Brandcenter director stepping down

Helayne Spivak

Helayne Spivak

After five years leading the VCU Brandcenter, Helayne Spivak is calling an end to her tenure.

VCU announced Friday that Spivak, who has helmed the graduate school since 2012, will step down as executive director upon the completion of a search for her successor.

Spivak said she will stay on for at least a year to help with the transition, and she plans to remain involved with VCU and the Richmond community. She also plans to finish a book on diversity and women’s issues that she said has been optioned.

“At this point, I’m planning to see where my passion for what I’m doing takes me,” Spivak said. “I’m also wanting to work within the community, because I’ve fallen in love with Richmond and have no desire to leave.

“I want to make sure that the Brandcenter – and not just the Brandcenter but VCU schools in general – have an inclusive, multicultural atmosphere for all of our students,” she said. “I find that diversity doesn’t mean anything if there is no inclusion. You just have double the amount of very unhappy people that don’t feel like part of anything. That’s what I feel very passionate about, and I think Brandcenter and VCU could use that, so that’s what I’m concentrating on.”

The announcement comes less than a year after Spivak told alumni in a letter that she would be sharing leadership duties with Don Just, a professor in the school’s creative brand management track. Just was named managing director, overseeing the school’s internal operations, while Spivak turned her focus to outside fundraising, promotional efforts, and student and faculty recruitment.

In her time at the Brandcenter, which last year marked its 20th anniversary, Spivak has seen it evolve into what she describes as a creative problem-solving school, as opposed to a branding or advertising school. She pointed to the development of the creative brand management track – one of five areas of study students can focus on in the two-year program – as an example of a change in thinking about the industry.

“We’re still putting out the best talent – writers, art directors – but we’re also putting out very unusual minds, which is different than any other school that says it’s of its kind,” Spivak said.

Spivak also played an integral part in the Brandcenter’s Friday Forum speaker series, helping to bring to the school marketing insiders who in turn gave projects, jobs and scholarships to students and alumni. She is credited with producing more than $200,000 in endowed gifts last year, and she formed a student advisory panel specific to promoting diversity and inclusion in the school.

A New York native, Spivak attended the Parsons School of Design in New York City and was chief creative officer of New York ad firm Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness before she was named Brandcenter director in 2012.

VCU School of Business Dean Ed Grier said Spivak had been talking with him about succession plans for some time.

“She felt it was her time, because she’s been there five years. We’ve been planning this for a while,” Grier said. “It gives us plenty of time to find her replacement.”

Grier said a search committee consisting of Brandcenter board members, VCU faculty and community members has been selected and will be chaired by Garret Westlake, executive director of VCU’s da Vinci Center. He said VCU will hire a firm to assist in the search, which he said would be wide-reaching while also open to internal candidates at the Brandcenter.

“The ideal candidate is certainly someone that has experience and notoriety in the industry and has a passion for helping our students from an education standpoint and networking,” he said.

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