Brian Weinstein: Working to Help Others


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From a White House internship to a law firm to the entertainment industry, Brian Weinstein's career has taken a few twists and turns.

Weinstein, co-founder of the 20-year-old nonprofit Opportunity Network (OppNet), is also president and COO of Bad Robot, a TV and film production company founded by filmmaker J.J. Abrams. Earlier in his career he was head of global client strategy at Creative Artists Agency (CAA) and a corporate associate at the law firm of Skadden, Arp, Slate Meagher and Flom.

“While I was in college I interned for a congressperson and then, after I transferred to another school to play soccer, I realized how much I missed politics," Weinstein said. “That led me back to D.C. to an internship in the White House during the Clinton administration. That experience is just a reminder that everything you do leads to something else, and it kicked off a lifelong interest in issues and politics."

Weinstein's passion has always been about creating a path for underrepresented people to succeed in any industry.

His early recognition of how he had benefited from his social network and the knowledge he had gained outside of school led him to create OppNet in 2003 alongside CEO Jessica Pliska. The foundation works to empower underrepresented students by getting them access to corporate networks.

Weinstein recently joined City National Bank's CEO Kelly Coffey for a conversation about his passion for philanthropy, the importance of diversity in every industry and his advice for people who want to make an impact.


Creating Career Fluency

OppNet, which started with a class of 10 high school students in New York City, has grown to assist more than 150,000 people on their path into college and their early careers.

The organization's goal is to help impressive students, often first-generation immigrants and first in their family to attend college, who are underrepresented in the power structures of the country, Weinstein said.

“Everything outside of school, everything that leads to success aside from good grades, can be hard to access," Weinstein said. “People can be blocked from the keys to unlock this access."

Creating a Support System for Success

Weinstein and Pliska asked companies to offer internships to the students, which continues to be a pillar of the organization's programs. Today, OppNet works deeply with about 1,200 students each year and has a robust curriculum for 50,000 students in 25 cities. All the participants are high achievers academically who need advice on everything from college application essays to what to do in high school and on summer breaks that can lead to college and career success.

While 95% of the students in OppNet go to college, the organization realized that their support was needed beyond an acceptance letter.

“Most of the students don't know how to navigate college or financial aid, so we created a support system for college, to help them with their summer plans and to help them apply for their first job," Weinstein said. “We now offer a much longer program from 10th grade through their first working years."

Helping Students Grow Their Network

Weinstein loves to network, so his idea was to create an alternative network for these deserving students. Weinstein and Pliska taught classes twice per week to the first cohort of students in OppNet, bringing them inside the New York City skyscrapers that many of them walked by daily but never entered. They recruited CEOs and executives to talk about their experiences.

“These students weren't exposed to much before this because they didn't have friends and family members who were CEOs or even worked at a bank," Weinstein said. “The core was to teach them 'career fluency,' basically everything other than academics, such as the soft skills of looking someone in the eye, how to write a follow-up email and even what their email address should be."

Corporations can get involved with OppNet in multiple ways, including offering internships, engaging with students and recruiting students to their companies.


Philanthropy as a Lifestyle

Weinstein's wife, Norah Weinstein, has a similar passion for helping others. She co-founded Baby2Baby, a nonprofit that supplies diapers and other baby essentials to low-income families.

The couple devotes time and resources to philanthropy because they believe in helping others and because it's fun, he said.

“When you do stuff outside of work you get to interact with people in a different way," Weinstein said. “I like to do good, but I also like to meet people."

Some of Weinstein's proudest moments are when students in OppNet succeed by graduating college and getting great jobs, but he also likes to take stock at their annual fundraiser — an event that has undergone substantial growth over the years.

The first was held in a Manhattan bar with college friends in 2003. This year, more than 1,000 people attended the OppNet gala at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City with honoree Trevor Noah.

Since both Brian and Norah Weinstein cofounded nonprofit organizations, philanthropy is a big part of their lives.

“The reward for succeeding in philanthropy is just to do more," Weinstein said. “It's not like when you build a business and there's an IPO. It's day-to-day hard work."

But Weinstein said he feels he has been given more by OppNet than he has given to it.

“It's not a good deed, you're learning too, especially when you talk to someone younger," Weinstein said. “When caring and your own benefit come together, really good things happen."


How to Make a Difference as a Leader

Weinstein's advice to leaders and mentors is to embrace a mindset of wanting to engage with others and to find joy in it.

“If you want to make an impact, just start," Weinstein said. “Don't wait for the perfect thing, just find the thing you like and get involved as soon as possible. It will have massive career benefits."

You can catch the rest of the conversation between Brian Weinstein and Kelly Coffey by listening to the full podcast above.

This article is for general information and education only. It is provided as a courtesy to the clients and friends of City National Bank (City National). City National does not warrant that it is accurate or complete. Opinions expressed and estimates or projections given are those of the authors or persons quoted as of the date of the article with no obligation to update or notify of inaccuracy or change. This article may not be reproduced, distributed or further published by any person without the written consent of City National. Please cite source when quoting.

This podcast is for general information and education only and is provided as a courtesy to the clients and friends of City National Bank. It is compiled from data and sources believed to be reliable, however City National Bank does not warrant that it is accurate or complete. Opinions expressed and estimates given are those of the speaker as of the date of the podcast with no obligation to update or notify of inaccuracy or change.