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Powerful Women Let's Talk - 049: Julie Brinks

Julie Brinks
Julie Brinks
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She leads an award-winning team of broadcasters as general manager of WOOD TV in Grand Rapids. Julie Brinks also serves her community and believes in the power of mentoring. Julie Brinks is our guest on Powerful Women: Let’s Talk.

Powerful Women: Let’s Talk is created by WGVU NPR and made possible by WGVU NPR sustaining monthly donors. Become a sustaining monthly donor now at wgvu.org/donate to support WGVU NPR’s local programs, including Powerful Women: Let’s Talk.

Full Transcript:

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Produced by women about women, powerful women, Let's talk is a series of interviews with women who are trailblazers and have helped shape our world. Transforming who we are and how we live.

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Shelley Irwin: She leads an award-winning team of broadcasters. But she certainly paid her dues to land her role as general manager Grand Rapids based wood TV. Julie Brinks leads mentors, advocates, gets involved, and I will ask if she still plays the oboe. So welcome to powerful Women, Let’s talk Mrs. Brinks.

Julie Brinks: How are you this morning

Shelley Irwin Do you still play the oboe?

Julie Brinks: I do not play the oboe Isn't that too bad? I mean, we come up with certain talents through our younger years and sometimes our paths go in different direction. And we let some of those things go. But the reality is that I get to watch someone who is younger than me who I mentored become a doctor of double reed and actually plays my oboe professionally, the one that I trained on in college, so that’s kind of fun.

Shelley Irwin: That's the answer. Selfishly, I'm kind of glad that you are not still playing the oboe because you have other things other sandboxes is that you are playing in. And of course, my next question is how can there be any more room for awards on the mantle at wood TV 8? Emmys, Murrow  awards and MAB station of the year. That’s a wonderful introduction, So congratulations.

Julie Brinks: Thank you so much. And that congratulations belongs to all of the amazing talented journalists, photographers, editors and leadership at the station. It's really their work that has demonstrated through these awards and I couldn’t be prouder.

Shelley Irwin: How does one how does Julie brinks change her major from music performance to broadcasting.

Julie Brinks: Well, when I was in high school, I was very active, obviously in classical music. And that's how I became, you know, a performance major, but I also was involved in theater and in newspaper and yearbook and forensics. And so I was very much in the in the creative end of things to begin with. And so I also competed in high school in radio news broadcasting through the forensics program. And impromptu speaking. So have a little bit of that background. Once I got to central Michigan University, a good friend of mine who had known me all through high school from another city had been working at a little what we call an underground radio station on campus and said, Julie, I think you would love this come down and check this out. So I went down to this little radio station and said is there any work that I can do, and they asked can you type, and I said yes about 70 words a min and then they said you got it. You're going to type the program logs that tell us when to air the commercials. And so my job was to type this station log that was timed out with advertising commercials. So I at least got my foot in the door at this little radio station and pretty soon I was writing promos and voicing liners and I loved it. So I made the decision to make broadcasting originally my minor. And then I loved it so much. I flipped it around and made it my major

Shelley Irwin: Nice. You are self-described career broadcaster. And I understand your very first job perhaps with the exception of what you just explained is now your present location.

Julie Brinks: Yes, it is. Oh, yes, isn't it amazing. I would have never guessed that would have been a full circle for me throughout my career. So I've been doing this. Okay, I'm going to be scary, over 40 years. My very first position when I graduated in December of 1980 from central Michigan University in January was at wood TV and I was a rookie account executive kind of in a training program right out of college, which was very rare at that time to have that opportunity. And so I was with the station at that point in time and learned a lot of the basics of television broadcasting and ratings and research and a lot of the things that I would need to be done as well as getting clients on the air and writing and producing commercials for them. So circle 40 years later actually 36 when I was approached about coming back to Grand Rapids from out West. We we're in Tucson, Arizona at the time where I was managing 5 radio stations and 2 TV stations in Tucson along with 2 TV stations in Palm Springs, California.

Shelley Irwin: Multitasking probably gets you to where you are now.

Julie Brinks: Yes.

Shelley Irwin: Which means what does it take to move into leadership management. What have been your challenges, your surprises, your thrills, your passions evident.

Julie Brinks: Sure. Well, I think that there are a number of things in my upbringing, in my background that always led me into positions of responsibility. I think that’s what I’m going to call it Initially you think about it individuals demonstrate responsibility at different stages of their life. And I think that I just had that kind of built into the very young and so even  as early as high school and college. I was the drum major of my high school band. I was our student conductor of the pep band. I would be directing a play. I would be enlisted to be the drill sergeant of the drill team on campus at Central, you know, those kinds of things. So for whatever reason, I had that in me and people would recognize that in me. My first management job was at 24 years old. So I was only in my career a few years before I moved over into a small management role. And so again, someone saw something in me and gave me that opportunity to lead a small group of people and this happened to be creative services writing and producing commercials and promotion. But that grew very quickly into a full-bore management position where I had 27 unionized male employees. And so that's where when you say challenges, that was the big challenge. That was my first real step into leading a large group of people who had a lot of experience where I really didn't have that much experience. And so the challenge there with how are those individuals going to accept me a female in a male career at that time. And how was I going to win their confidence that I was there to advocate for them and that I was there to help them do great work. And so I just the approach I took was really trying to get them to understand that I was there for them. It wasn't necessarily to do what upper management demanded and it wasn't that kind of a feel that I brought to the job. It was really about what is your strength. What do you bring to the table. How can we take that and use it to do great work. And by taking that I guess people focused approach and identifying talent in individuals. And then presenting them with opportunities. That's how I was able to get a good performing group to be a really amazing performing group.

Shelley Irwin: In that experience Julie Brinks did you see the newsrooms turn from male dominated to well, more women at the table.

Julie Brinks: Yes, I think over time, but it was probably 8 to 10 years into my career before I started seeing other women come into roles other than on air news talents to see women in management roles, leadership roles as opposed to  purely on-air role. I saw women enter the business side of the business more frequently. But again, it was a good 8 to 10 years in and I can recall going to a NBC promotion managers conference down in New Orleans, Louisiana and walking into the ballroom and realizing that out of 210 television stations there were 3 women and 207 men in that room. And thinking  I have really stepped into an area where women don't have a presence. So it's important to demonstrate, you know, ability and competency and confidence in that kind of environment and hopefully that will change. And I found some great supporters along the way. And male supporters, which I think doesn't always happen. But I was very fortunate to have several male managers along the way who really recognized competence and capability and enthusiasm for the job and gave me opportunities.

Shelley Irwin: How do more women then move into management today.

-Julie Brinks: I think that it's really important to start earlier at looking at those management and development opportunities and it does take someone who said I want to do this and I'm going to take steps to find those individuals who can help me along the way. Finding a mentor is not an easy thing to do. It has to be someone that can not only provide to career advice and personal advice but really encourage you and help you identify your strengths and finding someone willing to do that doesn't always happen. you may have to go out and look for that. And so I think it starts there that wanting to grow and wanting to learn and taking opportunities to make that happen as opposed to waiting for it to happen.

Shelley Irwin: You do say success is when your dreams put on work clothes. How much how important is it to dream and to follow your passion.

Julie Brinks: I think it's number one, if you aren’t enjoying what you do each and every day. If it isn't something that you really believe in are passionate about. That's going to be a pretty drudge life. You know, I think that people thrive when they're doing something that they enjoy and when I kind of mean by that is that, you know, if I would do this without being paid that I'm doing the right thing. I love it so much that I would do it even in my retirement or such. That's when you're really doing what you love. And you’re being successful at it because it is what you love. The fact that they give you a paycheck. It's really  that's how I look at it.

Shelley Irwin: Well time for some fun. What was it like to repel out of a hovering helicopter?

Julie Brinks: It was pretty exciting. I was actually a guinea pig at one point in time in my early college days where they would teach students how to repel from the top of the field House at the university. And so I went up and learned how to do that. Scared me to death. But at the same time it was exhilarating. And so I want to learn how to how to do this better and learn how to teach this. So I became a rappelling instructor and as a part of that that I had the privilege of going down to Fort Campbell, Kentucky and going out with the Army pilots. And we repelled from hovering helicopters and it was a blast

Shelley Irwin: And you can share a band story or two. I imagine the drum majors as a female back then as you self-disclosed might have been hard.

Julie Brinks: I wouldn't even be surprised if I was the first one in the history of the high school to actually be a female drum major. I had to go find a skirt. I mean, there wasn't

Shelley Irwin: You had the hat?

Julie Brinks: Yeah, I had the hat and the whole bit. So I think my best stories because I’m an oboe player. They generally are not in marching band with their instruments. They have to do something else. So flag girl is an option or percussion is an option. So I basically I was the glockenspiel player. You know, a glockenspiel? it’s the metal, a keyboard with a mallet.

Shelley Irwin: That's yes, oh, that's right.

Julie Brinks: So that's what I was playing.  my high school marching band was invited to march in the Mardi Gras parades in New Orleans. Now think about that were 15, 16 years old and we're going to bus down from Saginaw, Michigan all the way to New Orleans and back and we're going to be in the Mardi Gras parades. I mean, that's this will never happen today but back then it did. And so we are we are all preparing for, you know, this event and the other oboe player in the band who was on symbols she was goofing around with it and ended up breaking her thumb which is very important. So as a consequence, with the cast on her arm for the parades. She was given my glockenspiel and I had to carry a bass drum. and I said never again going to be the drum major, motivation right.

Shelley Irwin: Fun stories again all leads up to success ultimately in life. Now share that fun fact about a store mannequin.

Julie Brinks: I was brought up, brought up to be very polite. I mean, that's you know, I would I brought my son's up to be very polite and one day I was in the shopping mall and carrying a bunch of bundles of packages and I bumped into someone. And of course, being the polite person that I am. I started apologizing profusely and dropped a package of picked it all up and I'm talking and then I realize it's a mannequin And I think about that and I go, you know what, no matter what the circumstances always treat people with kindness.

Shelley Irwin: if only someone would have videotape it these days

Julie Brinks: I’m sure it would have gone viral

Shelley Irwin: You are known as a boy mom.

Julie Brinks: I am known as a boy mom I have 2 sons, Paul who is 25 now and lives here in Grand Rapids has his own place. He got his very first place about a year ago just before the pandemic. My other son, Joe. He is an Arizona rat. So he stayed behind when we came back to Grand Rapids 4 years ago. He is actually visiting right now, which is awesome to see him. He makes a 3 week track after schools out to be here in with us every summer. And so he's visiting right now. And those 2 boys are my joy. I'm so fortunate. I was absolutely picked to be a boy mom, I love science fiction. I love hunting and fishing. I love getting outdoors. Just everything about me from a personal perspective is a bit adventurous. And so I just had such fun with those boys over the years. And there just kind gentlemen. But one of the things that I loved in raising them is that we were very much in the science fiction and comic con and Renaissance festivals and, you know, all of those kinds of activities. And so I was the mom who had basically say yes, I'll take the suburban loaded up with 7 or 8 young teenagers and all of their costumes and all of their equipment and we would go to comic cons all over the country, and I would dress up with them. So, you know, that's I just look at it. You know, some people say boy mom, are you in to sports No, we were just into other types of things. But that adventure. I think that's what has been again, the joy of my boys

Shelley Irwin: Which dispels the myth that a woman at the top of her game has to be work oriented 99%, of the time. Sounds like if I can use that balance word that you're there.

Julie Brinks: Well, you know, the balance thing is a challenge for all of us today. And I don't care if you're male or female, you know, figuring out how to raise children in today's world and keep the balance and keep the careers going definitely takes teamwork. I have an amazing teammate. His name is Tom Brinks. We have been married for 32 years now. And Tom has been my savior through it all. He's my best friend and he is the person who has really been there to help me take those next steps in my career. We've moved a few times. We relocated originally to central Illinois for an opportunity I had with a venture capital group building television stations. At one point in time in my career built 5 stations in 7 years for that company and that required a lot of travel and he was always there to help me with that. He also decided when we made that change from  northern Michigan where I had been for many, many years to move, to Illinois to be the stay at home dad. And that was a kind of big deal, and that's not something most men at that stage or that era I guess we're doing. And he made that adaption. It wasn't easy along the way. But we figured out very quickly It was the best thing we could have done for both my career and our family. So that's where my balance comes from. It comes from him being that supporter and that helped me all through the years.

Shelley Irwin: Why are you involved in your community.

Julie Brinks: How can you not be involved in your community? I would say the root of it came from my mom. My mother was a very dedicated community volunteer. She got me helping at church. Very, very young. She was a founding member of a local church outreach in Saginaw and then she got me involved in the Red Cross. So every summer from probably 5th grade on. I would get on my bike and I go to local Red Cross office to do whatever they needed me to help with it could be videographing, you know, newsletters that we're going to go out to donors to I, you know, preparing supplies for a blood drive or whatever. And I think that it was something I was brought up with it. You know, when you are privileged, you have things you have to give back. And then as I grew older and realized I came from a very lower middle class family. It doesn't take anything but your heart and your time to give to your community so anybody can really do it.

Shelley Irwin: Wonderful. Where is the business of media headed? And do you watch your own news.

Julie Brinks: I watch my own news in doses as a you can imagine, when you're in it every single day. It can get. It can get hard. You know there's only so much you can absorb when you're running a business, a big business in this case. We have a 160 some employees and 9 1/2 half hours a day of news. I can't watch every single bit of that. But I try to catch as much as I can, obviously for 2 purposes really, just to see how we're doing as a as a team, as an organization and to recognize some of those great things that are our reporters are producing and to make sure that they know that that we appreciate and see their great work.  I think That there's a lot of challenge ahead for local media. And I think the number one most important thing we need to hold on to is that localism in media is critical. We are so overwhelmed by the National media today and the accessibility to national media and the number of platforms that are controlled by big organizations in terms of social media that it's really important that just the conversation you and I are having those types of conversations continue to happen that we're able to do stories that profile local organizations or address local concerns. I think that's really, really important so preserving local media I think is essential for who we are as a nation and as a community. That said technology is changing so fast. Accessibility is changing so fast. It isn't the heart of what we do that has to adapt, it’s how we take that and distribute it to audiences from a technological perspective. So as long as we keep adapting to our audiences and the way they want to interact with us as local broadcasters will be great. It's just we have to make sure we are delivering unique local content that is relevant and important to our local audiences

Shelley Irwin: reading any sci-fi?

Julie Brinks: I am not reading sci-fi at the moment, but I am reading something I’m rather excited about. So one of my employees. I pride myself in trying to help employees identify maybe some hidden talents and one of our senior staff members who is that on the air the I can't say the name right now.

Shelley Irwin: I was going to ask

Julie Brinks: one of our senior staff members who happens to be weather in the morning and help on 8 West has recently written a book and I have literally in my hands. I have an advanced copy and it's called Brighter skies ahead I understand it's going to be released in November. But this is the advanced copy that just came out. And so I'm reading it for the first time. And so more news on that when to come

Shelley Irwin: Wonderful, because that's what you do. You share the stories of others and certainly sharing the story of yours has been powerful. Thank you, Julie Brinks, for this conversation on our powerful woman, Let's talk podcast.

Julie Brinks: Thank you so much, Shelley. I appreciate it.

Shelley Irwin: I’m Shelley Irwin thank you for listening to this edition of powerful women, let’s talk.

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Produced by women. These powerful podcast focus on powerful women in how their strength transforms who we are and how we live. Want to hear more powerful women? Get all get additional interviews at wgvu.org or wherever you get your podcast, please rate and subscribe Powerful Women, Let's talk is produced by WGVU at the Meijer public broadcast Center at Grand Valley State University, the views and opinions expressed in this program do not necessarily reflect those of WGVU its underwriters Grand Valley State University.

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