Brown-Forman Looks Back, And Ahead, As It Celebrates Significant Milestone

Members of the Brown-Forman team celebrate PRIDE.
Photo from Brown-Forman

Jack Daniel's, Woodford Reserve, and Herradura have two major things in common: they're all extremely well-known brands and they're just a few of the numerous brands owned by Kentucky-headquartered Brown-Forman Corporation.

Until recently, the global company has been happy to let its brands have the spotlight, but as the fifth-generation, family-controlled business celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2020, it has a lot to be excited about.

A Year Of Celebration

One of the best ways to be successful in any business is to look back at where you've been and determine where you want to go. As Brown-Forman celebrates its 150th anniversary, it will be looking back at stories from its past to refocus, unite, and progress. And, with such a rich history, Brown-Forman has plenty to draw from. Here are just a few examples:

Innovation: When George Garvin Brown founded the company in 1870, he did so with Old Forester Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky. Still one of the company's finest brands today, Old Forester was the first whisky sold in a sealed glass bottle at a time where it was sold by the barrel. The sealed glass bottle is the standard today.

Resiliency: From its humble beginnings, the company held steady during times of prohibition, recession, and war to grow and become the global company it is today.

Legacy: While the company has gone through multiple leadership changes, it has remained in the Brown family for five generations. George Garvin Brown IV currently serves as chairman of the board for the publicly traded, family-controlled company.

All of these attributes and more have helped Brown-Forman grow into what it is today: one of the largest American-owned spirits and wine companies and among the top 10 largest global spirits companies. The company has more than 25 brands in its portfolio of wines and spirits and sells those brands in countries around the world.

"One-hundred and fifty years is a cause for celebration, but it didn't happen by accident. Our anniversary offers a chance for questions and brings revelations about ourselves and the world around us. We recognize that we have come this far only because of what has come before us and that this moment provides a point of view that few experience," says Brown-Forman President and CEO Lawson Whiting.

Brown-Forman will celebrate its 150th anniversary throughout 2020 at all of its offices throughout the world. In addition to sharing stories about the past, they will commemorate employees past and present, while looking towards the future.

"It's not every day that a company makes it this far with so much potential still ahead. We should recognize the people who got us here as well as the people here today who will be part of the next 150 years of stories," Whiting says.

A Culture Of Family

The Brown-Forman Board of Directors.

Photo from Brown-Forman

Being a family-controlled company is embedded in Brown-Forman's culture and its employees are an extension of that family.

The company employs 4,700 people worldwide and has production facilities and sales officers across the U.S. and internationally. Homebase for nearly 1,000 employees is the company's headquarters in Louisville, Kentucky, which has been home from the very beginning.

Brown-Forman puts a lot of focus on promoting a "culture of care," where employees are encouraged to grow professionally within the company and to be involved with sharing ideas on how to make the company stronger. The company also has multiple Employee Resource Groups to help employees with similar interests, backgrounds, and cultures build stronger bonds.

But, perhaps Brown-Forman's greatest attribute is how sometimes work can feel just like home. On average, Brown-Forman employees in the U.S. stay with the company for 11 years, three times the national average.

"Brown-Forman is everything you want from a large, global employer, with the caring, relationship-based culture common in family-owned businesses. The company has impressive, competitive benefits and compensation; a commitment to work/like integration; well-known brands (Jack Daniel's, Woodford Reserve); a commitment to growing employees' capabilities and careers; a strong focus on diversity and inclusion—all with colleagues that challenge you, stretch you, care about you, and laugh with you," one employee wrote on

"The people at Brown-Forman make this the best company I've ever worked for. Working for a company with iconic brands like Jack Daniel's alongside people who are just as motivated as me makes for a fun and fulfilling work environment," another employee wrote on Glassdoor.

And with so many Brown-Forman locations across the country and internationally, the career opportunities are plentiful. There are many examples of employees working at multiple Brown-Forman locations throughout their long careers, including Luis-Guy Ricaud, whose 17-year career at Brown-Forman has taken him to Mexico, California and Kentucky, and Jennifer Powell, who started her 15-year in Kentucky in various public relations and branding roles before moving up to her current position as the marketing director for Brown-Forman in the UK & Ireland.

While Brown-Forman employees are proud of their product, they're not afraid to have difficult conversations about it. Employees are urged to be responsible when enjoying the product and the company's internal campaign "Pause" asks employees to always think about their choices and to set an example, not only for each other, but for the world. Brown-Forman also partners with multiple organizations to promote responsible drinking.

The Next 150 Years

The Brown-Forman workforce will play a large role in forming the company's future.

Photo from Brown-Forman

Since the very beginning, the phrase "Nothing Better In The Market" has been featured on bottles of Old Forester. But, in many ways the phrase applies to all aspects of the company, including its product, people, culture, and processes.

And as Brown-Forman plans for the next 150 years, the phrase takes on even greater meaning as it continues to build on what it does well.

One challenge the company is currently tackling that is expected to play a large role in the future is environmental sustainability. Over the last several years, Brown-Forman has committed to sending zero waste to landfills by finding new ways to reduce it, reuse it, and recycle it.

Other sustainability goals include investing in renewable energy, reducing green gas emissions by 15%, and reducing water use and wastewater discharges per unit of product by 30%. The company hopes to accomplish the latter two goals by 2023.

"These goals support our ambition to grow our brands and our company responsibly while protecting and enriching the natural environment," the company states in its most recent annual report.

The company will also continue to focus on:

  • Values and culture
  • Having a diverse and inclusive workforce
  • Investing in communities around Brown-Forman locations
  • Corporate responsibility
Brown-Forman is also taking an active role in the coronavirus pandemic, donating $1 million to COVID-19 response funds. The donation will support multiple locations and industries.
"As COVID-19 has spread throughout the world, we want to provide assistance to our communities in this time of great need," Whiting says.

Expansion will also play a role in Brown-Forman's future as the company will continue to explore opportunities in growing international markets. The company has a global presence in 170 countries and generates 53 percent of its net sales internationally.

No matter what happens in the future, one thing is for certain: Brown-Forman has 150 years of lessons and success to draw upon to help shape the next 150 years.

Perhaps Chris Morris, master distiller for Brown-Forman and vice president of Whiskey Innovation, says it best:

"How do I know the future is bright? I think about our history."

Opportunities At Brown-Forman

Brown-Forman has job openings both in the U.S. and internationally.

Brown-Forman Office refurb opening, January 2020

Photo from Brown-Forman

Want to know what it's like to work at Brown-Forman? Check out current job openings on the company's careers page.

Total Reward snapshot (US-based): Brown-Forman offers a number of Total Rewards to its employees, including competitive pay, health insurance, 401(k), Employee Assistance Programs for mental, financial, and physical well being, 12 weeks of maternity leave, and six weeks of leave for non-child bearing spouses.

The company's Louisville headquarters also offers a number of unique onsite amenities, such as cafe and cafeteria, gym, dry cleaning, and nail/hair salon. In addition, the company has treadmill desks for employees who want to get in some exercise while working.

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