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Faculty Feature: Don Braunstein — publishing president turned passionate instructor and storyteller

This article is featured in the University’s 2019 Academic Annual Report. Click here to view the report in its entirety.

Don Braunstein is well known among colleagues and students as the faculty member who goes above and beyond. He’s the management and marketing instructor who creates amazing handouts and booklets for his students and the colleague who learns to use new technology, then shares what he knows and teaches others. He orders pizza for all his students in his on-campus classes on the last day they meet and makes sure there’s enough to share with the security guards.

He’s so unassuming and genuine, his colleagues say, that you might not know how truly awe inspiring his extensive background is until you’ve known him for years.

“His personal experience is like something that reads straight out of a Hollywood movie,” said Dr. Patrick Sherman, Braunstein’s faculty supervisor and program chair for the College of Business & Information Technology. “It’s astounding, the stories he has.”

Braunstein has plenty of stories to choose from, which he typically only shares when they’re relevant to the topics in his classes or in conversation with a colleague. Among other accomplishments, Braunstein was president of Putnam and Grosset & Dunlap Publishing. Over the years in his marketing roles with publishing companies, he cultivated relationships with New York Times bestselling authors, including Kurt Vonnegut and Danielle Steel. And he still talks to Judy Blume on a regular basis.

So how did a guy from the Bronx — the son of a single mother who worked as a seamstress in a sweatshop, who paid his way through his undergraduate career working as a machinist to earn a degree in chemical engineering — ultimately end up as the president of a publishing company? Braunstein attributes his journey to one key thing.

“I never put myself in a box,” Braunstein said. “I realized the importance of jumping on opportunities at a very young age. You must remain flexible.”

He remembers lessons he learned at the very beginning of his career path that impacted his trajectory — life-changing feedback that altered his communication approach with colleagues from science-minded to relationship-focused.

“I can hear the conversation as clearly today as I did 40 years ago,” Braunstein said. “It changed my life.”

He was a financial analyst at the time, numbers-driven and hyper-focused, and he had no idea that he was inadvertently driving a wedge between himself and his colleagues. Braunstein was caught off guard by what his boss said: the staff in the accounting department disliked him. Why? Because he always approached them, asked only for what he needed, then walked back to his desk and sat down with no further conversation.

“I asked what was wrong with that,” Braunstein said, recalling his immediate reaction. “My boss said, ‘Those people work for the company just as you do. They don’t want to feel like they’re being used as tools, to be dispensed with once you have what you want.’”

The takeaway — let the people you work with know you care about them as individuals. They’re part of a team, an important part of the company. Ask how they are, ask about their families, his boss advised. Let them know they’re a priority.

Braunstein embraced that lesson fully, known now by his UOPX colleagues as personable, professionally accomplished, the instructor that goes out of his way to help make course content engaging, and the faculty member who’s always willing to support others.

“Prior to joining UOPX, Don had a mega career in publishing,” said Dr. Maire Simington, who worked with Braunstein in the UOPX College of Business & Instructional Technology. “He’s unassuming about his superstar status in this field and never brags. Students love him.”

Learning from tough lessons and remaining flexible helped Braunstein recognize his own strengths in management and marketing, which ultimately led to a career change. Braunstein is most proud of his tie to a marketing concept for the children’s lift-the-flap book “Where’s Spot?”

In the book, a little yellow and brown dog named Spot hides beneath one of the book’s flaps for the reader to find. Braunstein said he conceived the idea of “Here’s Spot” — selling the stuffed animal version of Spot as a tie-in with the purchase of the book. The sales and marketing entities at the publishing company were reluctant at first, Braunstein said. But they allowed his idea to move forward, with placement of 50,000 “Spots.” They sold out faster than they could manufacture a restock, and a new marketing idea was born.

These types of experiences are what makes Braunstein such a valuable educator, Dr. Simington said. He loves sharing what he’s learned.

“Don is very dedicated to passing his deep wealth of knowledge on to the next generation,” she said.

Dr. Sherman agrees, saying he knew immediately when he read Braunstein’s resume 10 years ago that he was hiring someone special — a person that embodies what UOPX stands for: providing access to educational opportunities in his classroom by being experienced in his field.

“He’s an example of the best University of Phoenix has to offer,” Dr. Sherman said. “What he offers in the way of practical experience as a faculty member and a colleague is amazing. And he’s just a genuine, nice guy who goes the extra mile for his students and especially his colleagues.

Hear more about Dr. Braunstein’s advice on seizing opportunity in Episode 2 of the How Tomorrow Works podcast series.