When Franklin Brown Jr., 75,
stepped down as executive vice president of the Copper and
Brass Servicenter Association (CBSA) earlier this summer, he
had spent twice as many years serving the metals industry as
"He certainly dedicated his working career
to the association and definitely was committed to the
association right up to the end," said Bruce Seeger, president
of Seeger Metals & Plastics Inc., Toledo, Ohio. Dan
Kendall, president of Logansport, Ind.-based ABC Metals Inc.,
agreed. "I was most impressed by Frank's loyalty," he said.
Brown, who entered a well-deserved
retirement at the start of June after being at the helm of the
CBSA for 50 years, leaves behind a multi-faceted legacy of
steady navigation through turbulent times, according to copper
LEAVING A LEGACY
CBSA, like the world around it, witnessed
innumerable changes between 1959 and 2009. Some overhauls were
unmistakably Brown's doing. Others, like last fall's
precipitous economic collapse, were out of his hands.
Of the changes orchestrated by Brown, the
most manifest involved the expansion of CBSA's membership.
Founded in the spring of 1951, the CBSA was at first a trade
group exclusively for copper and brass distributors; the
following year, domestic brass mills were invited to join the
ranks as associate members. But then membership generally was
static, with a handful of new distributors and U.S. mills
joining each year but the group never again opening its doors
to a new group of companies-that is, until "globalization"
became a household term.
Although the United States had once been
considered a manufacturing powerhouse, the CBSA couldn't ignore
the increasingly global nature of the supply chain.
Understanding that business was being conducted on an
international scale, Brown in 1995 led the charge to expand
CBSA's membership to include non-American mills.
"The non-American mills came about because
it was becoming more of a global economy and it was felt that a
lot of our people were starting to buy from foreign mills, so
it would be mutually beneficial to have them come in," Brown
said of the decision to expand CBSA's membership after 43 years
of status quo.
Seeger said that the decision to expand
proved fruitful. "It was an avenue for growth," he said, noting
that interested international firms had to prove a presence in
the United States. "We didn't want someone to come in just for
our distribution list without having a commitment to the
Nine years later, the CBSA broadened its
ranks again, this time opening its doors to platers. "It was a
natural expansion. It was something that should have been done
probably long before because a lot of the platers sell both to
brass mills and to service centers," Brown said.
Although its growing membership was perhaps
the most visible of the changes at the CBSA during Brown's
50-year tenure, other, more subtle transitions also took place.
One such shift, he said, was the mills' gradual change of
attitudes about minimum orders-a crucial change in the way CBSA
According to Brown, in the first years of
CBSA's existence many mills were still processing orders of
virtually any size, forcing them to run orders with no margins
and leaving distributors-companies set up to handle smaller
shipments-scrounging for whatever was left. "Mills cannot
effectively and economically make small quantities in most
cases. Distributors can do this, they can customize the orders,
so it doesn't make sense for a customer, unless it's a really
large customer, to order from the mills. A mill can't
economically run a 500-pound order," he said.
The process was unhealthy for everyone,
Brown said, and over time the CBSA worked to encourage mills to
increase their minimum orders. In the 1960s and '70s attitudes
on minimum orders started to shift noticeably. "It was felt
that the big orders that would be economic for the brass mills
should continue to be their department while the smaller orders
really belonged to the distributors and service centers. The
mills came to realize that this is what we have distributors
However, it was not the growth of the
group's membership or the mills' adoption of larger minimum
orders that changed the industry the most, Brown said, but the
events of last fall.
"The most significant change in the last 50
years basically occurred in the past year," Brown said,
referencing 2008's precipitous pricing drop-off. "There have
been price fluctuations in copper for many, many years, but
nothing even approaching this kind of scale.
The voice of the red metal distribution
sector for a full five decades, Brown's name became synonymous
with that of the organization itself. But despite boasting a
long tenure as CBSA's executive vice president, Brown
originally fell into the metal industry by accident.
Having majored in journalism and public
relations at the University of Pennsylvania on an ROTC
scholarship, he spent three and a half years as a naval officer
on a destroyer. Brown returned to Philadelphia in 1959 as a
staffer at multi-association management group Fernley &
Fernley Inc. "I thought this would be a good way to use my
communication skills," said Brown, who upon joining the firm
was immediately assigned to manage a number of accounts,
For years he balanced his duties as CBSA
executive and multiple-association manager, but by 1978 Brown
found he was spreading himself too thin. "I was working on six
associations with Fernley & Fernley, giving CBSA only about
20 percent of my time. They said, 'We need considerably more of
your time than that,' so they got it."
At the request of the CBSA, Brown left the
Philadelphia firm to start his own company, R. Franklin Brown
Jr. Inc., a smaller-scale association management group that
boasted CBSA as its primary client. It was at the helm of that
organization, a two-person firm founded in King of Prussia,
Pa., that Brown helped mold the organization into what it is
As Brown proved during his long tenure,
organizations, like individuals, must change with the times,
and CBSA has a few on the horizon. As Brown enjoys his
retirement in Radnor, Pa., with his wife, Joyce, the CBSA will
continue to grow and evolve under the watch of Brown's
successor, Susan Avery.
Avery, executive director of the Overland
Park, Kan.-based association management firm Association
Services International Inc., has been in the business for 11
years, many of which were spent heading up a number of plastics
"She's new to the metals business, but I
didn't have any metals background when I came in," Brown said.
"If you're running the association, you know how to operate an
association, know how to deal with the members and the board;
that's the important part."
Avery said that the CBSA is expected to go
through a number of key changes during her first few months in
the post, mostly on the technology front. "Our initial
priorities have been and will be setting up the operational
infrastructure, including a new Web site," she said.
"The first three or four months are really
about focusing on the basics getting a whole new look and feel,
making sure everything we have in terms of member contacts are
correct, etc. The next big piece is looking at overall value
added. We'll really delve into what other opportunities, the
CBSA members want."
But although the CBSA may feel like a
different group without Brown on board, Avery said he has been
very helpful during the transition. "Frank has been fantastic
and very much a mentor throughout this process. He's certainly
one of the last gentlemen of the association management
community. He's very much a pro," she said.