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Vann Graves, a creative leader with more than 25 years of experience directing and producing award-winning work for top agencies and brands, has been named the new executive director of the Virginia Commonwealth University Brandcenter. Graves will begin his new role Aug. 10.

Graves, currently chief creative officer at J. Walter Thompson, Atlanta, has demonstrated an ability to nurture and strengthen powerful brands throughout his career, including Shell Oil Co., American Airlines, Cigna, Lockheed Martin, Coke, MasterCard, the U.S. Army, AT&T, GE, M&Ms, Snickers and Visa.

“Along with my colleagues, I am delighted that Vann Graves is coming to VCU Brandcenter as its new executive director,” said VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D. “He brings a wealth of expertise and life experience to the university. I look forward to witnessing the amazing things VCU Brandcenter faculty, staff and students will accomplish with Vann’s leadership and guidance.”

Graves started his career in 1993 as an intern at BBDO, where he eventually became vice president and creative director. After 9/11, he enlisted in the U.S. Army, where he rose to the rank of captain. He is a decorated combat veteran for his service in Iraq.

According to Graves, BBDO taught him to focus on making great creative work while the U.S. Army taught him to lead — two important skills he uses as an advertising executive. After seven years in the Army, Graves joined McCann WorldGroup as a vice president and creative director in 2009.

“Vann’s unique combination of skills, along with his energy, influence and ties to Richmond make him the perfect fit to take the helm of the VCU Brandcenter,” said Ed Grier, dean of the VCU School of Business. “As businesses of all types are starting to recognize the importance of creative problem-solving, Vann’s leadership of the Brandcenter will play a critical role in the advertising industry and beyond.”

A Fulbright scholar, Graves’ work has won numerous industry honors, including Cannes Lions, London International Advertising Awards, The One Show, New York Festival, Art Directors Club Awards and Clio Awards. He is a board member of the 4A’s and a former member of the Ad Council Creative Review Committee. Graves holds degrees from Howard University, the Pratt Institute and Harvard University.

The Brandcenter position marks a return for Graves to his native Richmond. His family has lived in Richmond since well before the 1900s, when his great-grandfather worked at the Jefferson Hotel and the Jefferson’s carriage house, which today houses the VCU Brandcenter. Graves is the latest in a roster of industry executives who have led the Brandcenter: founder Diane Cook-Tench, Rick Boyko, Helayne Spivak and current interim executive director Brad Armstrong. 

“The decision to come to the Brandcenter was an easy one,” Graves said. “The VCU Brandcenter embodies a culture of creative thinking and craft that is second to none and as our industry continues to evolve these are the skills that will be critical for its future leaders. The reputation of the school combined with such an amazing group of talented individuals in the alumni, the faculty and staff, the board and the members of the VCU community made this a unique opportunity and one that I was immediately drawn to.”  

The Brandcenter, a School of Business graduate program focused on developing the best creative problem-solvers in the world of brands, was named the No. 1 graduate advertising program by Creativity magazine and was the first winner of the 4A’s O’Toole award for the Best Advertising School. Its alumni are behind memorable spots such as Bud Light’s “Dilly Dilly” and Mountain Dew’s “puppymonkeybaby” ads. More than 200 students are enrolled in the two-year, full-time master’s program in one of five graduate tracks — art direction, copywriting, creative brand management, experience design and strategy. Within a year of graduation, more than 95 percent of Brandcenter alumni are working in the industry.

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