Father’s Day can be a particularly special day for those who have grown up watching their dads build a business, even more so for those who have had the privilege of working alongside them in their entrepreneurial pursuit. That is certainly true for the International Companies, where three generations have contributed to the family business and its success.
The first of the Brown-family entrepreneurs is Fred Brown, followed by his son, Fred Sr, who at the age of 23, joined his dad’s textile bag and sugar distribution companies. Many years later, Fred Sr’s sons, Fred Jr and Clayton, and his grandsons, Hunter and Cameron, would also join the family legacy. The Brown family continues to grow the International Family of Companies, which include: International Food Products Corporation, International Ingredient Corporation, Green Field Solutions, TSL and International Transport.
Q&A: Clayton Discusses Family Business
For Father’s Day, Clayton Brown sat down to talk about working with his dad and the family business. Before he ever slung his first bag of sugar and long before he was named CEO, Clayton learned the family business as a child spending Saturdays in the office with his dad. Here’s what he’s learned ever since:
What was your first job?
Back in my high school days, my brother and I worked for dad, throwing bags of sugar out of railcars and onto pallets, 100 pounds at a time. It’s not an easy job. Railcars hauled around 1,500 pounds of sugar, and in the summer they were hot! If you’ve never worked with sugar-coated bags, they are like handling sandpaper. After about a week, you lose your fingertips.
After high school, I went to college and worked for a couple other companies, before I returned to International in 1993. Since then, I’ve had different roles in sales, purchasing, operations, human resources and finance — these are what we call our centers of excellence; the functions that cross company lines.
What is it like to build the business with family?
Building a business with family can be exciting. We may have different ideas on direction, but our ultimate goal is a shared goal. Another nice thing about being a family-owned company is we can try new ideas and accomplish things that big corporations cannot. While they are trying to make shareholders happy with short-term payouts, we are focused on the long-game. We’re nimble enough to change course when we need to, and patient enough to see our projects pay off, even if it takes years.
Can you share an example of International’s long-term approach?
Aviator in Hazelwood, Missouri. The 227,500-square-foot processing facility had some people wondering why in the beginning. At the time, we owned other facilities in St. Louis, but we saw that times were changing. We took a calculated risk and built the enormous facility in 2014, consolidating manufacturing and warehousing activities under one roof.
The move took a couple of years to pay off. Now, we are in the process of taking on more space and moving our distribution piece to a nearby building that we’re calling, the Hangar.
What did you learn about business from your dad?
I learned to treat people as equals. Whether I was sitting in on meetings or overhearing phone calls, I saw the way my dad treated the people who work with us — our suppliers, clients and employees.
Our people make the world go around for us. Without them there is no International. This philosophy shows up everywhere. Our clients know that our people do whatever it takes to take care of them. I also hear our employees say how impressed they are that everyone in the company wants to help everyone else be successful. That’s how my father is, and that goes for me, too. My door is always open.
How are you celebrating Father’s Day this year?
With the family and a backyard barbecue.