Michael Brechtel

Top 40 Under 40 2010

Photography Constantine Tanasiuk

Age: 31

Job Title: Director of strategy, McRobbie Optamedia

Why He’s A Top 40: He’s an advertising whiz and a tireless community organizer with an eye on shaping Edmonton’s future through interVivos, artsScene Edmonton, TEDxEdmonton and Reboot Alberta – all of which he co-founded.

Key To His Success: Taking the road less travelled all along, at every step. “I haven’t been aware of what I’m not supposed to be able to do.”

Advertising is where Michael Brechtel makes his living, but building the next generation of Edmonton leaders is where he really sticks out. Yes, being director of strategy for McRobbie Optamedia looks really good on his business card, especially since this role has him overseeing the long-term marketing visions of Atco, the University of Alberta and the provincial government. But in the last four years, he has given hundreds of hours to helping found four organizations that work on expanding business, arts and political sectors in the city and province-wide.

The organizations are a diverse lot. InterVivos brings together young professionals and mentors in any career; artsScene focuses on the arts and business sectors, uniting people from both fields through networking mixers; TEDxEdmonton and TEDxCanadianRockies are ideas festivals hosting eye-opening talks on technology, entertainment and design; and Reboot Alberta is a nonpartisan political forum on provincial politics.

The desire to have a hand in changing his world isn’t so much a lofty wish as an intrinsic part of Brechtel’s personality, something for which he credits his mother, a teacher, and his father, a wildlife biologist with the province, for instilling in him.

“They have both been able to have an impact on their community. They’ve been able to effect change in the world they work and live in,” Brechtel says. “I think that kind of trickled down to [me and my siblings] and set a good example for doing something similar in terms of what we want to accomplish. I love the idea of being able to look back when I’m 60 and see that I had some impact, to see that I haven’t just been a passenger.”

Being in the driver’s seat extends beyond what Brechtel does to how he does it. That’s evident even in his fashion choices and distinctive bowties, but truer in his willingness to step out on his own. He founded his own ad agency, Firebrand Media, shortly after completing business economics and law studies at the U of A. In 2008, he and Ken Bautista (a 2009 Top 40 alumnus) bucked the more conservative direction of organizational higher-ups and established the provincial artsScene chapters with the plan they envisioned, which would build relationships through casual, not formal, encounters.

“We didn’t wait for someone to tell us how to do it. We said, ‘This is our vision for artsScene,’ and we just did it, because we knew it had to happen,” he says. “Even when the status quo is working, it’s way more fun to do things not the way you’re supposed to and have it work out.”

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