W. Melvin Brown, Jr. (1934–1994)
Starting with a vision and an opportunity, W. Melvin Brown, Jr., guided the growth of American Development Corporation of North Charleston into the largest minority-owned manufacturing company in the United States and perhaps the world.
Established in 1972, ADCOR realized revenues of more than $30 million annually and employment of 350 men and women in just over 20 years. The extensive manufacturing equipment and mobility and environmental testing facilities were, for the most part, geared to a broad array of sophisticated Department of Defense contracts.
Brown was born February 19, 1934, in Charleston, the youngest of six children and the only son of William Melvin and Eva Taylor Brown. He graduated from Immaculate Conception High School and received a bachelor of science degree from South Carolina State College in 1956.
After serving two years in the United States Army, he spent seven years teaching biology and coaching basketball and football in the Charleston County school system. He left teaching for a year and earned a master's degree to upgrade his teaching credentials. He returned to Burke High School, but two years later, he joined Metropolitan Life Insurance Company as an insurance consultant.
He was MetLife's first black insurance consultant in Charleston. For five of his six years with MetLife, he was a million-dollar salesperson.
Brown's motivation for the ADCOR venture began when, as an insurance consultant, he developed intricate insurance programs tailored to several large businesses. The experience convinced him that he could design and operate his own firm.
ADCOR, the first minority-owned manufacturing plant in the Southeast, was established with a $200,000 Small Business Administration loan, additional borrowed money, and a mortgage on Brown's home. The SBA support was augmented by a federal government set-aside program, which guaranteed government contracts for qualified minority entrepreneurs. Brown repaid the $200,000 loan within three years.
Even as ADCOR was growing, Brown attended evening classes and earned a master of business administration degree from Webster College of St. Louis, Missouri, in 1976.
From the beginning, ADCOR was a high-technology manufacturer, and as the years passed, the company's contributions to the nation's defense efforts became more and more sophisticated. ADCOR was integral to the Operation Desert Storm initiative, with 10 Department of Defense contracts for military hardware. ADCOR produced such equipment as 5,000-gallon tankers, ribbon bridge erection boats, hydraulic test systems, ammunition trailers, and electronic vans, and was a subcontractor in the production of Patriot Missile launchers.
Brown anticipated cutbacks in the nation's defense budget, and, in 1993, his biggest contract was not with the Defense Department but with the United States Postal Service. ADCOR manufactured thousands of wheeled mail containers for the post office.
In 1958, Brown met Juanita Washington at a teachers' meeting, and they were married June 4, 1960. Also a native of Charleston, she was a graduate of Talladega College in Alabama and later received a master of science degree from The Citadel. She taught in several Charleston area high schools before ending her career as a physics and chemistry teacher at St. Andrews High School, where she taught from 1974 to 1987.
They were the parents of a daughter, Tamara Theresa, now Mrs. Reginald Keith Boone, and a son, W. Melvin Brown III, and the grandparents of Matthew DeLeon Boone.
Brown was the first black appointed to the Charleston Aviation Authority board, the first black member of the Palmetto Business Forum, and the first black to serve on the State Ports Authority board.
In 1992, he was appointed to a seven-year term on the South Carolina Public Service Authority (Santee Cooper). Upon his death June 7, 1994, his wife was appointed to complete his term.
Brown was inducted into the South Carolina Black Hall of Fame on June 4, 1994.
He was a member of the boards of NationsBank South Carolina, the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce, the Trident Area Chamber of Commerce, the Charleston Business and Professional Association, and the Charleston Manufacturers Association. He also served on the Charleston Election Commission.
He was a member of the Clemson University Board of Visitors and the Talladega College Board of Directors and was vice chairman of the South Carolina State Educational Foundation Board of Directors.
In 1978, President Carter invited Brown to the White House to recognize his achievements as a business leader.
In Upscale magazine's "Annual Power Brokers," Brown was among the 1991 selections, which included business executives, entertainers, and leaders in religion. The National Black Family Summit honored the W. Melvin Brown, Jr., family as the 1992 Black Family of the Year.
The Browns and the Boones are longtime members of St. Patrick's Catholic Church.
He was inducted into the South Carolina Business Hall of Fame in 1993.
© 1999 South Carolina Business Hall of Fame