When Rick Brown ’81 was shopping for a college, he had three simple requirements: the school had to offer an education degree, field a lacrosse team, and be near a ski mountain.
Plymouth State checked these boxes, and he enrolled. Halfway through his freshman year, his statistics professor noticed he wasn’t living up to his potential and motivated him to fully engage.
A marketing course also made Brown pivot, and while he continued as an education major, he was determined to work in marketing. Early in his career, he made a quick rise at GE Plastics, where he honed his particular blend of pragmatism and creativity.
Two decades later, Brown was a CEO with a specialty in turning around poorly performing companies. Instead of helping young students learn, achieve, and grow stronger, Brown spent his career helping businesses and their leaders do the same thing.
“I was an education major competing against a bunch of business majors early in my career, but the skills I learned at Plymouth were easily applied to my now business career,” says Brown. “After 20 years of successful leadership positions at GE, I was ready to find new ventures to explore and succeed in. The move into private equity allowed me to move into businesses that were failing and lead them back to success. Saving a business from failure or, even worse, bankruptcy gave me that same feeling as teaching and leading a student to success.”
Seeing the big picture but knowing how to concentrate on the key details is Brown’s superpower. Recently, he came to campus to help PSU students discover theirs.
He spoke to four classes and passed on some of his experiences. He told students to learn how to learn. Own their own career. Expand their bubbles outside of New England. Foster relationships. Grow from their failures. Build their résumés and find happiness.
“I was really impressed,” Brown says, noting students’ intelligent and probing questions and professors’ energy and involvement.
Four decades ago, Brown was the student sitting in a Plymouth State classroom, pondering the essence of marketing—why do people pick up Crest versus Colgate, or Coke versus Pepsi?
That fascination, and his engineer father and artist mother, helped steer Brown into the corporate world, and after a brief stint selling engineered fasteners into newly designed components, he landed the position at GE Plastics, helping engineers develop new products into technological devices, from printers to CD players and cell phones. As technology advanced, Brown’s division skyrocketed from $800 million in revenue to $8 billion.
His career exploded as well. Mentored by legendary CEOs like Jack Welch, Jeff Immelt, and Dave Cote, Brown rose quickly and collaborated on new products with companies like Nike, IBM, Dell, and Apple—and even worked with Steve Jobs.
At the private equity firm Sun Capital, Brown was an operating partner and chairman of the board for roughly 10 to 15 companies working with the CEOs. He next took over the reins at the $1.2B company OmniMax International in 2015, and over the next five years the company moved from a struggling organization to a very successful business in the building materials space, more than doubling its market value.
Brown sold OmniMax International last April and semi-retired. During his over 35-year career, he and his wife, Louise ’83, another PSU education major and lacrosse player, moved at least a dozen times across the country so he could grow his career. Brown also traveled to over 90 countries. “Louise was critical to my success in business as she supported me at every turn and kept our family close,” says Rick. “My family is what I am most proud of, and I couldn’t have had the career I did without the support of each of my four children and the passion I had for my work.”
The Browns now live in North Carolina, where Louise enjoys working out, playing tennis and golf, and spending time with their children and grandchildren. Rick enjoys golf and traveling for his photography hobby.
Rick has told his children to want more from a university than he had imagined—more than a place to get a degree, play a sport, and ski. Nevertheless, he is certain Plymouth State was the right place at the right time for him.
“Plymouth put me on the path of becoming who I am today,” he says. “At the end of the day, I got a loving, fantastic family, the boost I needed post-high school, and the start to the skills needed for a successful career.”