IBJNews

LEADING QUESTIONS: Fast-food guru digs philanthropy

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share
Leading Questions

Welcome to the latest installment of “Leading Questions: Wisdom from the Corner Office,” in which IBJ sits down with central Indiana’s top bosses to talk shop about the latest developments in their industries and the habits that lead to success.

On July 21, Charles W. Brown, 62, arrived at what he thought was a board meeting for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Indiana to recognize a fellow volunteer. Instead, it was a happy ambush of sorts, as the organization instead feted him with the newly minted Charlie Brown Living Legacy Award, honoring 20 years of volunteering for the group and donating more than $1 million over those years.



“It was a total surprise. My daughter was there, and sister, and the whole board, which was very meaningful. And the whole staff of Big Brothers Big Sisters was there—which was probably the best part of it,” said Brown, a former board president.

He also has contributed money to the youth-oriented Kids’ Voice of Indiana and Boys & Girls Clubs of America, as well as his alma mater Ball State University and other not-for-profit organizations.  “I just want to make a difference in kids’ lives,” Brown said. “I think that is where we can be the most impactful, and I think that is where we need help."

Brown has lived in the Indianapolis area all his life, graduating from North Central High School and then Ball State with a bachelor's degree in business administration. He initially joined his father in the family business, licensed-product maker Brown Collegiate Manufacturing. In 1982, he and Craig Fenneman, a friend from a local softball team, decided to get into the fast-food field and purchase two Taco Bell restaurants in Columbus and Bloomington.

Today, Southern Bells Inc. owns 75 restaurants in Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky, including 67 Taco Bells. As co-owner and executive vice president of the firm, Brown has spearheaded raising more than $550,000 for the Taco Bell Foundation for Teens through the restaurants. In late 2010, Southern Bells raised about $150,000 for the foundation’s Graduate to Go Scholarship Program, $120,000 of which will be dedicated to college scholarships for youths in the central third of Indiana.

“That program focuses on the kids who are not graduating from high school,” Brown said. “To me, that may be one of the biggest problems we have in this city or state. Male graduation rates [in some schools] are deplorable. We have to do something to encourage those kids. When I talk to them, they don’t really have any direction. If there is something we can do, something to encourage them to go onto post-secondary education, … it could make a big difference in their lives.”

Brown can trace his interest in philanthropy at least in part to a formative experience working on a construction detail during the summers of 1967 and 1968. Landscaping the fledgling Interstate 465, he became friends with black project superintendent in his 60s who opened Brown’s eyes to the value of integrity, work ethic and passion for family. In the video at top, he discusses the experience and its personal impact.

Brown also sees value in his role as an employer.

“In the Taco Bell business or any fast-food business, you have the opportunity to hire kids still in high school; you’re hiring people who didn’t graduate from high school; and you have some who have graduated from college," he said. "You can really make a difference in people’s lives by employing them, first of all, and making sure they understand integrity and loyalty and some of the values that you want to instill in them.”

A few other notes from Brown conversation with “Leading Questions”:

— He has learned to embrace his name, the same as the loveable-loser protagonist in the “Peanuts” comic strip. “I remember going through high school kind of regretting it, but it’s a good thing to have. People remember your name. You can introduce a million people, but they’ll always remember ‘Charlie Brown’ when you’re introduced.”

— Asked about his biggest boneheaded mistake in business, Brown admitted that he and Fenneman tried early on in their fast-food venture to spiff up their restaurants by adding carpeting. “We thought that would make them feel a little quieter and more comfortable and homey. And I tell you, that carpet was so hard to keep clean with the ingredients we have at Taco Bell. It was a nightmare.”

— One of their biggest successes was adding drive-through windows to their restaurants back in 1982, when the feature was still a bit unusual. “The first two restaurants that we bought, the first thing we did was add drive-throughs. Even though you almost had to do a three-point turn to get around one of them, it still bumped up our sales almost 30 percent as soon as we opened it up. And now drive-through business is almost 65 to 70 percent of our sales.”


 

ADVERTISEMENT

  • Good Job
    Good job Charlie! Thanks for making a difference in childrens lives.
  • Great Job!
    Wow what a great contribution to the community! Great Job!
  • Leadership
    Charlie, thanks for taking a leadership role and showing others the importance of giving back to the community.
  • Charlie makes us proud to call him friend
    Having known him well for 40+ years, he is a quiet guy who does things right, in a big way and quietly. He sets a high standard with great humility and touches those who have contact with him. Indianapolis is fortunate to have Charlie's attention and loyalty.

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
ADVERTISEMENT

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ on Facebook:
Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ's Tweets on these topics:
 
Subscribe to IBJ
  1. Why not take some time to do some research before traveling to that Indiana town or city, and find the ones that are no smoking either inside, or have a patio? People like yourself are just being selfish, and unnecessarily trying to take away all indoor venues that smokers can enjoy themselves at. Last time I checked, it is still a free country, and businesses do respond to market pressure and will ban smoking, if there's enough demand by customers for it(i.e. Linebacker Lounge in South Bend, and Rack and Helen's in New Haven, IN, outside of Fort Wayne). Indiana law already unnecessarily forced restaurants with a bar area to be no smoking, so why not support those restaurants that were forced to ban smoking against their will? Also, I'm always surprised at the number of bars that chose to ban smoking on their own, in non-ban parts of Indiana I'll sometimes travel into. Whiting, IN(just southeast of Chicago) has at least a few bars that went no smoking on their own accord, and despite no selfish government ban forcing those bars to make that move against their will! I'd much rather have a balance of both smoking and non-smoking bars, rather than a complete bar smoking ban that'll only force more bars to close their doors. And besides IMO, there are much worser things to worry about, than cigarette smoke inside a bar. If you feel a bar is too smoky, then simply walk out and take your business to a different bar!

  2. As other states are realizing the harm in jailing offenders of marijuana...Indiana steps backwards into the script of Reefer Madness. Well...you guys voted for your Gov...up to you to vote him out. Signed, Citizen of Florida...the next state to have medical marijuana.

  3. It's empowering for this niche community to know that they have an advocate on their side in case things go awry. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lrst9VXVKfE

  4. Apparently the settlement over Angie's List "bundling" charges hasn't stopped the practice! My membership is up for renewal, and I'm on my third email trying to get a "basic" membership rather than the "bundled" version they're trying to charge me for. Frustrating!!

  5. Well....as a vendor to both of these builders I guess I have the right to comment. Davis closed his doors with integrity.He paid me every penny he owed me. Estridge,STILL owes me thousands and thousands of dollars. The last few years of my life have been spent working 2 jobs, paying off the suppliers I used to work on Estridge jobs and just struggling to survive. Shame on you Paul...and shame on you IBJ! Maybe you should have contacted the hundreds of vendors that Paul stiffed. I'm sure your "rises from the ashes" spin on reporting would have contained true stories of real people who have struggled to find work and pay of their debts (something that Paul didn't even attempt to do).

ADVERTISEMENT