W.L. Lyons Brown (MBA '87) is founder and CEO of Altamar Brands LLC, which he launched in 2005 to give a modern twist to luxury, legendary spirits. The company's portfolio includes three brands: Right Gin, Tequila Ocho and Kübler Absinthe.
In August of 2007, Altamar Brands partnered with The Blackmint Distillery to bring the first authentic Swiss absinthe to the U.S. market in nearly 100 years. The brand, Kübler, is from the birthplace of absinthe in the Val-de-Travers. In the years since, absinthe’s popularity has spiked, enabling Brown to meet his goal to shift perceptions and revitalize interest in classic spirits.
Before starting Altamar, Brown spent 15 years in his family business at Brown-Forman, where he was marketing director for Europe and director of sales for the U.S., before retiring to pursue his entrepreneurial ambitions.
Brown received a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Virginia in 1982 and an MBA from Darden in 1987. He currently serves as a trustee of the Darden School Foundation. He also serves as an entrepreneur-in-residence at the A.B. Freeman School of Business at Tulane University, a trustee of the Laguna Beach Community Foundation and a director of First Beverage Group in Los Angeles.
What was your first job?
Credit analyst at Third National Bank in Nashville, Tennessee.
What's the best advice you have ever received?
Shine your shoes.
What technology can you not live without?
That wretched little Blackberry.
What's your favorite business book of all time?
The Alchemist, which I view as the Holy Bible for entrepreneurs.
What is your most marked characteristic?
What's the best thing that has happened to you in the past year?
I rode a bike 105 miles through the Colorado mountains and desert in a single day with my youngest brother … and lived to tell the story.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
My children: Renee, Caroline and George Brown.
What is your most treasured possession?
I have these old boots and this young Labrador. I don’t know, could be my reading glasses; I’d miss a lot without them.
What have you recently uploaded onto your iPod?
Just went through a wicked JJ Cale retro thing. Very satisfying.
If you could live anywhere, where would it be?
This world is too fabulous to commit to one place.
What do you lose sleep over?
The meaning of life, the grocery list and everything in between.
Which natural talent would you most like to have?
The ability to ski anything, anywhere.
What's your favorite food and beverage?
Homemade granola smothered in raspberries and blueberries and dark, rich coffee.
What characteristics do you look for in people?
Integrity, courage and competitiveness.
Which class at Darden impacted you the most?
Are you kidding me? We have the best faculty in the world. Every class was like an epiphany.
Looking back, is there a class you should have attended and didn't?
No, but I wish I had paid more attention to Professor Alec Horniman in "Organizational Behavior." Business would be easy if it weren't for people.
What companies do you admire?
Apple, Whole Foods Market and Patagonia.
What's your motto?
"The Man in the Arena" by Teddy Roosevelt. "It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly … "
Describe a moment when you realized the true value of your Darden education.
It happened when senior managers far above me started asking me for my thoughts instead of telling me what to do. When they asked a second time, I knew we were cooking.
I can’t wait to find out.