Soledad O’Brien worked for years to become one of America’s most recognizable broadcasters, at NBC and CNN. And then she made an abrupt career change.
In 2011, she created a production company, Starfish Media Group, that makes documentaries and TV shows. Having worked as a journalist, O’Brien knew plenty about media and storytelling, but she says that it was critical that she sought out guidance as she embarked on the new challenge of running a business.
For The Atlantic’s series, “On the Shoulders of Giants,” I talked to O’Brien about the kind of guidance she sought out for her new endeavor, as well as her work with the PowHERful Foundation, an organization she founded that mentors and financially supports young women seeking to earn a college degree. The conversation that follows has been edited for brevity and clarity.
B.R.J. O’Donnell: When you launched your own media-production company, did you look to others to help you in that transition?
Soledad O’Brien: It probably took me about a year before I realized that I could ask smarter questions about the help I needed. I was blown away by how willing people were to share their experiences. Everybody had a philosophy and a strategy that they had come to—and they were just so willing to share it. People would break it down and say, “Listen, this is what you should think about.” I was amazed at how willing everyone I asked was to show me how they structured their business by sketching it out on the back of a napkin. And now, when someone comes to me and says, “I’m an entrepreneur and trying to start something,” I sit them down and ask, “How can I be helpful to you?”