A Coffee with... Valerie Berlin, Principal and Co-Founder
☕️ We sat down to grab a coffee with Valerie Berlin, Principal and Co-Founder to talk about building an inclusive company, the creation of BerlinRosen and binge-watching Netflix’s Dead to Me (Christina Applegate slays – this wasn’t part of the chat, just a fact.)
How do you like your coffee?
I like Peet’s Coffee, that I make at home, quite strong but with a lot of milk. I want the jolt, but with the edge softened.
How’s your life outside of BerlinRosen?
Very full! I live in Park Slope, Brooklyn. I have two girls, twelve and nine. So a lot of my life outside of work is spent enjoying time with my family and friends.
Why did you create BerlinRosen?
Jonathan and I wanted to do the work that we were doing but for a broader array of individuals and organizations. We also just wanted to create the kind of firm where we could be excited about getting to do the work every day in a healthy environment. We wanted to bring a campaign sensibility that we built our careers on to organizations large and small doing meaningful or interesting work. We didn’t know exactly what kind of firm we were building in the beginning – it really evolved over time into what it is now. But we knew how to understand an organization’s or individual’s mission and then partner with them to help them accomplish their goals by being strategic, thinking fast (but also long-term), and determining what is needed to get there.
How does BerlinRosen create a culture of inclusion?
Creating a culture of inclusion is a top priority for BerlinRosen – as someone who grew up gay in the ’80s in the midwest, these issues are personal to me. It has to be integrated into everything we do. From hiring to onboarding to training to promoting and everyday work life in between, including providing equal benefits to all families. We try to encourage different perspectives, capacities and backgrounds that people come to the table with. We want people to feel that no matter who they are their voice matters and they can bring their best self every day and do their best work here. There is always room for growth and we will never stop striving to be better. We try to listen carefully to both concerns and new ideas – we get a lot of feedback from the staff! We want people to feel good about working here and excited about what they’re doing. It makes for a happier, healthier work environment, better retention, stronger work and a higher level of service to our clients.
What’s the best thing to come out of co-founding BerlinRosen?
There are two best things. First, the people I get to work with every day! I am blown away by the talented people who work here who come in with such a wide set of experiences and talents — while they’re growing here, it’s a two-way street and I feel like I learn so much from them too. The other best thing is the opportunity to work with the clients we have. I’m so inspired by the work our clients do — to partner with them to help them elevate that work and help them accomplish their goals is an exciting prospect to wake up to do every day.
Tell me a life-changing moment that helped shape who you are today.
I don’t think I’ve had one life-changing moment. I learned pretty early on growing up that not everybody has access to the same opportunities or is treated the same way. My early awakening to the massive disparity and deep seeded inequality in a country that has so much and yet is structured around institutionalized racism and poverty has always horrified me and stuck with me. That was the impetus of the organizing work I started my career with and a driver of the work today that I’m most passionate about.
What advice would you give to candidates applying to work at BerlinRosen?
Learn how to write well. Learn how to communicate well. Be ready to work really hard. Find out for yourself what you’re really passionate about and tap into that. Come in with a team spirit. We all work very closely together, there are no solo operators in this firm.
⚡️ Fast Facts
Last TV show I binge-watched: Dead to Me. Love the dynamic between Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini!
Restaurant I’d only recommend to close friends: Little Owl in the West Village. Don’t tell anyone.
Best concert I’ve ever experienced: That’s a hard question, I love live music. A recent great one was Elton John’s farewell concert. He’s amazing. His voice and piano playing are still so strong. His other band members, too. Every song I’d say “this is my favorite Elton song,” then the next song I’d say “wait, this is my favorite Elton song!” I did that pretty much at every song through the entire show.
Book that changed me: Every book probably changes me a little! On the non-fiction side, “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander was a compelling read and a good synthesizer of the how messed up our criminal justice system is and what it will take to change it. On the fiction side of the aisle, I just read Elena Ferrante’s four books that comprise the Neapolitan novels and was mesmerized by her writing — the way she so honestly captures the moment by moment experiences women have throughout a life cycle of relationships to oneself and others — much of it not pretty — it was truly captivating.
Movie I’d pay to see again and again: I love music biopics, even fictional ones, and could watch them over and over – Walk the Line, Ray, Straight Outta Compton, Coal Miner’s Daughter, it doesn’t even necessarily matter the genre of music. I love the stories of their origins, the struggle, the rise, the crash, the second chance, the redemption – hmm, there seems to be a formula here!
My adulthood hero is… I don’t have a single hero. There are countless people I admire so much. My real heroes are the ones who have overcome their own adversities and who are still doing the work every day, often times unnoticed and unpraised, who are pushing for change, fighting injustices or otherwise looking to make the world, or their corner of it, a better place. These can be efforts big or small, they add up.
Advice I’d tell my young self: Be proud to be who you are, regardless of what anyone else may think – you will find your people, and yourself, so much more quickly.
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