The Colgate Scene
July 2003

Running his own ship
Todd C. Brown '71 makes his move toward the top

[Photo by Timothy D. Sofranko]

"Treat every experience as an opportunity to learn and do new things."

For Todd C. Brown '71, the crowning achievement of his business career is growing ever closer.

"Five years from now, I would like to be CEO of a freestanding company," said Brown. I accomplished a lot at Kraft, and I think it has prepared me well to be able to run my own ship."

Brown will take a major step in that direction in August, when he moves from Kraft, where he was executive vice president of Kraft Foods North America and president of the company's E-Commerce Division, to become vice chairman of ShoreBank Corporation, a leading community development and environmental bank holding company, and chairman of the board of directors for the corporation's banking operations in Chicago and Detroit.

In his new post, Brown will be responsible for creating and implementing new strategies for expanding the firm's urban community development programs. In addition, he will oversee marketing and branding as ShoreBank and its affiliates seek to build on their presence as a primary source for community development and environmental banking, financial services and information.

"My major satisfaction has always come from leading a team and making change within the company," Brown said. "I've always enjoyed coaching people and being able to motivate them to do new things and try new ways to market and develop products."

Brown joins ShoreBank after compiling an enviable record of success in several senior management positions. Before his most recent post at Kraft, he also served as president of Kraft Food Services Division, executive vice president/general manager of Kraft Beverage & Desserts Division and in other leadership positions during his 20 years with the company. While at Kraft Foods and General Foods, Brown helped market a broad range of products under brand names such as Jell-O, Altoids, Minute Rice, Stove Top, Good Seasons and Bird's Eye, among others.

In addition to his marketing and management roles at Kraft, Brown led the formation of the Kraft Foods African American Council, a company-wide networking and development organization focused on increasing the recruitment and retention of African Americans within the company.

Laboratory for leadership
With his success as a business executive, Brown admits he has become a member of what elements of the 1960s counterculture termed "the establishment." In an irony that may be fairly common for his generation, Brown's path to the corporate boardroom began when he was challenging the establishment, in the form of Colgate's administrators, as a member of the campus chapter of the Association of Black Collegians.

"Colgate was a great laboratory for me to be able to develop my skills as a leader and shifted me toward what I'm doing today," said Brown, who was co-chair of the concerts committee in addition to his activities with the ABC. "It really got me involved in many different ways on campus to become a better leader -- to understand what it took to be a good leader."

A central demand of the ABC at that time was the establishment of an "Afro-American Cultural Living Center" at Colgate. When talks between the organization and university administrators bogged down during the spring of 1969, ABC began a 70-hour occupation of Merrill House. The resolution of the takeover led to the establishment of a center, which eventually became the current ALANA Cultural Center.

Brown, who after graduating became the second director of the ALANA Cultural Center and an assistant dean of students, was elected to the university Board of Trustees in 2001 and views his role there as being much the same as in his ABC days.

"Being a trustee is an opportunity to give back and get more involved with an institution that was very important in my life. As I look back at my experiences as a Colgate student and the kind of things I was able to do while I was here, I felt that it transformed me in terms of where I ended up going in my life and my career," Brown said. "I also think I was able to have an impact on Colgate. My sense is that I was able to help grow diversity on campus, to help change some of the things we did on campus in a positive way. I've learned a lot in the interim, and I felt that there were things that I could offer as a trustee that would help make Colgate a stronger place in the future."

After serving as ALANA director, the Rahway, N.J. native earned a masters degree in higher education from Columbia University. Brown then held a variety of student services positions in New Jersey's public higher education system. During this time, Brown looked forward to a career as a college or university administrator.

"I thought I might want to become a college president but I realized that I'd probably have to go back to school, get a Ph.D. and teach, which is where most college presidents come from," he said. "I also had some friends who had gone back to business school and frankly, they were doing a lot better than I was financially at that time. Some of them said, `Hey, you want to come back and take a shot at getting an M.B.A.?' So, I decided to go that way."

First success
After completing his M.B.A. at Wharton, where he was also director of student services, Brown began his career in marketing as an assistant product manager at General Foods. It was the beginning of a series of increasingly responsible positions that Brown held at General Foods and Kraft (the companies were merged by their parent company, Phillip Morris).

Brown enjoyed his first major business success at General Foods when he introduced a new brand of barbecue sauce, Open Pit.

"I had a boss who came in and asked, `If you could do one new big thing, what might it be?'" Brown recalled. "I said, `You know, I think there is an opportunity for premium barbecue sauce.' I came up with an idea for a thicker barbecue sauce that was much more premium in its makeup. It actually became a pretty big hit."

While the idea for the barbecue sauce was rooted in part to his personal culinary tastes, its development and introduction owed more to research, Brown said.

"It's one thing to do it from a personal level, but in marketing you always have to go above and beyond your personal experiences to understand what other people are doing," he said. "I would go around and talk to our sales people in different markets, and I discovered some products in those markets that gave me ideas that I leveraged into the product we wound up with. It was a combination of personal experience and research in the marketplace, looking at what trends there are."

Brown believes a crucial element for success within a business is to work with someone who will serve as a mentor. For him, that mentor was Bob Eckert, a vice president of marketing at Kraft who went on to become the company's chief executive officer before taking a similar post at Mattel.

"I got to work with somebody who did very well and helped pull me along in my career," he said. "I think it's very important to have good mentors; to have people who can be advocates for you. Never underestimate that necessity throughout your life."

As he begins the latest chapter in his career, Brown is excited and optimistic about the challenges and opportunities that await him at ShoreBank. It's a feeling, he said, rooted in his experiences at Colgate.

"If you enjoy learning, growing and doing new things, you will be successful. Colgate taught me to do that and to appreciate that," said Brown. "You won't see it all at once; you never know who's going to teach you something or where you are going to learn something, but treat every experience as an opportunity to learn and do new things."

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