Category: The A-list

Documents reveal a legal latticework shielding the Brown family’s $6 billion whiskey fortune

By Jim Hopkins
Boulevard Publisher

When Brown-Forman stockholders gathered in July at the whiskey giant’s Georgian Revival headquarters west of downtown, the outcome of a crucial vote — re-electing 12 directors to the governing board — was anything but a surprise.

This has been the founding Brown family’s company for nearly 150 years. Six of the directors were Browns, including board Chairman George Garvin Brown IV — a great-great grandson of the founder — and the rest were unquestionably family loyalists.

Stockholders outside the family knew what Brown-Forman has disclosed for years in an annual statement soliciting their votes: 13 individual Browns and family groups hold 67% of all the voting shares in “a variety of family trusts and entities, with multiple family members often sharing voting control and investment power.”

Much less has been known about the scope of those entities, leaving more than 5,600 other stockholders in the dark about exactly how the Browns divvy up nearly $6 billion in shares among a core group of relatives.

George Garvin Brown
Founder Brown.

But now, documents filed by the Browns with the Securities and Exchange Commission detail how complex their ownership has grown since the pharmaceuticals salesman George Garvin Brown founded the company in 1870. They shed light on how the Browns have deployed extensive trust accounts, business partnerships, and other legal vehicles to pass down Brown-Forman stock through six generations. That’s an exceptional legacy in American business: Just 12% of family-owned companies survive into the third generation, and a slim 3% survive to the fourth and beyond.

The documents also point to a network of boutique consulting firms and other white-shoe professionals advising the city’s wealthiest families on everything from investments to taxes and charitable giving, hiring housekeepers and gardeners — even organizing vacation travel and family gatherings. Paid tens of thousands of dollars a year in fees, the firms are the backbone of a larger, multibillion-dollar economy serving the area’s uber-rich.

Clockwise from top left: Garvin Brown IV, Campbell Brown, Christy Brown, Laura Frazier, Sandra Frazier and Mac Brown.

The documents were filed over the past 18 months by Continue reading “Documents reveal a legal latticework shielding the Brown family’s $6 billion whiskey fortune”

A movie star, a pizza mogul, and a carrot-topped billionaire walk into a bar…

. . . and right onto The Boulevard 400™. It’s our roster of movers, shakers and money-makers, all ranked according to how often their names appear in boldface on Louisville’s most eclectic business and culture news site. This just in! Moments ago, Papa John’s founder John Schnatter edged past Donald Trump into the No. 2 spot behind actress Jennifer Lawrence. Check out the full lineup; here’s a snapshot:

August 31 top 10 Boulevard 400 graphic

178 boldface names. Four celebrated men. And the one place in Louisville that brings them all together

Our Boulevard 400™ compendium of movers, shakers, and money-makers is now 178 strong — all ranked by how often members’ names appear here in boldface. Check out the top 10, below; read the full list.

Boulevard 400 graphic black

Top photo, left to right: Steve Wilson of 21c Museum Hotel; KFC founder Harland Sanders; GOP White House nominee Donald Trump, and actor Will Smith.

Changing of the family guard: At Brown-Forman’s annual meeting, the ordinary was actually extraordinary

By Jim Hopkins
Boulevard Publisher

George Garvin Brown IV, a great-great grandson of the young pharmaceuticals salesman who started Brown-Forman in 1870, stepped onto a dais at the whiskey giant’s annual stockholders meeting today, and told an amusing story about a subject that might otherwise have been deadly dull: brand loyalty.

Garvin Brown IV
Garvin Brown

It was 9:30 a.m., and several hundred stockholders had assembled in a conference room at the white-collanaded headquarters on Dixie Highway west of downtown. On a classically muggy Louisville summer morning, this was a dressy crowd. Many of the men wore dark suits, crisp white shirts, and boarding school repp ties. Women wore tailored dresses, or smart skirts paired with jackets, and an occasional pearl necklace. People were tan and slim and — in the case of the many Browns there — very, very rich.

This was a business event, but it felt as much like a family reunion, too — because, after all, a core group of Browns control the company through an equity stake worth well north of $6 billion. Garvin Brown, who is 47 and lives mostly in London, was running the meeting as chairman of the board. Seated nearby in Chippendale-style chairs facing the audience were the other 11 directors up for re-election.

This is the story Brown told. He was on a flight from London to Warsaw for a meeting with the Brown-Forman team responsible for the company’s growing business in Poland. Brown had lucked out, scoring one of his favorite seats — aisle, in a roomy exit row — with two empty ones between him and the window. Then a British man, one of the many harried road warriors aboard, arrived to take the window seat. He asked for a Jack Daniel’s, Brown-Forman’s most profitable brand, when the flight attendant rolled the snack cart down the aisle. Here, Brown’s ears perked up.

Jack Daniel's bottleBut the airline was all out. Would the Brit settle for another brand of whiskey, the attendant asked, perhaps a Johnnie Walker? Nope, he replied, and asked for a glass of champagne instead. As Brown pointed out to the audience, here was a man so loyal to Jack Daniel’s, he’d sooner drink airline champagne than just any other whiskey.

That’s how Brown eased the stockholders into a more formal presentation by CEO Paul Varga, who deployed many bar charts and fever graphs showing return on shareholder equity over one year, five years, and 20 years — important stuff, to be sure, but not quite as compelling as Brown’s literally on-the-fly market research.

By this point, Brown had already dispatched Continue reading “Changing of the family guard: At Brown-Forman’s annual meeting, the ordinary was actually extraordinary”

21c co-founder Steve Wilson has a ‘death clock,’ a private jet, and other things we learned from that amazing Louisville Magazine profile

Associate Editor Arielle Christian wrote the 14-pager in the July issue, and it’s still brilliant.

Louisville magazine
Ali tribute cover.

He has a “death clock.” It’s Austrian artist Werner Reiterer‘s “My Predicted Timeline. “The piece looks like a large alarm clock — a black bulky box with LED-red digital numbers — but instead of time to wake up, it’s time never to wake up again.” Reiterer based Wilson’s predicted time of death on an actuary test. (Wilson’s 68.) If the clock is right, on May 27, Wilson had 11 years, eight months, 18 days, zero hours, 52 minutes and 34 seconds left.

He has a tattoo on the middle of his forearm. It’s a green four-leaf clover outlined in black.

Steve Wilson Laura Lee Brown
Wilson and Lee

The 21c Museum Hotel chain he founded with his wife Laura Lee Brown, the Brown-Forman heiress, has 1,000 employees, and more than 60,000 square feet of exhibition space. “I never expected it to be such a big enterprise, to have people identify with it so strongly,” he says. The first week the giant “David” statue was installed outside the flagship hotel on West Main Street, “an incensed woman wrote a letter saying she’d never be able to bring her 12-year-old daughter downtown again.” There are three more 21cs in the works, in Kansas City, Nashville, and Indianapolis. Other possible locations include New York City, New Orleans and Cuba.

At the 2014 Art Basel fair in Miami, Wilson bought $117,000 worth of art in less than 40 minutes.

Growing up on his father’s Wickliffe farm, he was allergic to everything: hay, corn dust, animal dandruff. He would not be a farmer, disappointing his father, a man who came from a family of them. “Even though he’s dead now,” Wilson says, “I’m still trying to prove to him that I’m good enough. I don’t think that will ever change.”

Wilson's red framesHe bought his famous red eyeglass frames on a whim in Paris. But he doesn’t see well enough to read much because he has Fuchs’ dystrophy, which is partly why he has a driver to get around, and needs someone to read restaurant menus to him.

21c has its own jet, a Cessna Citation II, and it’s Continue reading “21c co-founder Steve Wilson has a ‘death clock,’ a private jet, and other things we learned from that amazing Louisville Magazine profile”

Royal ties that bind: Brown-Forman’s Barzun-Bingham connection shined bright in the Brexit shocker

By Jim Hopkins
Boulevard Publisher

The spirits giant Brown-Forman depends on the U.K. for 10% of its annual sales, and the rest of Europe for another 21% — making Britain’s surprise vote to quit the E.U. especially meaningful last month. Brexit also recalled Brown-Forman’s familial ties to the Kingdom through the techie U.S. ambassador Matthew Barzun.

“Well, it’s been a big day,” he Tweeted the day after the June 23 referendum, “and as @POTUS says, our unmatched & unbreakable #SpecialRelationship will endure.”

Barzun, 45, a part-year Louisville resident, is a former technology entrepreneur from the Internet’s early days, becoming only the fourth employee of CNET Networks in 1993. He worked there until 2004 in roles including chief strategy officer and executive vice president, according to his State Department biography.

Barzun has been married to Brown-Forman heiress Brooke Brown Barzun since 1999. Her father was the late Brown-Forman CEO Owsley Brown II, and her mother is Owsley’s widow, the philanthropist Christy Brown.

A fifth-generation Brown

The company is one of Louisville’s most storied businesses. It was founded by Brooke’s great-great grandfather George Garvin Brown in 1870. The distiller employs 1,300 workers in the city and another 3,300 worldwide, where the company distributes Jack Daniel’s, Finlandia vodka and other marquee brands in about 160 countries. Tomorrow, shareholders will hold their annual meeting at the Dixie Highway headquarters; three board members up for re-election also are fifth-generation members of the family controlling the nearly 150-year-old distiller.

The Barzuns’ rarefied social and political connections were on full display in November 2013, when the couple rode in a gilded, horse-drawn carriage to Buckingham Palace to present his credentials to Queen Elizabeth II; photo, top, and in this video:

The Barzuns also entertained the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall during a reception last year at the ambassador’s official Winfield House residence in London, shortly before the royals visited Louisville at Christy Brown’s invitation:

Barzuns and Prince of Wales
Prince Charles, the Duchess of Cornwall, and Matthew and Brooke Barzun.

President Obama handed Continue reading “Royal ties that bind: Brown-Forman’s Barzun-Bingham connection shined bright in the Brexit shocker”