Owsley Brown II, Former Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Brown-Forman Corporation
Louisville, KY, September 27, 2011 – Owsley Brown II, former chairman and CEO of Brown-Forman and well-known Louisville community leader, died last night after a brief illness. He was 69 years old.
During his tenure at Brown-Forman, Owsley Brown II helped carry a family legacy into its fourth generation, a tradition of business excellence that dated back to the company’s founding in 1870. Beginning his career in 1968, he rose to become CEO in 1993 and added the title of chairman two years later. He retired from the CEO role in 2005, as chairman in 2007, and from the board of directors in 2008. While at the helm of the company, he led efforts to dramatically expand its international presence and significantly modernize its marketing efforts. The strategy worked exceptionally well, as brands such as Jack Daniel’s, Southern Comfort, and Finlandia became internationally recognized names, producing stellar financial returns.
“Owsley was a personal friend to so many of us across the world and we are all shocked and saddened by his premature death,” said Brown-Forman Chief Executive Officer Paul Varga. “Owsley was a truly remarkable man with a brilliant mind. His combined analytical and creative talents enabled him to be both a visionary and a practical steward of the company’s business. He generously shared these unique gifts to build Brown-Forman into the global success it is today and to establish long-lasting friendships throughout our industry.”
In addition to his service on Brown-Forman’s board of directors, Brown also served on the board of directors of NACCO Industries, Inc. He served as both fund chairman and president of the Greater Louisville Fund for the Arts. He was a long-time board member of Actors Theatre of Louisville and has twice served as president during major fund drives. He also served on the boards of River Fields, Inc., the J.B. Speed Art Museum, the Kentucky Center, and The Partnership for Creative Economies. Beyond Louisville, Owsley was also on the International Council of Trustees for the World Conference of Religions for Peace.
Brown was a philanthropist and preservationist who, upon returning to Louisville in the late1960s to work for Brown-Forman, subsequently led a group of investors who saved and rehabilitated a historic building at Sixth & Main streets, the first, but certainly not the last, time he helped preserve historic structures. In fact, Brown was a recipient of the J. Russell Groves Citizens Laureates Award, which honors individuals who have consistently encouraged the values of quality architecture in their community. The Actors Theatre building, Brown-Forman’s property at 626 West Main, and the downtown Catholic Cathedral of the Assumption all stand as testaments to his ability to literally reinvent the Louisville cityscape, reinvigorating one of the country’s most distinctive and livable cities.
In recognition of his philanthropy and preservation work, Brown received the Woodrow Wilson Award for Corporate Citizenship in June 2011. Brown and his wife Christy jointly received the Gold Cup Award for distinguished service to Louisville, presented in March 2011 by Greater Louisville, Inc., the local Chamber of Commerce.
“Owsley instilled a culture of enduring growth for which the board and family are truly indebted. The continued strength of the company and its role as a responsible global citizen are the greatest testaments to his life’s work,” said Geo. Garvin Brown IV, chairman of Brown-Forman’s board of directors.
Owsley Brown II was a graduate of Yale and obtained an MBA degree from Stanford University and then served as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Army at the Pentagon.
He is survived by his wife, Christy; three children, Owsley III (Victoire), Brooke Barzun (Matthew), and Augusta Holland (Gill); and nine grandchildren.
Funeral arrangements are pending.