Great stories told well

by Matt Jardin  |   

Founder and CEO of Greatland Studios, business alumnus and Homecoming guest speaker Brad Hillwig shares own story of professional and educational development

Brad Hillwig
(Photo courtesy of Brad Hillwig)

Despite an unprecedented global pandemic restricting in-person activity in 2020, new businesses flourished. That same year, new business applications increased more than 20%, creating an estimated 4.3 million new small businesses. While over half of COVID-19-inspired companies weren’t expected to last longer than 12 months, Greatland Studios hasn’t just survived, but thrived.

Starting Greatland in 2021, founder and CEO Brad Hillwig, M.B.A. General Management ’10, develops original films, as well as branded projects for clients by identifying stories that make them unique, and then producing humanistic and professional documentaries to share those stories with audiences. 

One of these projects, The Purpose of Song, about a Yupik singer from Toksook Bay, Alaska, received special honors at the 2022 Anchorage International Film Festival. More recently, Hillwig independently produced True Colors with permission from the Anchorage School District, which documents students at Bartlett High School in the weeks leading up to graduation. Bartlett is the second-most diverse public high school in the United States (the first- and third-most diverse public high schools are also in Anchorage).

“I want to tell stories that lift people up, and that includes the people I'm doing the story on and the people watching the story,” said Hillwig. “I want to introduce people to new concepts, new ideas, new people, new worlds, and I want to bring stories forward that give people an ‘aha!’ moment that this is something new that they're seeing in a different way.”

Founding Greatland was the culmination of Hillwig’s two decades of experience in media and communications. Born and raised in Kentucky, his passion for storytelling was nurtured by his father, a communications professor, who would bring home cameras for Hillwig to tinker with.

Hillwig earned his bachelor’s degree in English from Centre College in Danville, Kentucky, and moved to Anchorage, where he quickly joined KTUU as a news photographer. Over the course of five years, he traveled to every corner of Alaska while learning how to identify and produce great stories efficiently and effectively. 

As Hillwig’s production skills developed, he sought a way to combine them with the growth opportunities provided by a business. With the support of his wife, he enrolled at UAA to pursue an M.B.A. in order to fill in those knowledge gaps.

“There's no better way to learn the craft of storytelling than just going out and doing it,” said Hillwig. “But when I came to UAA, a whole new world opened up because I was able to take that creative background and merge it with what I was learning about business. I don't think I would have been able to do the things I love without the experience, knowledge and confidence I gained through the UAA M.B.A. program.”

Newly equipped with an M.B.A., Hillwig returned to KTUU as director of marketing, where he developed larger-scale projects for national cable networks, including the NFL Network and NBC Sports, where he stayed until 2019. 

Since then, Hillwig has moved into the nonprofit sector. In addition to his ongoing work at Greatland, he serves as senior director of communications at Cook Inlet Tribal Council.

While Hillwig’s positions as a communications executive and business owner can seem overwhelming (in addition to his roles as husband and father), he reassures that all of his work draws from the same place of community storytelling.

“Every individual and every organization has multiple stories to tell, and the world has shifted to embrace good narratives,” said Hillwig. “There was a thought for a while that quality doesn't matter because everybody watches 15-second videos online. But to me, that says quality matters even more. So I’m committed to finding great stories and telling them well.”

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