April 28, 2010
During his more than 24 years with Nike, Inc., Charles David "Charlie" Brown has successfully faced numerous and varied challenges, and his B&E education has helped him move through many difficulties and grow professionally.
A native of Moundsville, W. Va., Brown graduated from the WVU College of Business and Economics with a degree in finance in 1980.
Brown has held a variety of positions in Nike, including development manager for the team that created the first Nike Air Jordan basketball shoe and the first Nike cross trainer shoe. He also led the expansion of the China manufacturing operation base, helping the unit grow from 400,000 pairs of shoes per month to more than four million per month. His career has taken him to Thailand, South Korea and China. While working in Guangzhou, China, he established the American Chamber of Commerce and served as the organization’s first president.
Working effectively outside the U.S. did not come easily at first. “It was a challenge to learn to deal and work effectively in a cross-cultural work environment in Korea and Thailand. In the early 80’s, Nike did not do any cross-cultural training (nor did many U.S. companies for that matter). That meant I did most of my learning on the ground.”
Another challenge, Brown said, has been learning to see Nike through another’s lens, as a good corporate citizen. “At first, I just did not understand this. Being able to understand how our external stakeholders perceived both us and our contract manufacturing model not only helped me improve my own thinking, but also helped me create programs and policies that enhanced both Nike and our manufacturers. This in turn helped turn the perception of Nike from one of a bad corporate citizen to one of a leader on the social responsibility front.”
Brown is quick to point to the ways his WVU finance degree helped him face these challenges. “I truly feel my WVU education gave me the foundation and tools to become a thinker and problem solver,” he said. “Much of the work required in finance was built on fact-based decision making, and having this skill set has been invaluable throughout my career.” Brown also gained valuable social skills at WVU that helped him in his work overseas. “I think the many diverse people that I came in contact with at WVU, including my freshmen roommate Etuk “Jonnie” Okan from Nigeria, greatly enhanced and broadened my views of the world, thus enabling me to integrate into a cross-cultural society at a faster pace,” he said.
Brown’s skills at problem-solving and handling delicate cultural issues are especially valuable in the new challenges he is facing as the senior director of Nike’s global corporate responsibility compliance. He ensures that all links in Nike’s global supply chain, which includes footwear, apparel, equipment and affiliates, comply with local, regional and international labor and environmental laws. He also oversees the strategic direction and global development for the company's product line.
These responsibilities present enough challenges to keep even a veteran like Brown on his toes. “Although my knowledge and the relationships I’ve built over the years with our business engines and manufacturers definitely has enabled a smooth transition, working with international government agencies, NGO’s and other external stakeholders is something I have not had many opportunities to do in my past roles,” Brown said. “My next major challenge is moving the corporate responsibility compliance organization and our manufacturers from what we call Gen 2 principles of policing and solving their compliance problems to Gen 3, which involves coaching, capacity building, collaboration and integration of compliance ownership into the business strategies of our business units and manufacturers.
While a student at WVU, he was a member of Delta Tau Delta Fraternity and served on the Student Government Association. After WVU, he received a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Phoenix. Before joining Nike, he worked as a financial analyst for the trust department of Security National Bank in Wheeling, W. Va.
What advice does he have for current B&E students? “The first thing I tell everyone, whether my own children, players I coach, students I meet or my own managers, is that if they want to be successful they must treat people as they would want to be treated.”
He also advises being a good listener and open to new ideas, as no one individual is always going to have the best idea or solution. “Be open to diversity, not just cross-cultural or ethnic diversity, but educational, experience and knowledge diversity. This is how you develop an open mind and keep learning each and everyday,” he said.
And finally, “Always remember to take the time to develop a solid plan no matter how small the project. A motto we commonly use here at Nike is, “Plan the plan then work the plan.”