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Precision pivot pays off for Greg Brown

HUNTSVILLE — Small businesses are infamously resilient against a turbulent economy, willingly flexible in meeting customer demands, and easily adaptable to unstable business environments.

Greg Brown, co-CEO at Brown Precision, has been toe-to-toe with all three over the past 36 years and he said when things seem to be going downhill, that is when you had better be ready to pivot.

Small businesses are known risk takers, but who could have predicted losing major long-term contracts followed by a two-year-long pandemic, all at the same time?

Over the past 20 years, Brown Precision had built a hearty reputation with its client GE Aviation, making jet engine components for the Boeing 737 MAX.

(Kimberly Ballard/256 Today)

“Boeing put a tremendous amount of supply chain pressure on all their contractors to produce 57 of the MAX aircraft a month,” said Brown. “Brown Precision was part of that supply chain.”

After two tragic but possibly preventable Boeing plane crashes in 2019, the work came to a sudden halt in January 2020, leaving BPI with millions of dollars’ worth of MAX inventory.

It took patience and Brown’s executive level skills to withstand the chaos brought on by the sudden loss of business, through no fault of their own.

“Was it scary?,” he asked rhetorically. “Yes, but I didn’t lose any sleep over it.

“What I have learned is, you have to pivot in response to what is going on in the market, what’s going on in technology, and what’s going on in our culture. We were able to do that in the end.”

As a result, Brown Precision is pivoting away from the commercial aerospace market and toward the government aerospace market where they have developed a new partnership with Dynetics and Lockheed Martin.

It was the perfect dais on which to pivot.

“Dynetics has won several hundred million dollars in contracts for hypersonic missile work,” Brown said. “I mentioned to a friend from Dynetics that I ran into at the grocery store, that if they needed capacity, I have two plants and plenty of room.”

Within a few days, the BPI conference room was full of Dynetics people.

“They told us to get ready because the work is coming,” Brown said. “Dynetics is young in the manufacturing sector, but they think that is where their growth is going to be.”

Brown says that fortuitous meeting came about because of the relationships he built while involved with Leadership Greater Huntsville 15 years ago.

“I did not want to do it due to family commitments; kid’s activities; and I had my head down with Brown Precision… but Jan Hess, my friend and mentor at Intergraph at the time, insisted.

“It was the best thing I have ever done.

“It exposed me to how things happen in our community – nonprofits, healthcare, small business, defense, public safety, local government.”

From Leadership, Brown was involved with Huntsville’s Committee 100 and the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber where he was also Board chair.

“All business development here flows through our Chamber,” he said. “Our Chamber is an economic powerhouse unlike any Chamber I have ever seen.”

(Kimberly Ballard/256 Today)

From there Brown Precision became one of 140 Huntsville Regional Economic Growth Initiative members that invest beyond their membership to provide the Chamber with a robust economic development budget.

Greg was named the Small Business Association’s 2022 Small Businessperson of the Year for the state of Alabama, an honor that recognizes an “exemplary entrepreneur” from each of the nation’s 50 states, the District of Columbia and the territories.

Brown won it in part for his success in getting his company through the pandemic using all the tools available to him.

To this day, no one knows why in 1986, lifelong accountant and Greg’s father, Roland Brown bought the 8,000-square-foot SEMCO industrial machine shop in Huntsville.

No one in the Brown family were machinists or knew anything about tooling. The shop had no CNC capabilities, and it seemed a wasteful investment to most of them. A couple of relatives tried to give it a go but failed in the early years.

In 1992, Greg’s brother Daniel graduated from the University of Alabama in Huntsville with a mechanical engineering degree.

“Dan is the technical brains of the business,” said Greg, who left his accounting job at Intergraph in 1995 to join Dan at the new Brown Precision.

“It was my brother’s work ethic that made it work,” he said. He lived in the plant 60 hours a week, he swept the floors, learned CAD modeling and programming. He figured out how the overall process worked.

“Up until then, we would bid on a contract, get the job, but we were losing money on every contract we got.”

Over the years, Brown has embraced the exploding medical device market, manufacturing medical implants. It is a business sector he is interested in growing.

“That business has spiked in the last few years, and it kept us going through the pandemic,” Brown said.

They have grown their shop on Shields Road to 53,000 square feet and the company opened a 30,000 square-foot plant in Atmore in 2018.

Dan Brown runs the South Alabama operation, which gives them more manufacturing space, and much-needed redundancy for the Huntsville operations.

In the early days, BPI manufactured trainer hellfire missiles – replicas of the actual missiles without the explosives.

“We made 700 of those things and we were the only small business to ever pulled it off, so next time the Army wanted to buy them, they came to us,” said Brown.

Add the destruction of the pandemic and Brown Precision not only survived losing their biggest client, but they are on track, Brown believes, to restoring everything to 2019 levels.

“We are still fighting back,” said Brown. “We are still only 60% of 2019 revenues and we had nearly 200 people employed. Now we have 90.

“We want to get that back up. When people buy us, they buy our assets and our people.”

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