Welcome to the season finale of Porch Talks with Melissa Bradley and Bruce Brown. Bruce is a parent, husband and the founder and CEO of Brown Executive Search. He is on a journey to do better and leave an impact on the world as it relates to Black people. From Jamaica to the Bronx, today he’s diving into how he went from enlisting in the military to his career in search, and how he’s using his knowledge and talents to help Black people get hired.
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0:00:13.2 Melissa Bradley: Welcome to Porch Talks, I’m Melissa Bradley, founder of 1863 Ventures and co-founder of New Majority Ventures. Here on Porch Talks, I sit down with veteran founders, CEOs and entrepreneurs who are committed to creating wealth for the new majority. These folks have years of firsthand in the trenches experience navigating a fast growing entrepreneurial ecosystem. Here they break down the roadblocks and barriers that tested their resiliency and resolve and share the lessons they’ve learned through it all. Each and every talk will support the health, wealth, and wellbeing of the new majority entrepreneur. Undoubtedly, these people and their stories will inspire you on your journey from founder to CEO.
So I know you as Bruce Brown, you are the founder and CEO of Brown Executive Search. You are the husband of Lisa and the proud parent of Emma and Braxton. That’s how I’ve gotten know you over the years, how do you want the world to know you?
0:01:15.9 Bruce Brown: Oh, wow. Well, how do you top that?[laughter]
0:01:18.7 BB: That’s probably the most important way to know me, but I think beyond that, I’m on a journey which is to try to do better and leave an impact on the world as it relates to black people, let’s call it what it is. I’ve been in search for over 20 plus years. I’m embarrassed to say that in my first 15 plus years, if I placed five black executives in my lifespan, that would be saying a lot. And so let’s not overuse the George Floyd’s model, but just in general, I knew there was something missing, I just couldn’t pinpoint what that was. And I think that event sparked my need to do something different.
0:02:00.7 MB: Sure.
0:02:05.0 BB: Because if not, then when? Essentially.
0:02:08.0 MB: Yep, yep.
0:02:08.8 BB: And I embarked on the fact that we all talk about diversity to having to seat the table and doesn’t mean that everyone needs to be a CEO or the head honcho. But to seat at the table means to have an impact. And so my way of doing that is be able to give access where we don’t have access. So I can say to a client, “In addition to going out and recruiting the typical person that you’re comfortable with, why not try a different flavor?” And that has gained a lot of momentum, obviously, with all the circumstances around the world. But for me it’s just life changing.
0:02:36.5 MB: Gotcha.
0:02:41.5 BB: So I think for me, I’ve had most of my client candidates today who are African-American and are surprised, want to see me, I have immediate connection with them, and I feel a personal vested interest in ensure that they do well. They don’t always have to get the job, but they feel like I’m giving them career advice. And I’m walking them through the process and this is a whole different connection that I’ve never experienced before, so I’m getting just as much out of it as they’re from me. They don’t know that, but we spend hours just talking, get to know each other and spend a godsend in more ways than one.
0:03:08.7 MB: So we’ve known each other for a minute and I don’t know how people get into search. I know for a hot second, I was an executive recruiter. I was in between trying to figure out if I was gonna start my own business. I sat there at a desk, I got a phone book and a phone, this was way back in the day. I was like,”Wow. People do this for a living? That’s deep.” How did you get into search?
0:03:29.7 BB: Yeah, it was a random act, I was at a party.
0:03:32.5 MB: There you go.
0:03:33.6 BB: I love a good party, [laughter] And I met this individual who had just started from, like he was thinking about his own thing, wasn’t sure, it was around people and he had one client, and they had a need to fill these roles. And I was like, “Well, how do you go about doing that?” Back in the day, there were phone books, right?
0:03:51.9 MB: That’s right.
0:03:52.1 BB: And you had to call in and figure out how to find people, there was no real internet.
0:03:56.4 MB: There was no LinkedIn. “Oh, yeah, you know this person, right?”
0:03:58.8 BB: Yeah, but if you think back to 20 years ago, people talked a lot on the phone, and so that’s how you got to build relationships with people. You had to just sort of, “Hey, I have this job and I’m trying to fill it. Who do you know?” So it was more about the networking effect and became more or less network to get to the, “Right, let’s find the Melissas of the world.” And then over time, you build a network, the client likes you, you do a good job and they may recommend you to someone else. And that’s sort of how you get in the search, like typically, it’s just never… You don’t go to school to be in search, you don’t have to be people person. You have to be deliberate in terms of, “Do you understand what the company wants?” How to find that out there. So it’s a skillset, you could be sometimes a marketer, usually you’re in a sales mode, do you have to sell the opportunity much bigger than it is, and do you have to sort of be data driven to figure out what are you looking for in the person.
0:04:44.8 MB: Sure.
0:04:47.9 BB: And you fall into it, then you realize, “Is this something I wanna do?” Like if you wanna be a doctor, you may say like, “I’d like to treat patients, but I don’t like to do the administrative stuff.” So you find that balance of…
0:04:58.6 MB: Right, I wanna help people, but I don’t like blood.
0:05:00.5 BB: Exactly.
0:05:01.5 MB: Put me somewhere there. [laughter]
0:05:02.0 BB: Exactly, I just search is…, there’s no one path.
0:05:04.9 MB: Yep.
0:05:08.9 BB: It’s more about, do customers feel comfortable that you get what they’re trying to solve, and can you go out and go solve for them by finding the individual? And it’s a knack that I guess I had along the way, I just didn’t know how to harness it.
0:05:20.5 MB: Sure.
0:05:21.2 MB: And that’s sort of how I fell into it.
0:05:22.9 MB: Yeah, well, definitely you are a people person, so you have an knack. That’s how we ended up meeting. I’ll never forget when I was doing search, I think I had been there maybe six months, and I had made some placements. I was like, “Oh, this is cool to get a little check every time somebody right now.”[laughter]
0:05:32.7 MB: But then one day I was like, “It’s over.” I had a client call me. We had sent somebody out. They were the most qualified candidate. And they said, “So I’m not sure I legally can tell you this, but we don’t really want any black candidates.”
0:05:41.0 BB: Wow.
0:05:44.5 MB: And I was like… And the woman whose firm I worked for was a black person, and I was like, “Okay, well, I’m gonna report this to my boss and they’ll get back to you.” I went to my boss, I was like, “Oh, this is some shit, I’m out.”
0:05:54.2 BB: I’m out yeah, down.
0:05:54.6 MB: I was like, “Have a good day, I’m out.” So when you talk about kind of moving out and starting your own firm, let’s be honest, in entrepreneurship and certainly in tech people don’t think about black people in leadership roles.
0:06:07.0 BB: Not at all.
0:06:07.2 MB: And so what do you say to them?
0:06:09.1 BB: You say to them, “Look, I think you have this change of paradigm shift here. Look, what you don’t know is X, Y, and Z, he or she has done these three things that is not necessarily out of your typical companies that you typically look at, but they bring a different perspective, that particularly if you’re going after that market, if you were trying to go deeper into, X, Y and Z market that’s focused on diversity, you sort of wanna have someone that represents the company and can speak to that model.” So I try to bring to light the customer approach and that usually when things, the light bulb goes on, it’s always by the bottom line. There’s certain companies sometimes who wanna do the right thing because they feel it’s the right thing to do. But for the most part, when you can tie it back to the bottom line, this will help you attract more right Customers, X, Y, and Z if you’re selling, if your market’s more female focused women wanna see X, men want… So you tie to that, then the light bulb goes off.
0:07:03.7 MB: Gotcha.
0:07:03.8 BB: And they decide, when they start nodding the head like, “Yeah, I got this one.” That’s sort of how you know there’s… When they look at you with like the deer in the headlights that you realize that it’s not gonna work…
0:07:10.8 MB: They don’t get it, they don’t see it.
0:07:12.3 BB: And you’re just going through the process, it’s just for the money or just for a brand, you gotta move on.
0:07:16.6 MB: You were kind enough to do a workshop for some of our entrepreneurs around hiring. And you talked a lot about tips, tricks, and really what to look for. What are two to three things that you would say to people around hiring?
0:07:31.2 BB: I know it sounds crazy, you gotta look for failures first. I wanna know where you failed, I want you to fail fast early in your career. And I wanna understand, what did you do to overcome that? There’s no one that’s perfect, you didn’t come outta the womb and hit classes and get all A’s I wanna hear like the worst case scenario where you were on a path and things just went kaput.
0:07:54.0 MB: Gotcha.
0:07:54.9 BB: How did you recover? And then let’s hear about the comeback story, that’s so important. And it doesn’t have to be in the context of what you’re looking for.
0:07:57.8 MB: Sure.
0:07:58.6 BB: But it has to be, it has to pull you in, like reading the book, that first chapter, that first scene.
0:08:04.5 MB: Gotcha.
0:08:07.7 MB: And then you’re like, “I’m curious, I wanna know more about that.” ‘Cause you’re waiting to see, “Well, how did that work out for you?”
0:08:08.5 MB: How they make it.
0:08:13.6 BB: Yeah, that’s really important. You also wanna look for people who’ve got fire in the belly. I know people say, “Oh, what does that really mean? Fire on the belly?” Point back to examples where this person hoofed it and figured it out. And it’s usually something that brings you, just tears or you’re like, you’re so emotional about it, you wanna jump into the story and help. And I know it sounds crazy, that’s why the people aspect comes in ’cause you have to be patient enough to start to talk to people.
0:08:34.6 MB: Sure.
0:08:35.8 BB: Once they feel comfortable with you, people will tell you just about anything.
0:08:36.8 MB: I’m learning that.
0:08:38.1 BB: If you just stop, I used to be all about talk, talk, talk and fill the ear up. Just be quiet and before we know, they say, “Well, there’s something else I gotta tell you.” “What is that?” Well, and that’s when the conversation becomes real.
0:08:52.9 MB: Wow. So let me flip the script.
0:08:53.8 BB: Yes.
0:08:57.3 MB: Talk to me about one of your failures.
0:08:57.4 BB: Oh my God.
0:09:01.8 MB: And how did you recover.
0:09:01.9 BB: So many failures I think in the context of this, what I’ve been doing for the last 20 years, I lost out in a couple of big deals that I thought I just should have gotten because all my track record, look at what I’ve done, it’s all about me, and when I think back to what I could have done better, I didn’t listen. I got ahead of myself in terms of my ego, my brand, and wasn’t humble enough. So I think that was one of the thing… I start to realize that Bruce, every time, and maybe ’cause I can use Diversity’s issue or being black, I realized every time I signed up for a new gig, I was always starting from scratch. I was always pitched as if I had just pitched like my first year in the job.
0:09:36.9 MB: Gotcha.
0:09:41.3 BB: For this 15 years or 20 years, I realize that, “Wow, they only see me for what I am at this moment, they don’t care the 20 years of experience is that I’m always on it, always gotta pitch.” And I realize, I’ve always feel like I was on it this like treadmill, like constantly having to like re-pitch myself.
0:09:53.0 MB: Was that movie where Tom Cruise’s like, “Oh, the same day over and over and over.”
0:09:55.7 BB: Is like, “Are you serious?” And I’m talking some impressive brands and it wouldn’t matter. They would say, “Bruce, tell me about you.” So my biggest failure was I didn’t recognize early enough that I need to jump outta my own way. They were gonna measure me the same way, whether with the big company or the small company. I’m always pitching, so like, “What was I waiting around for? I’m good at what I do. I didn’t need to have the big brand behind me forever because they’re still gonna always wanna rip me apart, and really hold me accountable for do they feel comfortable working with me.” So I think that’s probably, my failure was not recognized in that earlier on, ’cause I’m having so much fun now that I’m almost like, “God, I wish I’d done this 10 years ago, 15 years ago,” but it’s all about timing. So I think…
0:10:39.3 MB: But you’re young man, you still got another 15 years to go, come on.
0:10:40.6 BB: That’s true, thats true, but I want to be intentional about failure. It’s like recognizing, particularly when we talk about entrepreneurship. There’s a lot of things I’ve always wanted to do with my life, but I was just too afraid ’cause I felt like to built up this thing first and then go do that. And I talked to my daughter now, I said, “Look, when you find something, you need to go after it sooner than later.”
0:11:00.4 MB: That’s right.
0:11:00.4 BB: “Don’t wait around, don’t be delusion to think, oh, well I gotta get this first and that first and then I’ll be ready. No you’re not, you’re ready now when you’re ready, ’cause you get to hustle it when it happens.”
0:11:09.7 MB: That’s right.
0:11:11.1 BB: So I want to make sure people understand that, you gotta listen to yourself. Be quiet for a minute and listen to what’s around you and then go after it.
0:11:15.3 MB: Wait, wait, wait, we tell everybody, get your ducks in a row and then you’re ready, but the reality of the time we get your ducks in a row, the opportunity could be gone.
0:11:22.9 BB: Precisely, I mean look what’s happened in the world right now, right? Two or three years ago it was on fire, you’re seen as some consolidation, a lot of layoffs. I mean, so you can’t, you wait around, no, you have to have the resource get started, but if you wait too long, you miss the window. And then you gotta reinvent yourself again, and you’re like, “Oh man, what I do now?”
0:11:38.8 MB: Tell me about growing up.
0:11:41.6 BB: Oh my god, growing up.
0:11:43.4 MB: What was it like growing up as Bruce Brown?
0:11:44.0 BB: Well, growing up I’ve got two lives, what people don’t know is that I was born in Jamaica until I was 10. My mother had me out of wedlock, she was kind of embarrassed. So I think she ran back to Jamaica to sort like shield the fact that she got pregnant and she was what to do with me. Luck, what so happened that I had a great aunt who had just retired from Cuba, moved back to Jamaica.
0:12:04.9 MB: Wow.
0:12:07.4 BB: She had a brother who owned all this land and she was like the matriarch of the family. She said she never had kids, so she said, “I’ll just take him for you for like six months until you get on your feet.” She basically kidnapped me for like 10 years, she’s like, “He is mine,” I mean she was far…
0:12:17.7 MB: Hey there is places you could’ve have been, brother…
0:12:20.0 BB: Exactly. I lived in the countryside, this place called Mandeville. It’s more cooler. So think like the Bay area compared to San Francisco, everyone’s up at Kingston and Montego Bay, this is more cooler environment. So very English-led, but she was hardcore. Piano lessons, this and that.
0:12:36.3 MB: Wow.
0:12:36.9 BB: And she just had me in a little boarding school. But it was one of those things that it was the first time I had discipline in my life, she passed away unfortunately when I was 10, my mother had to come get me.
0:12:45.6 MB: Wow.
0:12:46.2 BB: Brought me back to New York, to the Bronx which…
0:12:47.5 MB: Well, you were like, “What the hell?”
0:12:47.8 BB: Trust me.
0:12:50.7 MB: “Where’s the land? This is the concrete jungle.”
0:12:51.8 BB: She’s been married, two kids.
0:12:53.1 MB: Oh wow.
0:12:54.1 BB: Two brothers, then husband…
0:12:55.6 MB: So you came back to the two siblings?
0:12:58.5 BB: This new family she created.
0:13:02.5 MB: New family.
0:13:02.6 BB: Stepdad wasn’t my favourite part.
0:13:02.7 MB: It’s like a Hallmark movie.
0:13:03.2 BB: Yeah, exactly.
0:13:04.6 MB: I’m sorry, BET, right?
0:13:05.3 BB: Yeah, and so I lived in the Bronx like…
0:13:06.3 MB: Wow.
0:13:07.9 BB: Eden Wall, this hardcore project. It’s like, “You know what, I’m gonna roll with this for a minute.” ‘Cause in my mind I knew what life was like.
0:13:17.0 MB: Gotcha.
0:13:18.3 BB: And I was always trying to find a way, how was I gonna get back this peaceful sense of me. But in New York, you just gotta get your hustle on, it’s kinda what it is. Catholic school, I’m getting beat by the nuns, it was just all disciplined, just 10X.
0:13:28.4 MB: We have that in common.
0:13:29.7 BB: But luck would have it that I was in the Bronx, went to a great high school called Cardinal Spellman High School, which is well known. Lived around the block from that, so I went there, then right before graduating from high school, my stepfather was like, “You know what, I don’t really like you that much, you can leave. Just get out.” Literally, so I had to go live with my grandmother for like a year before graduation.
0:13:51.2 MB: Wow.
0:13:51.7 BB: And go back… None of my friends knew this. So they all thought Bruce, Beaver Cleaver house in the Bronx. Yeah, I was living with my grandmother, you know what I’m saying?
0:13:56.9 MB: Wow.
0:14:01.8 BB: Going to school at day, working at night, just getting my hustle on. It was like, I had good grades, but I couldn’t afford to go to college ’cause I didn’t know about the whole financial aid thing.
0:14:07.2 MB: Sure.
0:14:07.4 BB: So I just joined the Army through the GI Bill ’cause I knew they would pay for school if I committed. So I was like, “You know what? I’m out, I’m gonna do my own shit.” So I basically left, got on to all the schools, didn’t tell my friends. I had got into Syracuse, Cornell, a bunch of schools.
0:14:22.9 MB: Wow.
0:14:23.9 BB: And so everyone’s like, “We’re leaving in August.” So I played along to get along, and then I pivoted, moved to, guess where. I asked for like, “Well, I don’t know, Europe, maybe Hawaii, just figured something tropical.” Fort Knox, Kentucky.[laughter]
0:14:34.7 MB: Well you said you wanted someplace different. [laughter]
0:14:35.2 BB: I was a little depressed, but I was like, “You know what? I’m get with this.”
0:14:39.3 MB: Wow.
0:14:42.4 BB: And then on the bus out, my two big duffle bags with all my clothes packed into it.
0:14:42.5 MB: Wow.
0:14:45.1 BB: Couldn’t go back home ’cause I’d got kicked out from the house. Lived at grandmother’s who was frail, but I knew I had a safe haven. But I was like, “This is my way out.” So I literally went into the Army, Fort Knox, Kentucky, lived there for a while Alabama, which… Alabama, they went Kentucky to Alabama, Alabama to Kentucky. It was just like this story… [laughter] Clearly, I’m off the wrong track, right? This is…
0:15:04.5 MB: Right, right, I know. Oh my gosh.
0:15:05.8 BB: So I got my act together, took some classes on the military, and had enough money to go into school. But then I got more practical, I said, “Okay, I have this money. 20,000 can last me, where can it go?” So I was at a party again.
0:15:20.7 MB: See a theme, I see a theme.
0:15:20.8 BB: Yeah, a theme here. And this guy who’s a ROTC was like, “Hey, have you ever heard of these historical black colleges called Howard and Morehouse?” I’d lived in the Bronx, had never heard about Howard or Morehouse.
0:15:28.4 MB: Wow.
0:15:30.4 BB: All these historical black colleges. ‘Cause you’re in your bubble. You just kinda go, it’s Syracuse, it’s Cornell, it’s all the New York state schools, whatever. Maybe it’s Rutgers, but no one’s leaving New York. You stayed in New York State. He said, “You should think about those schools.” ‘Cause I had a friend that went to Georgetown, and so I knew about DC. So I came, looked at it, I said, “Well, the numbers will add up, it’s a no-brainer. My buddy’s at Georgetown, let’s do it.”
0:15:52.9 MB: I’ll take the G2.
0:15:53.7 BB: Yeah. [laughter] Yeah.
0:15:54.3 MB: You go to Howard?
0:15:55.3 BB: Oh, exactly. Along the way, get my haircut. So that’s the other Bruce Brown that people don’t know about because Jamaica, then the Bronx, and then I used the military as a stepping stone and went back to school. Then, just fast forward, and then people hear I was in the military, it just brings like, “Okay, this guy’s got the goods.” I noticed that most of the people I would interact with was either in the military at some point that the military story was a hook.
0:16:21.6 MB: Sure…
0:16:22.0 BB: It wasn’t about the Howard, it wasn’t about this. It was about, “This guy was in the military, he gets me, I get him.”
0:16:26.3 MB: Well, ’cause you survived.
0:16:27.3 BB: Exactly, let’s give him a chance. I spoke their language, what unit were you in? What division? Whatever division you were in, I’m in, I was in. [laughter] But the mil…
0:16:36.7 MB: What did you do when you were in the military?
0:16:38.4 BB: So I was supposed to go into combat, support the infantry unit. So whenever they go out to war…
0:16:46.3 MB: Oh wow.
0:16:52.0 BB: I would be the infantry guy to go along. But then they assign me to the infantry unit to do something totally different. I went in for chemical warfare where if it’s chemical warfare, you gotta put all the uniform and wipe people down. It’s not a good experience, but I was assigned. Yeah, in the military, they say one thing, but you do a jack of all trades.
0:17:03.6 MB: Gotcha.
0:17:07.7 BB: It’s basically just running a… You’re a general manager, essentially.
0:17:10.7 MB: Wow.
0:17:16.4 BB: So I was with the tankers, and so it’s always out. Every other month or so, I’d go out into the field, which is where you have military warfare. You kinda have to practice drills.
0:17:17.6 MB: Gotcha, practice.
0:17:22.0 BB: And you’re out in the middle of this desert in California or Texas somewhere.
0:17:23.0 MB: So sexy.
0:17:23.7 BB: Yeah, you’re just living out there, hanging out with all these interesting people from all over the world.
0:17:31.7 MB: Wow.
0:17:31.8 BB: And you’re just kicking it with them. You got a lot of downtime just talking whatever.
0:17:31.9 MB: Thank goodness well, that was then. I don’t know if you get any downtime now, that was then.
0:17:34.4 BB: Yeah, no, exactly. It’s funny, the military was a part of my foundation, but I just needed just enough, the GI Bill, the structure to get back on track.
0:17:41.0 MB: Wow, so would you have Emma or Braxton go into military service?
0:17:44.4 BB: Absolutely not.
0:17:45.4 MB: Why?
0:17:46.1 MB: Well, as an African-American male, what I realized is that you have a lot of prestige and respect in the military. The minute you get out, it means nothing. I think years ago, it was something that was respectable. No way.
0:17:58.6 MB: Sure, sure. It was almost like a fraternity.
0:18:00.8 BB: Exactly.
0:18:01.4 MB: Tuskegee Airmen or whatever.
0:18:01.6 BB: Yeah, exactly. Blah, blah, blah. But now, no, absolutely not. Because there’s no value, I believe in protect our country. But if everyone had to go, all races, that’s one thing. But not my black boy or daughter is gonna go military just to check the box for someone.
0:18:16.4 MB: Right, fascinating.
0:18:17.8 BB: So absolutely not.
0:18:18.9 MB: Fascinating.
0:18:20.6 BB: Not enlisted, not… I know there’s a lot of respect for people that go into West Point, but it just, for what I see in the output, it doesn’t add up. They don’t end up becoming the CEOs and the this and that, so why do it?
0:18:32.0 MB: Right, Interesting.[music]
0:18:35.4 MB: Stick around for more of my conversation with Bruce Brown after the break.[music]
0:18:43.7 MB: Welcome back to The Porch. Here’s more of my conversation with Bruce Brown.
0:18:48.5 MB: So I went to Georgetown. So you were across the way. People now know about Howard because first black, Asian, female vice president.
0:18:56.9 BB: Absolutely.
0:18:57.4 MB: People think it’s like, “Woo, party all the time!” What was Howard like for you?
0:19:01.5 BB: It was a… What do you call it? A tour of duty. I had come back… I was older now. So I started high school. I finished high school at ’18. I think I started Howard just about turning 21. So I was about just getting in and getting out. So these people, “Oh my God, I had a long five-year, six-year run.” I’m like, “Look, three and a half years in and out.” [laughter] I got this $20,000. I gotta…
0:19:21.6 MB: This is a means to an end…
0:19:22.9 BB: And luckily, I got a little scholarship along the way to augment the two. So for me, it was about the brother and sister that were taking care of business. For the most part, everyone was like, “Look, I gotta get a job. I can’t go home.” It was all about how to make my rent. Like we gotta get it on.
0:19:39.6 MB: Right.
0:19:39.9 BB: So yes, there were parties, but not to the extent that the outside looks sense that you guys was goofing off. I mean…
0:19:44.5 MB: Gotcha.
0:19:44.8 BB: There were some brilliant people…
0:19:46.5 MB: Absolutely.
0:19:46.8 BB: Amazing professors who cared about you. You could tell that those professors looked at you and said, “Look, get your act together. Don’t be late to my class, if you’re late, don’t show up.”
0:19:55.5 MB: Right.
0:19:55.5 BB: So I felt like for me, it was more of a place where someone actually cared about me. Remember I had this experience where I had this loving grandmother…
0:20:02.7 MB: Right.
0:20:02.9 BB: Aunt that raise me. Then I got a little break in the Bronx, [laughter] got me smacked around a little bit. Then I go to the military. That really just pushed me.
0:20:09.9 MB: Right.
0:20:10.2 BB: And so Howard’s like a nice landing ground where like, “Look, you mean something, let’s figure this thing out.”
0:20:15.7 MB: Yeah.
0:20:15.7 BB: So for me, it was actually a way of coming full circle around Black excellence essentially.
0:20:21.0 MB: Yeah, yeah. When you think about what people say about HBCUs. And now they’re finally getting their props. People are talking about them. Do you want your kids to go to HBCU?
0:20:30.3 BB: Yes. I would encourage my kids to go to HBCU. It’s so funny, my daughter who’s now about to go to college, because we live in DC, she wants no part of being…
0:20:37.7 MB: No part of it, right.
0:20:38.2 BB: Being close.
0:20:38.7 MB: It’s too close.
0:20:39.3 BB: Yeah, too close. Well, she did apply to Spelman.
0:20:41.5 MB: Okay.
0:20:41.5 BB: Right. And so she looked at Spelman, and a lot of other schools. And I would definitely encourage Braxton, my son to look at. He wouldn’t look at Howard because it’s too close to home. A moreover Morehouse where his cousin goes to right now. So, yes, absolutely. I would definitely encourage them to look at HBCU as they would other schools to make sure it gives them the support they need and to learn just as much. My nephew had a lot of choices. He ended up at Morehouse, finished his first year, rocked it out of Microsoft for the summer, made him an offer to come back. He’s got Amazon chasing him. Google chasing him, his first year out. And this is a kid that was an introvert, grew up in White Plains, wasn’t tripping HBCUs, now loves it. So he’s a benchmark for my son to say, “Look, this is an example of what success could look like.”
0:21:28.5 MB: Yeah.
0:21:28.6 BB: It’s a different path, but absolutely I’m a big fan of HBCUs.
0:21:32.6 MB: Sure. I remember, I was honored ’cause you gave me a call to say that you were thinking about starting this firm and thinking about your background, which is very disciplined and regiment. Now I understand that conversation a bit around like, “Well, I’m thinking about this, I’m thinking about that.” After all of that, staying in a box, doing what people tell you, what was that leap into, “I’m just gonna do it. I’m just gonna take the risk.”?
0:21:54.7 BB: It was very scary to be honest. Thank God I have a supportive wife that was behind me. She’d been telling me this for years.
0:22:00.9 MB: That’s true.
0:22:01.4 BB: But I just wasn’t there yet. But to make the leap, and the leap of faith is not just like I want to do this, but to set up the business entity, to open up to check an account. Like the things that matter, the process stuff. Which is not my forte, which I always shy away from. It was almost like peeling the onion back ’cause every step, it was like a rebirth. They’re like, “Okay, this is what it’s like to sort of payroll and benefits.” And I’m doing this. I’m like, “This is just becoming a real thing.” Obviously COVID helped because everything was Zoom and you could do the subscription model. So the old guard of having to have an office space went away. So it’s funny enough, the opportunity, the environment allowed me to be more successful. My launching pad, I think 10 years ago, I’d have to go get a office space, could hire all these people, how it’s gonna work? I was…
0:22:49.8 MB: Because you had to show up a certain way.
0:22:51.0 BB: Exactly.
0:22:51.5 MB: Yeah.
0:22:51.5 BB: And now I could just put a shirt on top. No one would know I’m in shorts, doesn’t matter. And I kept questioning myself. I mean, here I am with this track record. I kept questioning myself, “Could I still do this?”
0:23:01.2 MB: And people know who you are.
0:23:02.1 BB: Yeah. But it doesn’t matter because now your name is on the door. What does that say about you? What do you want to be like? So you’re constantly just trying to ask yourself, “Am I on the right track? Am I crazy? What am I doing here?”
0:23:13.6 MB: Right. Who was your first hire?
0:23:15.7 BB: My first hire was someone that had my website. I saw how her diligence and how she worked, just speech writer prior in her career and would help me on things about my website and my content. And I said, “Hey Jessica, have you thought about doing something different?” Just kind of as a matter of fact just, “Hey, I can do it for a side gig for a while.” I said, “Sure. Well let’s just roll with it for a minute.” And so we tested it out for a while and before you know it, she started getting more engaged and more curious. I said, “Jessica, let’s just try this off for a while. I mean, what’s the worst thing happen?”
0:23:46.9 MB: That’s right.
0:23:47.5 BB: It’s COVID…
0:23:48.0 MB: In part ways.
0:23:48.8 BB: Exactly. You’re at home anyway. It’s different. You’re miserable in your job anyway.[laughter]
0:23:53.0 BB: And it was the best thing ever. And she just brought… She has process. All the things I wasn’t good at, she just sort of blended together.
0:24:02.4 MB: Yin and yang.
0:24:05.2 BB: Yeah, and she’s very engaging, very customer-friendly. She’d owned multiple part-time business before but was also trying to find herself as well. So she brought all her assets to the table and together was a great marriage.
0:24:15.2 MB: I love it. What did your kids say when you said we’re leaving your job?
0:24:19.6 BB: Well, my daughter was amazed. She was like, “Dad, I’m so proud of you.” [laughter] Braxton on the other hand was like, “Okay, daddy. So am I still gonna get the sneakers you promised me?”[laughter]
0:24:26.7 MB: I knew it. I knew it. I knew it. Right.
0:24:30.2 BB: Brax said, “Are things going to change for me. ‘Cause I want these Air Jordans, you know.”
0:24:35.0 MB: My life is good.
0:24:35.1 BB: Yeah.
0:24:35.2 MB: Why you gotta mess it up.
0:24:36.1 BB: Exactly. Emma is like… So it’s interesting they both came around to the same point but…
0:24:40.0 MB: Sure, sure.
0:24:40.3 BB: They look at it from a different point of view.
0:24:42.0 MB: Sure.
0:24:42.2 BB: Like, “Nebraska, are you gonna be… Are you in charge now?” What does that mean for me? So they are proud but they’re come at it from different angles.
0:24:48.7 MB: Yeah.
0:24:49.3 BB: Yeah. And I didn’t know at the time, the way… Remember covid worked from home. I thought I was being quiet ’cause I was in the family room area that was… But Emma’s room is off the side. Emma is like, “Yeah daddy, I knew everything. I heard you talk to Jessica. I heard you talk about your business. I hear you talking to this person about what you think. I knew what you’re doing. I heard about your name.” I’m like, “Really?” “Yeah, I heard you doing your thing. I just figured you would tell me in time.”
0:25:10.0 MB: Awesome.
0:25:10.1 BB: So she’s very in tune.
0:25:11.9 MB: Right.
0:25:11.9 BB: I was like, “Emma, thank you.” man, I didn’t realize that all this time ’cause I was trying be secretive about it.
0:25:15.6 MB: Right.
0:25:16.1 BB: Wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. And she’s like, “Yeah, I kind of figured.”
0:25:18.6 MB: Right. Cat’s out the bag.
0:25:20.2 BB: Yeah. [laughter]
0:25:21.2 MB: What did Lisa say?
0:25:22.4 BB: Lisa was there with me every step of the way. She’s like, “What took you so long? Let’s go large. Go home.” I said, “Let’s just pace ourselves.”[laughter]
0:25:29.8 BB: Let’s hold the back. But she was really excited about the fact that I finally listened…
0:25:34.8 MB: Yep.
0:25:35.1 BB: To myself. To her as well.
0:25:37.3 MB: Yep.
0:25:37.6 BB: But really just found my way and ran with it.
0:25:40.0 MB: Yeah.
0:25:40.0 BB: And so I think everyone knows how good you are sometimes, except yourself.
0:25:43.2 MB: That’s true.
0:25:43.3 BB: Because you’re sort of like…
0:25:44.8 MB: That’s true.
0:25:45.3 BB: You put a lot of pressure on yourself, right? Because you want it to be just right. But just get out there and do it. And get over yourself.
0:25:51.4 MB: How did you two meet?
0:25:52.1 MB: My God. Coincidentally, we had a friend that we knew separately. Lisa was at a company doing one thing. He started this business in a warehouse. He had a warehouse fulfillment business in Southern California. I come out for the summer just to hang out. Again, a little party. It was my 30th birthday party and I said, “Look, let’s go to San Diego.”
0:26:10.1 MB: But good things are happening at these parties you’re going to.
0:26:12.2 BB: Yeah, exactly. So he said he rented this amazing penthouse in La Jolla and Hyatt. I was like…
0:26:16.9 MB: Wow. Yeah. Fancy. Fancy.
0:26:17.8 BB: I’m like, “Let’s do this, right?” Not knowing he was trying to recruit me to come work for him at some point. So I went out, checked it out, and I happened to walk by this room and I saw Lisa in a Birkenstocks working on desk, I was like, “Damn, she’s kind of cute,” but I kept it moving ’cause I was in LA, I was like, “Gotta keep my options open, right?” You know how it is.
0:26:35.9 MB: Oh, Lord.
0:26:36.4 BB: But we met haphazardly that way. We became fast friends. And after the year of hanging out she and I started a business together. Just giving back and forth. Let’s do this together. And so we met sort of through that relationship. We bonded, we parted ways for a while from a business point of view, stayed in touch, and over time, came back together as husband and wife.
0:26:56.3 MB: What was the business?
0:26:57.3 BB: It was a promotional marketing company. Remember, in LA, everything was about media, Disney. So every time a movie would be released, you’d have to have these like tchotchkes I’d call it, to get people excited about whatever the movies were back in the day. And so we built and marketed all the giveaways…
0:27:14.5 MB: Oh, wow.
0:27:14.9 BB: At movie theaters, at the grocery stores. And so it was a really great concept ’cause her background is marketing. So I figured, okay, this can be cool. But it was a lot of like the suppliers and the vendors and trying to figure out how to work it.
0:27:25.5 MB: It’s a lot, yeah.
0:27:25.8 BB: It’s a lot of moving parts, but it was a good way for us to figure out we can actually work together, but she is more the operator, the accountant. I’m more like the marketing, sales and together…
0:27:36.4 MB: Big vision.
0:27:36.9 BB: Exactly.
0:27:37.3 MB: Big vision.
0:27:37.9 BB: Yeah. So that’s how… So we knew that we’d work together at some point, we just go into how and when. So that’s sort of how we got together and met and started this journey.
0:27:47.0 MB: Who do you think has made the greatest sacrifice for you?
0:27:50.0 MB: I think, it’s the first time I’ve been asked that question, I think it would have to be my great aunt that saw that my mother was definitely distraught ’cause her mother had pushed her out of the house, like, “I can’t believe you’re coming home.”
0:28:02.5 MB: Oh, wow.
0:28:03.0 BB: So I think she basically put everything on a whole… Like she was retiring. But she basically raised me until I was ten till she died. I mean, my mom stopped at the school, although it was minimal, they have to pay tuition for the school I was in Jamaica. I remember times where my mother missed the payments. And because my aunt was a little well off at the time, she just took it to herself to take care of me from soup to nuts, right? Buy me clothes. I didn’t understand the sacrifice that she made ’cause here she is retired. She’s supposed to be chilling, but she literally was raising me as if I was her own. So I think had I not had that person in my life, I’m not sure how this would all turned out, essentially. So I think that’s probably the person that made the most sacrifice for me.
0:28:47.7 MB: What is your proudest personal moment?
0:28:50.8 BB: Oh, my God. I mean, besides watching Emma and Braxton come into the world and marrying my wife, I think, I know it sounds a little cheesy. I think starting my own company. I mean, honestly, it takes a lot to win something or get a job somewhere and feel proud of it. But to do it on your own. Recently, I had to change healthcare providers and seeing like…
0:29:16.9 MB: I know what that was like.
0:29:17.7 BB: Right? The DC lingo, all the stuff you gotta go through, and to see my name on the insurance card. Little things like that. Like my name on it, Brown Executive Search. The healthcare… ‘Cause like, “Damn. I guess that’s me.” It’s real, a tux. I think to me that’s like, “Oh, shit, this is the real deal.”
0:29:35.5 MB: It’s official.
0:29:36.0 BB: It’s official. ‘Cause you can easily hide behind other people’s success or brand and take part in the fact that you are just as successful. But when you got to like do it yourself from scratch, like bake that cake and you have this menu that someone is giving the ingredients, but you gotta still do it.
0:29:50.5 MB: That’s right.
0:29:52.2 BB: I was like, you know what? My wife looked at me and said, “You see the name on the card, right?” I was like, “What are you talking about? What does say?” That’s probably…
0:29:57.3 MB: It hit you.
0:29:57.7 BB: Yeah, it hits me hard. Because then I could say I’m taking care of my family. In the event they get sick, you can go to the hospital and put out your insurance card and know that you’re funding this. Like Braxton fractured his hand here a couple weeks ago. Took him to the hospital, we had insurance, we were able to pay for… That to me is like it’s all about.
0:30:16.7 MB: Right. Right. So as you were starting this journey, what was your greatest fear?
0:30:22.4 BB: Failing. Not being able to… People wouldn’t take me seriously or wouldn’t get behind me and support me. I think you always question, will people follow me? Whether it’s hiring someone or getting a client to say yes. That’s always the biggest fear for me is just, I wanna get to a yes. So the question is making sure they feel more comfortable that nothing’s changed. Just you’re actually still hiring me, not this brand. So I think that was the thing that kept me up at night thinking, could I really pull this off? Yeah.
0:30:53.0 MB: What are you most excited about?
0:30:55.0 BB: I’m most excited about crossing that year mark, now into year two. Just being able to sustain, sustainability, hiring people. I’ve had a chance to hire a full time employee, but I have a couple of temporary workers that work for me between 15 to 20 hours a week, and it’s three of them. So now we have a company size of people.
0:31:14.5 MB: Yeah, of course. You’re creating jobs. Yeah.
0:31:15.9 BB: Yeah. We have like Zoom calls, meetings in the day to talk about stuff. I’m proud that I see growth. I thought you can go from 0 to 100. No company can say, “Hey, I’m gonna be a $100 million business overnight.” You’ve gotta start somewhere. You’ve gotta build one brick at a time, but really make sure the bricks are solid. Most proud of the fact that I’m still around. Like I’m still relevant versus not. Because you question whether or not you can do it, and then you start doing it, they can do it again. It was a fluke ’cause last year was more about, “Oh, it’s all cool.” Diverse was in. What I wanna be when I grow up kind of thing and then I’m seeing, okay, diverse is important, but it’s not the only thing on the table for companies anymore, so I have to be fluid and to build my business while still factoring diversity in along the way.
0:32:00.2 MB: What do you think your great aunt would say about where you are right now?
0:32:03.9 BB: She would say she’s proud of me. But she would always say that, “You could do more.” Like the piano. I hated playing the piano. Oh my God. Every day. Just apply yourself. Just apply yourself in practice. She would probably say, “its not a surprise that you’re here, but I wanna see more. What else you got for me,” right?
0:32:22.8 MB: I love that.
0:32:23.4 BB: “You kidding me? I mean, I’m just… “
0:32:24.8 MB: I’ve got kids. I’m married. I’m making money. Got houses. Right, right, right.
0:32:24.9 BB: “What would you want?” I guess people, particularly the elders, they can see more in you than you can yourself. And so I think she would say, “You remind a lot of my… ” One of her brothers, right? Great entrepreneur, but he could have done more, right? He had, yes, he bought all this land and blah, blah, blah, but he didn’t manage stuff right. So here I am gonna come in and clean this stuff up. I think you can do more. So I think she would say, “I’m happy, proud, but I wanna see some more out of you.”
0:32:54.7 MB: I’m so grateful and thank you for coming to The Porch.
0:32:57.1 BB: Thank you for having me.
0:32:58.3 MB: I’m not sure what more you can do ’cause you’ve done a lot, but I look forward to whatever that more is.
0:33:02.7 BB: Oh, thank you so much.
0:33:03.8 MB: Appreciate you, man. Thank you.
0:33:04.7 BB: Appreciate you as well. Right on.[music]
0:33:07.9 MB: Thank you for listening to my conversation with Bruce Brown, who demonstrates that your circumstances do not define your destiny. If you enjoyed our conversation, please leave us a rating and a review. To learn more about our guest and find a link to the website, check out our show notes. You can find us on social media @wearenmv or search for us with the hashtag Porch Talks.
Thank you for joining me for this first season of Porch Talks. I hope my guests and their stories have inspired you in whatever role you play in this entrepreneurial ecosystem. The goal of Porch Talks was to capture the dynamic and often uncensored conversations that many of us grow up with on our family’s porch.
0:33:50.5 MB: I also hope the words from the guests speak to your potential and power and inspire you to be whoever you desire, irrespective of family history, personal setbacks, or individual heartbreak. If you enjoyed these conversations, you might wanna check out my other podcast, Founder Hustle. On Founder Hustle, I sit down with entrepreneurs to hear about what it really takes to go from founder to CEO. You can find Founder Hustle wherever you get your podcasts.
0:34:22.2 MB: Porch Talks is a production of Kinetic Energy Entertainment and New Majority Ventures. Recording and video production services were provided by Modulus Studios. This podcast was recorded at the Black Joy House in Oak Bluffs, Martha’s Vineyard. Our producer is Ann Kane. Our social media producer is Misako Envela, and the show is mixed by Sonya Harris. The Porch Talks’ theme is a New View by Tony Cruise. Thanks again for listening. See you back on The Porch.[music]