Bill Brand Headshot

Path to Retail CEO Started at WOUB

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Bill Brand, rue21 CEO, graduated from Ohio University in 1987

ATHENS, OH – When rue21 CEO Bill Brand was looking for a place to go to college in the early 1980s, he knew he wanted to go to a place known for its communications program where he could get hands-on experience. Brand found that at Ohio University and WOUB Public Media.

“I was looking for a great school focused on communications, and I went for a campus visit with my father and fell in love. It just felt right,” said Brand. “I also knew about the experience students could get at WOUB, and that was one of the reasons I identified Ohio University as where I wanted to go to school. It was very hands-on.”

Brand grew up outside Buffalo, New York. Even though he was not an Ohioan, he instantly found a new home in Athens and at WOUB.

“I started working in the WOUB newsroom immediately. I worked weekly shifts and hit the ground running. I also made some of my closest friends while working there,” said Brand. “I eventually got a paid job at WOUB as the weekend news editor. I did that all four years I was in Athens.”

Brand says he learned the ins and outs of news, broadcasting and media while working at WOUB. But, most importantly, he learned about three things that he carries with him to this day – community, leadership and storytelling.

“Athens and Ohio University have been the most important communities of my life. I got involved in Athens and the surrounding area,” said Brand. “Working at WOUB, I learned about how to serve the community and the region. I remember driving to Guernsey County during a snowstorm to get election results. The experiences and exposure you get as a student working at WOUB are amazing.”

“I also developed important leadership skills. I was given the opportunity to be in charge as weekend news editor. That was a huge leadership responsibility,” said Brand. “And while doing it, I also learned about the importance of quality storytelling.”

Brand worked on both radio and television news at WOUB because he wanted to learn as much as he could while he was there.

“I’m not sure if I’d gone to a large urban campus that I would have had the same hands-on experience I got at WOUB,” said Brand. “I learned about balance and how to have fun while working as hard as you can. I learned to be curious and to do things I did not see myself doing long term. If you take risks and do things that make you uncomfortable, you can learn and grow.”

“I remember anchoring the 10 p.m. television news and giggling while on air. I thought I was going to be fired. But I did not get fired. Instead, I got the discipline I needed from the WOUB professional staff to mature.”

Thanks to connections from WOUB and Ohio University, when Brand graduated in 1987, he got a job producing the 11 p.m. news at WSYX in Columbus. After Columbus, Brand went on to become an assistant news director and then a news director. Then he got a call that took him outside of the TV news business. VH1, a music video cable television channel, wanted him to come work there.

“I didn’t think I was right for the job. I told them I was not a music person. But they told me they were not looking for a music person, they were looking for a storyteller. And I knew I was a storyteller. So, I decided to give it a shot,” said Brand. “The leadership and storytelling ability that helped me get that job has its roots at WOUB.”

Brand became the vice president of programming and production at VH1. He was there for five years. Then, he moved on to a senior vice president position at Lifetime Television. After five years in that role, Brand was offered the senior vice president of programming position at Home Shopping Network (HSN). During his 11 years at HSN, Brand worked his way up, eventually becoming president of the company.

“I call myself an accidental retailer,” said Brand laughing. “When people wonder how I ended up in retail, I tell them that there is a connection between retail and storytelling. HSN is where that connection really came together for me.”

After HSN, Brand went on to become a senior vice president and chief retail officer at Carnival Corporation and then in November of 2020, he was named CEO at rue21.

Brand is thankful for the success he has had throughout his career and knows the importance of giving back to the place that started it all.  In 2011, he created a scholarship for students in the Scripps College of Communication called the 73 West State Street Bobcat Award. The name of the scholarship is a tribute to the house he lived in off-campus with the many lifelong friends he made during his time in college and working at WOUB.

“When I look at my non-linear career, the basis of it is being curious,” said Brand. “The roots of my career started at Ohio University in Athens at WOUB. Even though I went outside of TV news and broadcasting, all the things I learned there made it where I had the skills to do this. I’ll always be appreciative of and grateful for the Ohio University world.”