We love to celebrate our alumni and explore how they got to there current professions. In this Alumni Spotlight, Gali Firstenberg talks about how the Business & Entrepreneurship department at Columbia College Chicago helped her achieve her goals and she also shares some advice for current students.
What is your current job and how did you get there?
Gali: I am currently working in A&R and overseeing west coast operations at LAVA Publishing. After graduating from Columbia with a degree in Music Business, a former internship supervisor recommended me for an opening at ASCAP, where I was hired as department coordinator for the Pop/Rock Membership department and assistant to the VP of Pop/Rock Membership. After two years I was promoted to Associate Director in the same department. Very recently, I was offered a role working side by side with Jason Flom to launch his new company, LAVA Publishing.
What field are you working in?
Gali: Music publishing.
How did the Business program @ Columbia prepare you for what you do now?
Gali: Three things stand out to me: (1) The class Art & Business of Recording was particularly instrumental in giving me a foundation for working in rights management. Learning about the various parties in copyright ownership was fascinating to me and, though I didn’t know it then, set me on a course towards my current career. (2) Many classes required real-world industry relations, which forced me to hone my written communication skills as I reached out to artist managers, agents, etc. via email. (3) Lastly, interacting with the many guest speakers who came to Columbia sharpened my networking skills and required that I make myself stand out in order to form business relationships with those people. It’s not those particular relationships that matter today, but the interpersonal skills I picked up in forming them that has had the greatest impact.
What was your most valuable Columbia experience?
Gali: Being part of the Student Programming Board, first as a board member and later as Sponsorship Coordinator, was immeasurably valuable to the development of my leadership skills. SPB and Sharod Smith (then SPB’s faculty supervisor) empowered me to make decisions and execute them with confidence. Sharod’s managerial style also taught me a lot about how to manage teams effectively.
Were there any particular professors who have made a significant impact on you? How?
Gali: Aside from Sharod Smith, mentioned above, Bob DiFazio and Maya Shewnarain had a particular impact on me. Bob taught Art & Business of Recording with incredible joy and enthusiasm which translated into my attitude towards the music business. Maya taught Psychology of Women, which had an enormous impact on the way I approach my role in business as a woman, as well as the way I treat other women. Today, I co-chair a Lean In Circle for L.A.-based women in the music industry and play an active role in two additional groups empowering women in music.
In what way did your Business degree help your career?
Gali: While my experiences at Columbia and time living in Chicago had a huge influence on my career, the degree itself has had little to do with it. At no point has an employer asked about my degree, and in fact I know several very successful executives who never graduated from college. That said, having my bachelor’s degree has given me the confidence to know that if I ever choose to go to graduate school I have the freedom to do so.
Do you have any advice for current Columbia students?
Gali: (1) Intern as much as possible. At this stage in your career you can’t afford to turn down any opportunity. My worst internships have yielded the greatest benefits. (2) Go to every event. Whether it’s a networking mixer or a concert’s after party, you never know whom you’ll meet. Many of my most valuable professional relationships were formed on nights when I would have rather stayed in. (3) Don’t do too many drugs. My former classmates who are now succeeding in their fields worked on their craft every single day in college, whether it was an artist creating or business students managing local bands. You can’t do that if you have drained your brain of all creative energy. (4) Women: remember that business is a field culturally structured to keep you at bay. If you are overlooked for a deserved promotion, an important project, a raise, stand up for yourself and make sure you’ve done the work to support your case. And when you have the opportunity, support other women!