself to public service, and I have great respect for people like Chuck. A lot of capable people commit themselves to service and do it their whole life.’

FC: ” ‘You agreed to work the first two years at the conservatory for no pay. How were you able to afford to do that?

CC: ” ‘I send my kids to public school. My wife works full time. We don’t live an extravagant life. I didn’t walk away from my banking career with a huge amount of wealth, but there are a lot of people who get by with a lot less than I do in New York City and give of themselves in profound ways. …

” ‘I really love what I do. I’m totally energized going into the office every day. … I inherited an organization that really needed fundamental change, and it’s enormously motivating and exciting to come to work and to have that intense focus and energy for turning a place around and building something for the future. We provide music therapy to 1,500 people, including those with autism, and kids whose parents are incarcerated, and seniors with dementia, and I see how transformative their experiences are. It’s gratifying to see the work we do with 6,000-plus New Yorkers every year who otherwise would have no access to music education. That’s enormously motivating to me.’ ”

More at Fast Company, here.

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I couldn’t resist the pull of Occupy Wall Street yesterday, and I think that was true for most of the tourists in the Ground Zero area.

Everyone had a camera out, and most occupiers were taking advantage of being on display by holding up signs for their causes or handing out flyers. Souvenir buttons were on sale.  A brass band whooped it up. Both occupiers and visitors danced.

I got to thinking about the documentary I saw in September on how to start a revolution. The movie was about the work of 80-something Gene Sharp, an influential exponent nonviolent ways to overthrow despotic regimes. (See my blog entry here.) After the screening, I listened to Sharp as he answered audience questions. One thing he said was that he believed the uprising in China’s Tiananmen Square in 1989 failed because the organizers were winging it and didn’t have an adequate plan for next steps.

Today’s Occupiers also seem to be winging it. But they are not aiming to overthrow the government, and I’m not sure it matters that a central theme has yet to stand out. I’m willing to wait and see what emerges. In the meantime, here are pictures from Saturday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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