A Juilliard Alumna Gives Back in Many Ways: Julie Anne Choi

Julie Anne Choi

Julie studied piano while at Juilliard.

Alumna Julie Anne Choi knows Juilliard better than most. She arrived as a first-year piano student, studying with Oxana Yablonskaya, and went on to receive both her bachelor's and master's degrees from the School. She later joined Juilliard's Board of Trustees and has been an instrumental leader since then, serving on the School's Executive Committee, the Trusteeship Committee, and the Education and Artistic Affairs Committee.

In her professional life, Julie is the President and CEO of Choi & Burns, a financial services executive search firm, where she advises the firm's blue-chip clients on strategic talent acquisition, succession planning, leadership development and new ventures. She is an award-winning CEO, having been recognized with Gold awards for Executive of the Year (Business & Professional Services, Less Than 100 Employees) and Company of the Year and Silver awards for Most Innovative Company of the Year and Woman of the Year (Business Services industries) from the American Business Awards.

Julie also chairs Nurole US, a board level hiring platform, which leverages technology and industry expertise to enable public and private companies and nonprofits access to top business leaders for board roles. She and her husband, Claudio Cornali, have two daughters and split their time between the East and West Coasts.

Julie recently shared some thoughts on how her Juilliard education and her continued affiliation with the School have impacted her life, and why she feels it is so important to give back.

How did you come to study at Juilliard?
In my early years, I dreamed of going to Juilliard...much like dreaming about Harvard. When it came time to take destiny in my own hands, I was advised by my mentor that I should "reach" for Juilliard. Once I made the decision, I literally lived and breathed my life at the piano and practiced 10-12 hours daily preparing for the formidable Juilliard audition.

How has Juilliard changed since your time as a student?
The School has changed dramatically. Joseph Polisi's vision and philosophy of "Artist as Citizen" has profoundly influenced every dimension of the school. Students today are inspired to own their development in multi-dimensional ways, from performing artist to creator and collaborator, all the while embracing ways to influence communities and society. Students now have many more tools and resources to use in preparation for life post-graduation. These resources empower them to forge careers that are holistic beyond the stage. They are also encouraged to tap into entrepreneurial pursuits and to create new opportunities for themselves.

How did you transition to a different field than music?
My parents could barely afford to send me to Juilliard. I had to find a way to make extra money, yet not interfere with my studies. I found a job posting on Juilliard's job board that fell under miscellaneous. I got lucky and discovered an executive search firm that was interested in employing a performing arts student with no business experience, but valued the combination of discipline, creativity, non-linear thinking, and ability to perform under pressure. What started out as part-time job to support myself while getting my master's degree turned out to be the foundation on which I built my career in business. I started my own executive search firm when I was 29.

I firmly believe that my training at Juilliard set the stage for my later success in business. A few years ago, I remember reading a NY Times Op-Ed piece (October 2013) that was titled "Is Music the Key to Success?" that correlated serious music training with outsized success in other fields. The thesis resonated with me, and I have discovered throughout my career the almost universal appreciation for Juilliard and the common view that the quest for excellence is directly applicable to any pursuit whether in the arts or in business.

Julie Anne Choi

Julie Choi and retiring Juilliard President Joseph Polisi

What inspired you to begin supporting Juilliard and to decide to include the School in your long-term plans?
For the longest time, I was silent on my Juilliard background, thinking it would somehow diminish how I was perceived in business (i.e., dealing with CEOs with Harvard and Stanford MBAs). I felt I needed to become an expert in business before admitting my artistic roots and education.

One day when I met with a luminary in the field of finance and investing, he genuinely wanted to know about my background and how my career came to be. When he heard I was a Juilliard graduate, the flood gates opened and his passion and support for the performing arts set the stage for our business relationship. I later introduced him to Juilliard's board, and we have served together as fellow Trustees for many years. It was after that fateful meeting that I determined to give back to Juilliard. It was a profound moment in time for me.

My husband and I have since prioritized Juilliard above all else in our giving. Several years ago, we decided to designate Juilliard as a beneficiary in our long-term plans. We get a great deal of satisfaction from knowing that we have taken this important step in helping future generations of students. I am also very interested in finding ways for the School to engage with alumni, since they are the true ambassadors of the school. Most of all, I love building connections to the School with those who are passionate about Juilliard's mission and about the importance of the arts to our society.

Invest in Juilliard's Future

The Juilliard School is profoundly grateful for Julie Choi's leadership and for her tremendously generous provisions for the School's future as a member of the Augustus Juilliard Society. Learn how you can join Julie and support Juilliard with an estate gift by contacting Lori Padua at lpadua@juilliard.edu or (212) 799-5000, ext. 7152.