The Funny Thing About Roads

The Funny Thing About Roads
Words by Nicole Letts
Portrait by Jaylon Jenkins

Josh Robinson and Chad Thrasher of My Friend’s Nephew, an Atlanta full-service advertising agency, have known each other since they were seven years old. They attended the same private Christian school, ran in similar social circles, and frequented the same church. Both also enrolled at Auburn University. At this point, some might label Josh’s and Chad’s journey as coincidence, but keep reading and you may find, like the partners themselves, that it looks more like the penpoints of a meticulous cartographer.

The funny thing about roads? They’re rarely straight.

Since the 2015 inception of My Friend’s Nephew,  Josh and Chad have worked with clients such as the College Football Hall of Fame, General Mills, Mizuno, and Zaxby’s. Josh leads the team as executive creative director, principal, and 50 percent partner. Chad, the other 50 percent of the partnership, serves as president and principal. But the route here was certainly not straight.

While at Auburn, Chad found himself as the president of his fraternity, involved in student government, meeting with the board of trustees, and even introducing a senator on the steps of the state capitol, each experience a notch in his leadership belt. At the same time and place, Josh discovered the freedom of college—and the substance temptations that came with it. He eventually made a “self-inflicted exit” to finish his undergraduate degree back home.

Through prayer and a nudge from his now wife, Susan, Josh ditched his reckless lifestyle to pursue art direction at The Creative Circus, a top tier portfolio school in Atlanta. From there, he entrenched himself in advertising, working his way up to top national agencies. Meanwhile, Chad carved his own path and joined the business side of an Atlanta-based advertising and event marketing agency in 2001.

Around this time, Chad’s father Randy, a retired consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers, purchased Leader Enterprises, an athlete representation agency.. Leader had once been helmed by the late Robert Fraley, a family friend and highly respected industry authority. A short time after Fraley’s untimely death in a tragic plane crash, Randy stepped in. Chad began working at Leader later that year, helping grow it from roughly $1 million to nearly $30 million in revenue over a little more than a decade.

Their separate roads unexpectedly converged at a mutual friend’s engagement party in 2013. The pair discovered their career commonalities and Chad invited Josh to Leader’s after-hours creative concepting round-tables. Creative concepting led to freelancing, and freelancing led to an offer for Josh to join Leader’s team as the executive creative director.

Leader’s otherwise straight road soon became bumpy, uneven, and cracked; in a matter of months, the thriving national agency sold its West Coast office and later discovered its biggest client, a multi-billion dollar corporation, planned to bring its advertising in-house.

Josh and Chad began imagining the possibilities for Leader. “We were at lunch together every day. We were working late. We were grinding. We were trying to determine what this could be,” Josh explains. Chad chimes in, “We didn’t feel led by the Lord to be two guys in a closet starting a new agency. We wanted the legacy work. We wanted some of the people. We wanted to salvage as much as we could.” They jointly purchased what remained. My Friend’s Nephew, a DBA under Leader, was born out of a desire to continue Leader’s traditional vision while forging new paths.

By typical standards, Josh’s and Chad’s business model is unique. Attorneys and accountants scoff at their equal shares, but they say it’s instrumental to their partnership. “I know Josh’s heart. I appreciate his transparency and who he is, and he feels the same about me,” Chad explains. Heart matters and hard matters are discussed honestly, and prayer happens out in the open and often.

Another way they are challenging traditional agency models? The team prioritizes ministry work. My Friend’s Nephew recently wrapped rebranding for a school in one of Atlanta’s most underserved neighborhoods. They also put family first. Josh and Chad rarely travel for work. They encourage employees to “enjoy the journey” and reassure staff that what happens outside the office walls should be more meaningful than what happens within them.

My Friend’s Nephew is a winding series of contradictions: family and faith over financial gain, two partners self-identified as gas and brake, and a firm foundation in legacy not novelty. While Josh and Chad journeyed different paths, they were ultimately placed on the same trail together. Josh puts it best, “It was like we all came in, and the Lord got us all on the board at the right time, and just rotated it to the best fit.”