For the first time in more than 20 years, Brains on Fire is under new leadership. Brandy Amidon stepped up as co-president of the B-corp advertising agency in January, sharing the position and responsibilities with Benjamin Hart, based in California. The 37-year-old not only drives the Greenville-headquartered business, but serves as the mayor of Travelers Rest as well. The quick-witted accountant unapologetically quotes and curses Brené Brown, hauls her daughter to ribbon-cuttings, and labels herself as “the challenger, the protector, the boss.” She took time out of her fast-paced day to share her secrets of success and vision of the future.
You’re an accountant, running an ad agency with a bunch of creatives. How does that work? >> I don’t actually do what we do at Brains on Fire (laughing), but we like to think of all of us as creatives. My strengths don’t lie in what we provide to our clients. However, what I’m really good at are two different things: money and people.
You know your role. >> I think there’s a lot of comfort that “Brandy’s in charge, and she knows money.” But I really see the majority of what I do as caring for people, our employees. I get to focus on us, while most everyone else at Brains focuses on the clients. I love that aspect of it. I can’t necessarily help them do their things, but I can help create an environment where they thrive. A lot of these guys are artists, so there’s a personal connection to the things they make, and so it’s creating a safe spot where they can grow.
You’ve worked as a full-time and contract staff accountant, and CFO, for Brains for more than a decade. How did you make the leap to the top? >> Robbin [Phillips] was one of the original founders, and started to talk about transitioning, and what’s next for her. I love this company and it’s always been a part of me. I talked with Ben and asked if he’d want to go halfsies with me, and he said yes. We’d bonded so well, working closely together. There was a lot of trust there. We have different strengths and weaknesses, so it’s kind of nice to lean on someone for those pieces that you might not be as strong in.
You and Ben took out loans to purchase Robbin’s majority share of the company. And you’re now responsible for 26 employees. Is that stressful? >> I thought there would be this cloud of anxiety hovering around decision-making, but I’ve not felt that at all. I think the reason why is there is so much trust involved with these people. Ben and I are on the same page, we believe in each other, we’ve got plans, we’ve got goals, we’ve got the greatest group of people. We have such great trust in our employees.
Tell us about Brains’ partial ownership of Hello Bello with Kristen Bell and Dax Shepperd. It’s not often an ad agency is part-owner of a baby-products business. >> It’s a cool experiment for us. It came to us as an idea through Launched LA. We were able to name it, brand it, work with the celebrity owners. It addresses an injustice that you have to choose between your baby and your wallet. I’m so proud to go into Walmart and see a design I know Jesse made, or a diaper pattern Josh designed.
Tell us about serving as mayor of Travelers Rest. >> My great grandparents and my grandparents were heavily involved in TR. Our family has stuck in the same spot. I’ve been on council for a decade now. When I grew up, TR. was very country, rural. You had to go to Greenville to do anything fun. There was Waffle House. There was nothing to keep you here. However, we’ve always been a tight-knit community, family-focused, and there was a lot of pride in living in TR.
“I really see the majority of what I do as caring for people, our employees.”—Brandy Amidon
Travelers Rest is booming. >> As a municipality, you’re either growing, or you’re stagnant. How can we still grow, and know our neighbors, and keep that tight-knit community? That’s kind of the filter, or decision-making, in the growth we’ve had. You’re talking about going from country, nothing-to-stick-around-for, to trendy, everybody-wants-to-come, in a span of five years. Hopefully, people see us working hard on council to keep that balance.
Your daughter, Annabelle, joins you a lot in public. >> You make time for the things that are important. For me, family is always first. I was very intentional when I ran for mayor, and I always brought her with me. If people don’t want a mom, or a woman who takes her children to stuff, then that’s OK. I am a mom, and I can’t separate the two.
It’s a philosophy that carries over to Brains. >> Yes, we have similar values, and we talk about how we should have the same values as a company that we do personally. I’m so passionate about that. We have a paternity-leave policy, a babies-at-work policy. When we say families first, we’re putting families first.
How do you do it all? >> It all works together. I make mistakes. I may not be the best in logistics, but I’m definitely still able to get things done. And it helps to have other people looking out for you. We are all in this together. It starts with family, and I have my husband, mom, and grandmother. It doesn’t feel much like work because we are all so passionate about it.