In early 2019, Faustina Brooks hesitated to attend the Georgia Society of CPAs Conference. But her decision to go ended up altering the course of her career. She found the only empty seat in the room, which happened to be beside Jeff Quesenberry, the Fox Theatre’s CFO at the time. They hit it off, and by the end of the event, Quesenberry stated his intention: to bring Brooks on as director of finance and accounting at the Fox, and to train her to replace the current CFO, William Renshaw, upon his retirement.
“He said I have really good people skills and high emotional intelligence, and that’s what the Fox needed,” Brooks said. “I was brought on to improve processes; lead day-to-day accounting operations; and build, manage, and engage a team.”
While acclimating to her new position, Brooks enrolled in the Executive MBA (EMBA) program at the Robinson College of Business, where she had earned a B.B.A. in accounting in the mid 90s. As a lifelong learner, Brooks saw the EMBA program as an opportunity to build general knowledge across industries such as analytics, management, marketing, and organizational behavior and to stay on top of ever-changing accounting rules and regulations as well as tax laws.
“No other programs I researched offer such a big bang for the buck,” Brooks said. “In addition to the degree, I received a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt certification as well as certificates in change leadership, data analytics, and fintech."
Before graduating in 2021, Brooks was brought on as an adjunct professor to teach Principles of Accounting at Georgia State’s Perimeter College. She also is serving her second term as vice president of the Georgia Society of CPAs’ Gwinnett chapter.
Becoming a CPA is rigorous for anyone, but Brooks encountered additional obstacles along the way. As a teenager, she immigrated to the U.S. from Monrovia, Liberia, which is Africa’s oldest independent republic. In the 1820s, freed U.S. slaves were resettled to Liberia by the American Colonization Society. Brooks’ maternal great grandfather was born into slavery in Ninety Six, South Carolina, and moved to Liberia upon his liberation. Brooks had to adapt to American culture, and got asked a lot of questions about her accent and origins.
“People say things like, ‘You don’t look African.’,” Brooks said. “Well, how am I supposed to look?”
According to the National Society of Black CPAs, less than 1 percent of CPAs are Black.
On top of that, per the Live Arts Centers of North America (LACNA), 53 percent of principal administrators of performing arts centers are female—but only 7 percent of those administrators are BIPOC (Black, indigenous, and people of color). To address diversity issues in the performing arts industry, LACNA launched the BIPOC Executive Leadership in the Arts Program to accelerate the development of mid-career participants’ skills and to provide a pathway for them to pursue executive positions in cultural institutions throughout the U.S. and Canada. Brooks is one of the program’s six inaugural fellows.
The initiative includes training on leadership theory and practice, one-on-one coaching, networking opportunities, a leadership summit, and residencies at three performing arts centers. Brooks’ residency assignments include the Columbus Association for the Performing Arts in Columbus, Ohio; New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, New Jersey; and Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa, Florida.
Brooks recently returned from a three-day kickoff event at Stanford University, where she attended lectures with Stanford faculty and met with city officials who oversee the arts.
“It was my first face-to-face with the other fellows,” Brooks said. “We talked about obstacles we overcame just to be in that circle, and bounced ideas off each other for continuing to persevere. We also shared best practices across our respective performing arts centers.”
Brooks’ participation in the BIPOC Executive Leadership in the Arts Program will be good for her as an individual as well as for the Fox as an organization, which is dedicated to supporting BIPOC goals. Brooks serves on the theater’s new EDI (equity, diversity, and inclusion) committee.
“EDI isn’t just a task force,” Brooks said. “It’s a series of changes that become a way of life.”
The Fox Theatre was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976. The theater has earned several accolades including the 2019 Venues Now #1 Top Stop of the Decade Award for tickets sold (5,000 seats or less), 2019 Billboard #2 Highest Grossing Venue Worldwide (5,000 seats or less), and 2019 Pollstar #3 Worldwide Ticket Sales (5,000 seats or less).