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Former Brown‑Forman CEO dies

William Lee Lyons Brown Jr – known as Lee – former chair and chief executive at Brown‑Forman, died on 9 June aged 87.

W L Lyons Brown Jr, Brown-Forman
Brown joined his family’s company in 1960

As the great-grandson of the company’s founder George Garvin Brown, Brown was the fourth generation of the family to work for the business.

“We are deeply saddened by the passing of our esteemed former leader Lee Brown,” said current CEO and president Lawson Whiting.

“His visionary leadership and commitment to our international expansion and long-term growth helped shape Brown‑Forman into the global company it is today. His legacy will long be remembered and celebrated.”

In 1960, Brown joined the company as a sales representative in its international division.

He was instrumental in launching the company’s export division and grew the company’s annual sales from US$365 million to US$1.7 billion.

He became executive vice president and director of worldwide marketing in 1972 and was elected CEO and president in 1975. In 1983, Brown became chair of the board of directors and CEO. He completed his tenure as chair in 1995 and left the board in 1996.

Brown was also appointed by several US presidents as an international trade advisor, including Ronald Reagan, George H W Bush and Bill Clinton.

“Lee was a giant in the spirits industry and a champion for the family business. For many of us in the Brown family’s fifth generation, he was the first company leader that many of us knew,” said Campbell Brown, the chair of Brown-Forman’s board of directors.

“He was a person of remarkable vision and unparalleled dedication and we are grateful for his leadership. His accomplishments beyond the company remind all of us that the ideas of service and responsibility live far beyond what we leave behind as employees and shareholders of Brown‑Forman.”

He is survived by his wife of 65 years, Alice Cary Farmer; his sister, Ina Bond; his three children; eight grandchildren; and two great-grandsons.

Last week Brown-Forman published its full-year results for 2023-24, with net sales falling by 1%.

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