Tag: Brooke Barzun

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.

george-garvin-brown-to-laura-frazier-contact-sheet-450
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”

In FoodPort’s sudden failure, a rare defeat for Louisville’s blue-chip philanthropists: the Brown family

FoodPort rendering 600
An aerial rendering of 24-acre site at 30th Street and Muhammad Ali Boulevard.

By Jim Hopkins
Boulevard Publisher

For the past two years, developers of the West Louisville FoodPort worked mightily to bring urban farming and as many as 250 good jobs to the heart of a neighborhood yearning for a better future. Mayor Greg Fischer said the project would “change the look and feel of Russell forever.” Their ambitious, $35 million plan was going so well, one of the world’s foremost advocates of organic food paid a headline-grabbing visit last year: Prince Charles, heir to the British throne.

Stephen Reily
Reily

But yesterday, the entire enterprise collapsed when the non-profit developers, Seed Capital Kentucky, abruptly announced they’d lost a linchpin partner, and without enough time to find a replacement. “We don’t have a way to put it together,” Seed Capital co-founder Stephen Reily said. “We are deeply disappointed.”

Many, many other people were disappointed as well: the mayor, who’d pushed the project as a centerpiece for revitalizing the Russell neighborhood, only to see it steadily scaled back amid community infighting; some 150 residents who helped shepherd the project past months of political hurdles, and the Russell councilwoman, Cheri Bryant Hamilton, “heartbroken” last night over its failure, The Courier-Journal said.

But less publicized was the distress almost certainly felt by a high-profile Louisville family who had invested heavily in its development: the Browns, founders of the spirits giant Brown-Forman. It was an unusual defeat for a family that’s often in the vanguard of high-profile causes ending in resounding success.

Christy Brown
Brown

The Browns were there at critical junctures for the FoodPort, including last year’s goodwill tour by Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall. In a speech at the Cathedral of the Assumption on that overcast Friday in March, the CJ reported at the time, “the prince credited his visit to the persuasive powers of Louisville philanthropist Christina Lee Brown, matriarch of the family that controls Brown-Forman.”

Indeed, in 0ne photo with the newspaper’s online story, the unidentified woman in an orange coat and strands of pearls, beaming in the royal couple’s wake during one of their walkabouts, is Christina, known to many in Louisville as Christy.

Augusta Brown Holland
Holland

As one of the city’s best-known philanthropists, she and her immediate family have formed the core of the extended Brown family’s support of Seed Capital. Her daughter, Augusta Brown Holland, an urban planner and investor, is one of the non-profit’s six board members. Another daughter, Brooke Brown Barzun, has a more direct line to Buckingham Palace: Her husband, Matthew Barzun, is U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom.

A tale of IRS tax returns

The Browns donate multimillions of dollars annually to charities from coast to coast, although especially in Louisville. But they don’t often seek attention for their contributions.

Prince and Christina 300
On the CJ: Camilla, Christy and Charles.

In fact, Seed Capital only hints at the family’s hefty financial support,
on a difficult-to-find page of its website with a barebones alphabetical roster of “funders.” Of the 16 names listed, six are Brown family members or their personal charitable foundations. A seventh is the source of their $6 billion fortune: Brown-Forman, the nearly 150-year-old producer of Jack Daniel’s and other well-known brands. And an eighth, the Community Foundation of Louisville, is home to at least 10 individual Brown donor-advised funds.

Brown family foundation public IRS tax returns fill in details. In 2012-2015, six of the foundations donated a combined Continue reading “In FoodPort’s sudden failure, a rare defeat for Louisville’s blue-chip philanthropists: the Brown family”

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”