Although he’s seen as a visionary for his work empowering the minority business community in Washington, D.C., Carl. E. Brown, Jr. ‘97 didn’t have a clear picture of his own future when he was a young man. Brown, the son of a skycap, grew up in Jamaica, and Queens, New York. After he earned his bachelor’s degree from Howard University, he moved back to New York where he struggled to find employment during the recession of the early 1980s. He found himself following in his father’s footsteps and took a job as a skycap at LaGuardia Airport.
Although working as a skycap had its perks, including meeting big-name celebrities like Stevie Wonder, Eddie Murphy and Mohammad Ali and earning big tips, he knew his future was elsewhere.
“I was on a mad search to get a job outside of doing skycapping,” Brown explained.
Tapping into his connections
Brown knew the best way to get ahead was to tap into what is still the top career-boosting technique today: networking. He decided to call the Washington Urban League where he used to volunteer during college helping others write their resumes in the job opportunity center. He let his former supervisor know he was looking for a position. When the call ended, he didn’t expect to hear back from her.
However, a week later, Brown got a call from the assistant secretary of the Department of Commerce who explained that Brown’s contact had told the Department of Commerce to hire him.
“That was the extent of my interview,” he laughs.
While the call was brief, it marked the beginning of a long and successful career propelled by Brown’s determined spirit and ability to connect with others in meaningful ways. In his new role, he worked in the procurement department purchasing IT equipment for the organization.
After gaining valuable experience, he went to work for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office learning as much as he could knowing he could take it with him to his next position, which was with the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. There, he continued to boost his knowledge, working on projects related to the revitalization of downtown Silver Springs, the local aquatics and equestrian centers, and other parks and recreation areas.
“I actually bought the land for FedEx Field where the Washington Commanders play,” Brown explained. “I was working on high-profile projects, and by then I had learned about contracting and construction.”
Up and away
With a broad skillset, he was ready for his next challenge. But first, he wanted to round out his education by earning a master’s degree in state and local government studies. As it happened, the UMGC campus was a stone’s throw away from his office. While initially Brown was enticed by the convenience of the location, he quickly discovered that there was much more to appreciate about his education there.
“I learned a lot because the instructors were practitioners. They weren’t book people explaining things they’d never done,” says Brown.” My experience at UMGC was phenomenal.”
From there, he was recruited by Earl “Butch” Graves, Jr., publisher of Black Enterprise magazine, to work at the Pepsi plant as the director of human resources. He also returned to UMGC to earn a management certificate in human resources to continue bolstering his skills.
Giving back to support minoring businesses
From there, he held a number of other positions, including serving as a small business counselor at the Howard University Small Business Development Center and serving for five years as the executive director at the Center for Minority Business Development.
In his ever-evolving career, Brown now serves as the state/executive director of the District of Columbia Small Business Development Center (DCSBDC). His organization supports small businesses by helping them develop business and marketing plans, understand tax laws and corporate structures, protect their intellectual property and learn other essential information that is critical to their success.
“I am the one building the program, bringing in the talent, going to community meetings and connecting with stakeholders,” he says. Thanks to his vision, the organization grew from 800 clients in 2019 to more than 1,660 in 2021.
Over the years, Brown has been the recipient of numerous awards and citations for his work in the community and with minority-owned businesses, which has included writing legislation in support of strengthening minority business programs and contract compliance.
He’s also the host of The Small Business report on Sirus XM Radio Channel 141 and is a supervisory contracting officer for the District of Columbia.
Brown’s advice to others who come to him for career guidance is simple.
“You’ve got to network, and then, you have to be prepared,” he says. As his own career has proven, “Everything can be an opportunity,” sums up Brown.
To tap into Brown's business acumen join the UMGC Alumni Association for LinkUp for StartUps: You're On Your Own, But Not Alone. Brown will moderate the panel discussion with other entrepreneurs from your UMGC alumni community. Learn best practices to get started with your start-up, what budding entrepreneurs should expect during their first years, what resources are available to small business owners, how to leverage your UMGC alumni community, and so much more.
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