Inc., a magazine that prides itself on offering fresh business strategies to entrepreneurs and small business owners, is not above some fresh strategic thinking of its own.

Exhibit A: the magazine recently went against conventional wisdom and hired not a word person as managing editor but its very own photo editor, Alexandra Brez.

Managing editors typically move up from the editorial ranks, but the question for editor Jane Berentson was, why not draw the ME from the visual pool?

Berentson describes Brez as extremely organized and professional. Plus, as the magazine’s photo editor for the past four years, Brez was already “making sure that art and edit were talking to each other,” she says. So when Berentson heard Brez was interested in the ME opening, she was ecstatic.

“She’d really thought everything through,” the editor remembers of her sit-down with Brez. “Especially the really important emotional role an ME has for an organization.”

As is typical with managing editors, Brez’ expanded role will require her to manage the editorial staff and oversee editorial production while serving as a liaison with the advertising production, online and circulation teams. Brez will also continue to donate her voice and expertise to art and photography decisions in a way that few ME’s are expected or encouraged to do.

“As a photo director I had a lot of say in what made it onto the page, just in terms of aesthetics,” Brez says. “And [Berentson] was thoughtful and generous enough to want my input to continue.”

Brez credits Berentson and former Inc. editor John Koten, now the editor-in-chief and CEO of parent company Mansueto Ventures, for helping to distinguish Inc. from other business magazines by focusing more on art, presentation and photography.

Berentson, who was the #2 editor at Real Simple before getting the top job at Inc. in Fall 2005, admits that business magazines are often boring to look at. “Why should business magazines be any less visual than any other kind of magazine?” she asks, pointing out that Inc.’s audience responds well to its dominant, innovative photographs because entrepreneurs themselves are “extremely imaginative.”

The Inc. staff sees their audience’s inventiveness as a mandate to take its art to places other business publications rarely venture. For instance, Berentson says she likes to run photos big, often giving the good ones full pages. And while portraits of entrepreneurs are the photo department’s bread and butter, the magazine isn’t afraid to dish up location shots or inventive illustrations. For a story on 50 fast-growing “green” companies, Inc. contracted top editorial photographer Dan Winters to create elegant still lifes of objects like a razor or a piece of coal.

“[Berentson] is interested in design and finding interesting ways to tell stories,” Brez says. “I think she just wants to break the mold whenever possible.”

For Brez, variety is also key. She says that her biggest challenge was to give readers something they hadn’t seen a million times already. Sending in a photographer with a showy style didn’t work, because Brez doesn’t like Inc. to run photos where “you see the style before you see the subject.” Her simple but effective photo strategy has been to emphasize the importance of each image to the photographer and to insist that they treat their subjects with absolute respect.

These practices are likely to continue at Inc., not only because Brez will stay involved in art decisions, but also because Brez’s successor, former deputy photo editor Travis Ruse, has been her understudy since she joined Inc. four years ago.

“When I was informed I was being offered a promotion [to photo editor], my first thought was, ‘That position is already taken by someone I like very much,'” Ruse says with a laugh. When he realized that Brez would still be part of the team, though, he recognized it was a perfect fit, and says he’s “very proud” that the company decided to fill the positions from within.

“Photo departments have to be extremely organized with a lot of moving pieces; I think that’s also what magazines need,” he explains.