Whisky Magazine Issue 14
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Marcin Miller talks to Owsley Brown Frazier, former Vice Chairman of the Brown-Forman Corporation, and finds him calmly enjoying his retirement
The large corner office occupied by Owsley Brown Frazier exudes an air of harmony, as does the man himself. Unflustered and unhurried since his retirement in June, he gives an impression of a man at peace with himself. This is understandable given that he personally owns (together with two of his cousins) well over 60% of the stock of a company turning over two billion dollars. Of that figure two hundred million dollars is profit.
However, it was not always thus. He joined the company in 1955: “Our sales that year were $64 million. Our net profits were about $3 million.” Mr Frazier is philosophical about the ups and downs faced by the American whiskey industry in the twentieth century. “Put out of business by World War I, by Prohibition and then by World War II ... we stopped, started, stopped, started. It has really been since the conclusion of the Second World War that this company has taken off.”
Brown Forman are on occasion criticised for being too boring and too ‘corporate'. However, it must be difficult to avoid being ‘corporate' if you are turning over two billion dollars per annum. It is also likely to be boring when decision-making is made by committee, the family is likely to steer the middle ground. But you cannot ignore the high-profile acquisitions and investments the company has made in the last fifty years (1956 Jack Daniel's, 1979 Southern Comfort, 2000 45% of Finlandia and 10% of Glenmorangie).
Much of the prosperity of the company is due to ...