One of the best pieces of advice Art Brannen ever heard went like this: "When someone asks you to do something, and you're not sure if you should do it because you have so many demands already, say 'Yes' anyway," he advises.
Brannen, BS 1973, is president of Brannen Development Co., a construction firm he founded in 1981. The first years were spent building retail centers and warehouses, primarily. Then one day back in the mid-'90s a friend called and asked Brannen if he would be interested in doing work for Advance Auto Parts.
"I was just covered up at the time," he remembered. "I was building four post offices and facing some tough deadlines. I should have said 'no,' but I said 'yes.' "
It turned out to be a prophetic answer. To date, Brannen has completed 130 construction projects for the auto parts retailer; 70 were straight-up construction jobs and 60 were owner-builder developments, where Brannen acquired and developed a site approved by Advance, and then built the store.
"We'd move them in and they'd start paying rent," he explained. "We'd either keep the property or sell it, depending on our cash flow needs and investment strategy."
Several more Advance Auto Parts stores are in various stages of completion in the Southeast, along with a dozen or so remodeling projects. Topping out Brannen's full plate of current construction work are a pair of Dunkin Donuts stores.
Committed to Tech
Brannen has a habit of saying "Yes" to Georgia Tech as well. A former member of the Scheller College's Advisory Board, he was a major donor to the College's Technology Square building. The common area there bears his name. He has also made estate provisions to endow a professorship at the College.
Brannen, who played on the freshman basketball team, is also a longtime supporter of Tech athletics — a tennis scholarship is awarded in his name — and is a life member of the Alexander-Tharpe Fund.
"I love Georgia Tech. I had a lot of good professors and received a lot of benefits from my education there. So I want to give back and help the Scheller College," he says.
"You have to be a hard worker, you have to be organized and you have to be able to solve problems," he adds. "Those three characteristics have really helped me in my business."
One particularly memorable course involved case studies of how businesses handled problems.
"It was the same class, a graduate class, that was taught at Harvard Business School, and it has resonated well with me over the years," Brannen says.
Working His Way Up
Growing up in the Home Park neighborhood within earshot of Grant Field, Brannen came to Tech with a head start in the hard-work department. Starting when he was 15, Brannen worked as a stock clerk at a Big Apple grocery store.
"I wanted to keep my job at the grocery store because I was going to have to work my way through school," he said. "Going to Tech was the logical choice because it was close and I could live at home."
Following his Tech career, which was interrupted after his freshman year by a six-month stint in the Coast Guard Reserve, Brannen accepted a position with Holder Construction Co. Four years later, he went to work for a real estate developer, and then worked for another construction company before striking out on his own.
"Construction is a great business to be in because you see tangible results of your efforts, and no two days are the same," he notes.
"At the same time, it's a risky business. I've taken a lot of risks, especially as a developer, so my career has been a little bit of a roller coaster, financially," he says. "But my attitude is that if you do a good job, the financial part will take care of itself."