Interview by Dayna Brownfield
Brandi Braun loves yoga, collaborative strategy, and marrying folks she cares about. It’s true, she married off her younger sister here in Columbus and her brother in Maui. But what really gets this Columbus innovation officer going is helping the capital city move forward into the future in unique and interesting ways. And when it comes to the Smart Columbus initiative and reducing single vehicle transportation in the city, as well as other strategic ways the city can help its residents live better lives, Brandi is certainly moving the needle for Columbus.
Are you a Columbus native? Yes, I’m from Columbus. It’s such an exciting time to live here right now – we’re undergoing an exciting transformation period. In City Hall there’s a plaque that quotes the 40th Mayor of Columbus, James J. Thomas: “The spirit of its people is the soul of a city. May the spirit of Columbus ever be one of progress honor and good will to all.” I believe this captures the city quite well.
What career path led you to your current role? I have spent 16 years in state and local government; working in strategic planning, external affairs, strategic communications, and public private partnerships. My career has been an amazing journey where I’ve learned so much from so many great people. I’ve also learned a lot myself and have really honed in on my strengths and what I have to give my community. Specifically, I worked for the City of Gahanna (Assistant to the Mayor, Assistant City Administrator), Ohio Department of Commerce (Deputy Director for Strategic Initiates), and now the City of Columbus. I started out in Recreation and Parks leading Community Relations before taking the role I’m in now.
What advice or mentors have helped guide you along the way? I’ve worked with so many wonderful people that I consider mentors; I try to learn a little bit from everyone with whom I come into contact. I have strong network of friends, colleagues, and former colleagues that I consider my “tribe of mentors,” and I seek out advice and counsel from them often.
I also think it’s important to listen – everyone has something to share – you just have to keep an open mind and ears. There are a few one liners from my first job in Gahanna that have always resonated with me and continue to be sound bits of advice.
From my boss, the Mayor: “Bloom where you are planted.” and “Timing is everything.”
From the former Police Chief: “Never believe the first report.” and “When in charge, be in charge.”
What is your current job role like? I help lead the public sector efforts around the Smart Columbus initiative (a private/public/academic partnership) and am working with our Chief Innovation Officer and others at the city to develop a long term, innovation/smart city strategy for Columbus; finding ways to apply smart city solutions across the city in a way that empowers our residents to live their best lives.
What are your main responsibilities in this role? A major part of my job is interfacing with our private, public, academic, and nonprofit partners. Columbus’ approach to becoming a smart city is rooted in collaboration and partnership. To make this model work, I spend a lot of time planning and coordinating with some amazing organizations including The Columbus Partnership, The Ohio State University, The Central Ohio Transit Authority, and the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission – just to name a few.
To make that coordination work, I also work very closely with the City’s Smart Columbus Program Management Team led by Mandy Bishop and Jodie Bare; they’re leading the implementation of our two Smart City Challenge Grants totaling $50 million.
I also manage the strategic communications, external affairs, and government relations on behalf of the City’s Smart Columbus efforts.
What is your day-to-day like in this role? Every day is very different, but usually includes a good deal of listening, communicating, writing, and problem solving. I would say that’s the crux of what I do.
What gets you up in the morning? Life gets me up in the morning; it’s a true privilege to be alive and I’m grateful for it.
What are some of your work-life balance challenges & how do you succeed in spite of the hustle & bustle? In our ever-connected world and nonstop news and social media cycles, it can be easy to get caught up living and working in 24/7 digital, decentralized bubbles. I’ve found myself measuring success through activity not output or impact.
I’ve recently put a strong focus on managing my hours and days in a proactive way that cultivates quality, not quantity. I’ve turned news alerts off my phone, deleted Facebook and Instagram, and have started saying no more. I’ve been reexamining what things at work I’m responsible for and letting go of things I’m not.
I also make a practice of taking time away from the office or email on a regular basis. This can be in the form of a vacation or a one hour break during the day to breathe, calm my nervous system, and collect my thoughts.
What do you do/where do you go to unwind? I start most my day with an Ashtanga Yoga practice at Ashtanga Yoga Columbus. It’s a physical, mental, and spiritual practice that grounds me and prepares me for the day. The disciplined practice of yoga prepares me for the practice of life. I also appreciate a walk in one of our amazing parks to connect with nature, or a glass of wine with friends at one our City’s fabulous restaurants.
What might someone be surprised to know about you? I’m a licensed minister and performed the weddings of my younger sister at Strongwater here in Columbus AND my brother – on the beach in Maui.
If you could have a superpower, which would you choose? I would fly. It would provide beautiful views and be an efficient way to travel.
When you were a kid, what did you say you wanted to be when you grew up? I wanted to be an attorney.
What books or podcasts are you reading/listening to right now? The Tim Ferris Show (podcast) is PURE gold. He’s a gifted, intelligent interviewer who brings a wide array of diverse and talented guests. I’m inspired by every show.
I just finished The Effective Executive, and I’m reading Nudge and Heart Talk. Also I’m working on Life Entrepreneur as the author is speaking at the John Glenn College Leadership Forum I participate in. Next up is High Output Management, Writing Public Policy, and Dear Madam President. Some of these books are around events I’m attending or involved in; OSU classes in which I am involved or Tim Ferris podcast recommendations.
What are some of the top places you’d recommend to someone who’s visiting Columbus? The Sycamore, Milestone 229, see the HooDoo Soul Band at Rumba Café, Picnic with the Pop at the Columbus Commons, walk the Scioto Mile at sunset, see a movie at The Drexel
What’s the most exciting thing about Columbus right now? There is so much to list! The people, the energy, the culture, the desire to innovate, and Smart Columbus. It’s exciting that the City of Columbus has an opportunity to truly define its future in a way that reflects our collective values and uplifts our residents.
If someone were to ask you what the “pulse” of Columbus is, what would you tell them? Strong and vibrant.