High Notes: Meet BMI Vice President, Catherine Brewton

Catherine Brewton’s climb to the top of the corporate ladder at Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) took 15 years, proving hard work takes time. Currently serving as the Vice President of writer/publisher relations at BMI, Brewton laced up her Louboutins and trekked her way from director in 1997 to manning her own dream team today.

The former executive director of the Grammys has mastered her pen game when it comes to locking in partnerships or creative services for her clients. You might’ve heard of the nationwide panel “How I Wrote That Song,” or the BMI R&B/Hip-Hop Awards. Well, that has all became reality under Brewton’s direction. But given the leading lady’s inspiring feats, the one thing that she’s not hesitant to ask for is assistance.

“All of the steps were really about me knowing that if it’s not something that I’m not proficient in, you align yourself with people who have those specialized skill set,” Brewton told VIBE. “Sometimes, our biggest failures come when we think we know it all and can do everything,”

She adds, “I think you’re as good as the team around you, and you certainly can’t be afraid to say, ‘I don’t know this, but I’m going to figure it out.’ I think those are some of my most valued lessons and certainly some of the greatest gifts that I’ve acquired and learned in becoming successful. “

Here, the accomplished exec dishes on what keeps her motivated, how to handle life’s inevitable roadblocks, and keeping her mother’s legacy alive through her foundation Harvest Center.

A photo posted by Catherine Brewton (@c_brewton) on

How I handle challenges:
I’m pretty even-keeled and demanding in the same respect. In my early careers, I would just be very confrontational and try to get resolve. Now, I give myself five seconds, ten seconds, two days if I need time out to really process what is the best approach, but I often times just try to take a moment of quiet time to say, “Okay, God, what would you have me to do in this situation?” What I’ve learned is really patience, and sometimes the situation comes to really determine how are you going to come out of that situation? I believe that you just have to be patient and sometimes not speak or react when you are faced with challenges. Determine how and what you can do to move forward. Sometimes it’s not going to be a perfect resolution, but in all of it, I try to learn from the good, the bad, and indifferent.

On managing controversy:
I try to be forthright. If you can’t accept responsibility for things that go wrong, then I think you’ve failed as a leader. I try to be transparent. If I’ve done something that is a detriment to my team or to the organization, or in any aspect or facet of my life, I take ownership. I put my man pants on and I stand up and I accept responsibility and then I look at what can I do to try to manage it going forward. I think we just all have to be accountable.

My blueprint for success:
I don’t know that there is a blueprint necessarily that I followed. I just showed up everyday with a plan and the plan is to really be extremely organized. Coming out of General Electric, my first job in the music business was the Grammys. I opened the Atlanta chapter of the Grammy office and I had no experience in building out an office. I certainly didn’t have experience really manning a music division for the Grammys, but out of necessity, I had to learn and put people around me who could help me do the things that I wasn’t gifted or versed in, like developments, meeting with contractors, and picking out furniture. All of the steps were really about me knowing that if it’s not something I’m not proficient in, you align yourself with people who have those specialized skill sets.

Hardest project I’ve ever done:
One of my most difficult events or challenges was I used Pharrell, Chad of the Neptunes, Rodney Jerkins, and Dallas as the house band for a James Brown tribute. They nearly drove me nuts and that was at the pinnacle of all of their careers. They were all multi-million dollar, very successful producers, and I had the wild notion, “Catherine, Pharrell plays drums, Dallas plays guitar, Rodney plays keys, Chad plays everything. Why don’t we use them as the house band for the James Brown tribute?” We pulled it off, but I go back to that notion. You’re talking about very gifted, talented guys, and having them show up, rehearse, and learn all of this material, be present and not be like, “Let’s just jam out for nine hours.” That’s probably been one of my most challenging moments.

My biggest (personal) win:
Probably being able to sustain. My mom passed in 2007 and she has a facility that feeds and houses men and women who are homeless and/or transitioning. When she departed, there was no succession plan. I’ve been able to step in with a full-time gig and we’ve continued to provide the services. It’s now 30 years running and six or seven [years] after her departure. My career and my success in the entertainment business had everything to do with what I did with her facility in Charlotte and I’m proud to say it’s still serving hundreds of thousands of poor and homeless, and disenfranchised people. I’m very grateful for having the opportunity to do it and still do it.

My mentor-in-my-head:
Maya Angelou is still one of the most well-read, accomplished folks [I know]. I love Tyler Perry, who’s an acquaintance. I’ve certainly had some wonderful moments with him. Everybody loves Oprah, but my biggest mentor and fan was my mother. Her instilling in me the fundamentals of being a woman, being successful and God-fearing, and the things that I think, in her absence, I can still chew on and really be present with.

My unlikely inspiration:
I’m just a huge fan of Snoop. We honored him a few years back and as unconventional as he appears, he’s someone that has the heart of gold. In this chapter in his life, he understands the balance of giving and being of service. That’s just been such a heartfelt friendship that I value because you see the Snoop who’s smoking medical marijuana, but he’s a family man. He’s concerned about his community. He gives millions of dollars of his own money to help fund these football clinics in Compton and now he’s trying to take it to other markets. I’m low-key a big, big, big fan.

My dating philosophy:
Date where it makes sense. I’m being honored this weekend at an organization, and I’m being given the award of excellence. I did an interview with them in the past few days and they asked, ‘How does someone like yourself date?’ I said, ‘I keep it simple. I don’t date where I eat. I don’t look for companionship in the music business.’ That’s my number one mantra because then it becomes a distraction. Most of the time when I’m dating, and I’m dating someone now who lives in L.A., I don’t want anybody that has anything to do with music because then how do we disconnect when we do have time alone? Make sure you put some distance between what you do and your personal life. I [also] believe you can be single and happy. Everybody wants companionship and to be in a relationship, but I think until you’re okay with that [being by yourself], you’re not going to be a really good partner. To be a good partner, you have to be okay with being on your own.

The definition of a boss:
I think my biggest accomplishment as a boss is I’ve invested in the people around me. Whether they stay here or not, they can go on and take on the same mantle and the same purpose that I’ve instilled in them and that is to show up first and don’t be afraid to leave last. In everything you do, give it your best shot.

Something my mom told me that I’ll never forget:
Your greatest gift in life will be what you do for those who have nothing to give you.

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