During the past few days, we have written to you about the events happening across America that have revealed, once again, the disturbing and systemic racism that persists in the United States. We shared that as an Executive Leadership Team, we seek to more fully understand the impact these events have had on you, on us, on our culture, and on our communities. We are hopeful that these times will be a catalyst for conversations, and specifically those that explore how we live our value of respect, how we identify and eliminate bias in ourselves, and how we continue to create an environment and relationships where we can bring our best selves to work. We challenged ourselves to be better and to do better, as individuals, leaders, and teams.
We know that our D&I strategy, “Many Spirits, One Brown-Forman,” will continue to guide our way. We know that the CEO D&I pledge that Lawson signed in February will continue to raise the bar. We know the progress we have made will propel us forward. And we also know more work must be done … by all of us. So today we are writing to share our initial responses to that simple, but profound, question: “What are we doing to be better and to do better as leaders in the company, our industry, and in our community?”
These are the initial commitments we are making and we assure you there will be more. While we have made commitments in the past, we have done so quietly. We have learned recently that what’s been done quietly now needs to be communicated with a stronger voice — a voice that makes clear our values and our accountability.
As individuals, we are re-committing to educating ourselves more fully on what it means to be anti-racists. We have each developed a small sampling of our personal lists of books, blogs, podcasts, and videos that have influenced us as individuals and as leaders on the topic of race. If you want to see what’s on our list, it’s here and we hope you will share any resources about race, racism, and allyship that have been meaningful for you on Chatter. We are going to read, watch, listen to, and discuss what each of us finds compelling so we can continue to learn from experts and from each other. We commit to moving beyond the surface, challenging ourselves to better appreciate the work and life experiences of those whose paths are different from our own. We are also committing to doing more listening to the perspectives and realities of our black colleagues. We want to learn more about how society and our own company culture affects their engagement, enablement, and effectiveness here at Brown-Forman.
As an executive team, we are re-committing to a renewed emphasis on allyship. We will build allyship learning into our ELT meeting agendas and will be using this guide, developed by our ERGs, as our initial focus. We will invite you in to listen to a conversation amongst our team talking about race, allyship, and our personal D&I journeys. We ask you to read the guide and watch our discussion; more details will be shared soon.
As a global organization, we are making “Many Spirits, One Brown-Forman” required reading or listening (we have it as an audiobook, too). If you have already read, or listened to, this document, we thank you. And if you have not, now is the time. This document sets forth our challenges, vision, and ambitions, one of which is to increase representation of all key racial and ethnic demographic groups in all of our management levels in the U.S. by 2030. This document helps define our path forward and outlines what’s required of all of us to achieve our ambitions. We are also requiring all of us to have a D&I learning objective on our PGP. For some, it may be to read the D&I strategy or join an ERG. For some, it may be to participate in foundational ally training sessions as a way to engage more fully in this work. For others it will be to more deeply explore unearned privilege and unconscious bias. The choice is yours for where to focus your time and energy, but the expectation is that we will advance our awareness, education, and understanding of social justice and inclusion. Racism is a global problem and we want people in every country to examine bias, colorism, and all forms of discrimination that exist in our communities. We will publish discussion guides to help people leaders have more effective conversations about barriers to inclusion and help them ensure that the people they lead can bring their best selves to work.
As our largest and most influential brand, Jack Daniel’s is committed to uplifting the important story of its first master distiller, Nearest Green. To help elevate the life and legacy of Nearest, and the Uncle Nearest whiskey bearing his name, we will continue to enable storytelling with tools for education, deepen our friendship with Fawn Weaver and the Uncle Nearest brand, and give our time and resources towards furthering Nearest’s legacy. We are forming a nonprofit partnership with Uncle Nearest that will create developmental opportunities for African American talent for senior distilling roles and support African American entrepreneurs in distilling start-ups. More information about this partnership will be shared in the coming weeks.
In our industry, we will explore and strengthen partnerships with other distributors, suppliers, and agencies to help us bring more diversity into beverage alcohol. We will be generous with our time and expertise, starting with a donation to Chris Montana, the African American founder, owner, CEO and head distiller of Du Nord Craft Spirits, whose facility was damaged during the protests in Minneapolis. For more inspiration on what these relationships look like, please be sure to watch Fred Minnick’s panel discussion featuring our colleague, Melvin Keebler, Assistant General Manager of the Jack Daniel Distillery.
As a Louisville-based company, we are taking a leadership role in addressing the racial divide and inequalities in our local community. We are participating in a Racism & Business Council, sponsored by Greater Louisville, Inc., and will be joining other major employers in the area to find long-term solutions that enable our hometown to live up to its potential to be a city of possibility and a city of compassion. We will continue to support minority students interested in STEM fields by continuing to invest in the engineering program at the University of Louisville, the Brown-Forman Inspire Camp, and the Brown-Forman Engineering Academy. We will continue to support the Louisville Urban League as evidenced by a recent $500,000 contribution to help advance their mission to assist African Americans and other marginalized populations in attaining social and economic equality through direct services and advocacy. While there is a focus on Louisville, there is also work being done — and to be done — in other locations around the world where we live and work.
In the California neighborhood, home to our Louisville corporate campus, we are committed to being better neighbors and over the past three years have made local community investments of $6 million, including supporting the nearby YMCA and Simmons College. As part of our current 150th anniversary celebration, we pledged $150,000 in scholarship money to help local students further their education. In the coming months, we commit to providing additional resources for the “Invest California” initiative. Invest California will focus on improving education, economic development, and wealth-building for our closest neighbors, the majority of whom are African American. We will soon be inviting our Louisville-based employees to join us in these efforts to accelerate progress and results.
There are no easy, quick, or simple solutions for the systemic challenges we face as a society. Our responsibility begins with what we can change, what we can control, and the environment we can create — and that’s what’s right here at Brown-Forman.
We hope you and your teams will make your own set of commitments, so that one by one, we can each become better. Better at welcoming diverse perspectives. Better at being inclusive and minimizing the effects of bias. Better at appreciating our differences and making them a source of our strength. Better at encouraging openness and mutual support. Better at acting on our belief that no one of us is as smart as all of us. Better at working on ourselves and supporting one another in reaching our desired potential. In short, ensuring that as a company and as a culture, there is Nothing Better In The Market.
With respect and appreciation,
Lawson, Alex, Jane, John, Kirsten, Matias, Matt, Ralph, and Thomas