USA – New York, NY - Financial entrepreneur and philanthropist Eddie Brown can now add a new title to his name: author. His recent book from John T. Wiley & Sons, Beating the Odds: Eddie Brown's Investing and Life Strategies came out in May, and author Brown is now on the book promotion trail. I took some time to meet with him at Hue-Man Bookstore & Café in Harlem recently, one of the stops on his first East Coast tour, and to sit in on his presentation to an SRO crowd of investment specialists and graduate students that hung on his every word.
Brown, a professorial fellow with a warmth and witty style that is highly engaging, was genuinely pleased to be in New York, and to be able to share his story and his advice to entrepreneurs.
Beating the Odds is a not only a great title, it’s also the perfect way to describe Brown’s life. He worked his way up from being abandoned by a 13-year-old single mother, also worked his way through helping run moonshine for an entrepreneurial uncle- all the while managing to excel academically and attend Howard University through the charity of a wealthy benefactor. Brown then became an electrical engineer, earned a coveted MBA from Indiana University, became an executive and star portfolio manager with T. Rowe Price and built and continues to run the oldest African American-owned investment management firm in the world, valued at over $4 billion, and bearing his name: Baltimore-based Brown Investment Capital.
An investment world icon, Brown has also made regular appearances for some 25 years on the PBS program Wall Street Week with Louis Rukeyser, and his firm currently has a Small Company Fund that is 4-star rated and a Mid-Cap Fund that is 5-star rated. Brown thinks their newest, International, fund will soon garner a 5-star rating, too.
While many of us wish we could have achieved one or two of the things Brown has succeeded in doing|, considering his accomplishments came after beating the traps of poverty and segregation helps appreciate the full value of them- and be inspired ourselves.
“No one can influence the hand we’ve been dealt, but we can influence what is done with it,” Brown told his audience largely comprised of what Hue-Man Book Store & Cafe owner Marva Allen called “suits.” “You can start with nothing- a kid born to a 13-year-old mother in the time of segregation- Jim Crow,” he added, his fatherly expression tender. “It wasn’t until I went to Howard University that I experienced indoor plumbing.”
Brown credits his grandparents with instilling in him the desire to succeed despite any obstacles he may have faced. His grandmother, Mamie Magdalene Brown, worked as what he calls a plant laborer in an indoor plant “factory”- something for which his hometown of Apopka, Florida, the “foliage capital of the world,” is known. His grandfather worked outdoors in the citrus groves.
“My grandmother would take me to Orlando,” Brown said, “and point out all the office workers. ‘Eddie Carl,’ she would say, ‘stay in school, study hard, go to college, and you, too, can sit indoors and work, wear a white shirt, and not have to go out into the fields like we do.’ I used to pick vegetables then in what was called the ‘muck.’ I was convinced I would not (continue) and that, one day, I would sit behind a desk.” Brown’s entrepreneur uncle is also credited with having had an influence on his life.
“I got an independence lesson from my Uncle Jake when I was living and working with him after my grandmother passed away,” Brown said. “He always worked for himself and basically controlled his own destiny. If he had been educated, he could have been CEO of a Fortune 500 company, I’m convinced of it.” His uncle hired migrant workers from Alabama, Georgia, and surrounding areas and held contracts with local farmers to harvest their fruit. The business was highly successful until it was augmented by another endeavor: the largest moonshine business in the state of Florida. Brown’s uncle went off to jail and Brown went back to living with his mother who, by now, was old enough to properly care for him. It was a big change for Brown, and one he resisted, but one that had a positive effect on the direction of his life.
“The unexpected death of my grandmother was one of the most tragic experiences of my life,” Brown shared. “She had been the stabilizing factor in my life.” Allowed to hang out with his free-wheeling uncle, Brown had the opportunity to “be up to no good.” “My mother came back and swooped me up to return with her toAllentown,Pennsylvania,” Brown added. “My uncle finally ended up being arrested, so that fork in (my) road was a good one.”
Beating the Odds arose out of a request made to Brown by Reginald Lewis’ widow, Loida Lewis, who even had a co-author in mind for him: Blair S. Walker, the writer who co-authored her husband’s book, Why Should the White Guys Have all the Fun: How Reginald Lewis Created a Billion Dollar Empire.
“Loida said to me, ‘Eddie, you have to do a book,’ Brown said. Your story is just an incredible success story. And for young people who want to be entrepreneurs, your story is something they need to hear…’ A week later this fellow named Blair called and said ‘we need to talk about this book we’re going to write together.’”
Brown would meet with co-author Walker who taped their interviews and wrote up chapters. Brown’s editorial work was largely related to the financial portions of the book, his area of expertise. Like most of the accomplishments in his life, Brown had assumed this creation would be a quick process.
“I thought the writing would take just a coupla months,” Brown joked when we spoke, “but it did take about a year, but it was a process that I really enjoyed doing with my co-author.” Brown appreciates the finished product, too, the book having emerged in a form that contains his advice on investing, life, and entrepreneurship.
It’s notable that one endorser of the publication is James Turley, Chairman & CEO of Ernst & Young, who calls Brown “the entrepreneur’s entrepreneur.” (Ernst & Young has been running the Entrepreneur of the Year awards for the last 27 years, in 50 countries around the world.) Brown believes that America needs more entrepreneurs and speaks to this in Beating the Odds, offering his five requirements of a successful entrepreneur:
- the proper educational background and, if necessary, degree (such as an MBA);
- 5 to 10 years of work experience with a company related to the entrepreneurial idea;
- capital to keep the business afloat for 3 to 5 years without taking an income; and
- a tolerance for risk.
It’s very important that anyone starting their own business not be risk averse,” Brown emphasized. Ah, we would all be starting businesses except, perhaps, for that last one- and maybe the second to the last one. He emphasized that what he calls are “calculated” risks are necessary. “I want to know what the worst case might be,” Brown explained. “To me, that is do-able risk.”
“You also want to add to this the fact that you need to have enough time to (develop) the business but also be re-hirable if it fails,” Brown said. He shared that age was one of the “triggers” in consideration for setting up his own now well-established business.
Brown states that he would add a fifth component that those needs have an entrepreneur: a supportive spouse. His wife, Sylvia, is not an entrepreneur. Did they fight over his decisions in use of their money? No.
“Sylvia was right there along with me,” Brown said. “As long as I could explain what I was doing, as long as it was a ‘calculated’ risk.” Family matters are important, and Brown was forthcoming in stating that he considered his family’s needs, too, insofar as setting aside enough money to keep their living standard at the level at which they’d become accustomed and also to provide for good college educations for both of his daughters.
This practice, if you will, of provision was able to grow exponentially as the firm’s profits grew. In an effort to “pay forward” the kindness of a stranger and the opportunity he was given to attend a great undergraduate school, Brown and his wife have gifted other young people with educational starts from grade school to college. He and his family started the Eddie C. and C. Sylvia Brown Family Foundation, making their older daughter president, their younger daughter vice president. He and his wife serve on the grants committee. Other charity-oriented persons form the balance of the board. They meet once a year inFlorida, identifying needs for education, health, and the arts in impoverished communities.
“In Florida, there is a great disparity in health care in various communities,” Brown said. “We funded some scholars at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health to investigate this situation. In September and August we will have 8 PhD candidates who are given a $15,000 stipend. The work being done here will be used as a model for similar programs across the country.”
Brown and his wife have donated more than $22 million to various charities. Most recently they donated $6 million to the Maryland Institute for the Creative Arts or “MICA.” His interest in the arts came from one of his daughters who impressed upon him the good that the arts can provide to challenged communities.
Beating the Odds also chronicles some of Brown’s adventures in securing monies and doing deals over the course of running his business. One acquisition is particularly noteworthy: securing in 1990 some $40 million for investment by his company on behalf of the California Public Employees Retirement System, or “CALPERS.” It’s a great story and not too shabby, as they say, of an accomplishment for a privately-owned firm. Successes like these are what enabled Brown to be in a position to truly help others- and in a very big way.
“I didn’t know how to find ‘Lady B,’” Brown said, referring to the anonymous white lady who dutifully paid $104 a year that covered his tuition, room and board, and cost of books in undergraduate school at Howard. “And that is something I regret… That planted a seed in me that if, one day, I ever have two nickels to rub together, I wanted to do something for those less fortunate, particularly African Americans, helping them go to college.”
For his amazing financial successes and for his just-as-amazing generosity and passion in giving back to others, Brown earned in 2010 the distinction of being named one of Black Enterprises’s 40 Most Powerful African Americans in Business.
Smart, accomplished, persistent, and lucky (as he asserted when we spoke), Brown is also quite humble.
“My greatest triumph,” Brown says in his book, “will always be the way my wife, my two daughters, and I were fortified by God’s grace to survive a cancer scare that knocked us to our core.”
Now, that is beating the odds.
Beating the Odds: Eddie Brown's Investing and Life Strategies
By Eddie Brown
Publisher: John T. Wiley & Sons, First Edition, May 3, 2011
Hardcover, 215 pages
Text & Photos copyright 2011 M.D. Caprario
M.D. Caprario is an entertainment journalist, and an author and editor who works with writers all over the world to help tell their stories. She reports from New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and internationally, generally covering for the media books, film, and music. Reach her at [email protected].