Adriane Brown is a trailblazer and known as one of the most powerful women in business.
As president and COO of Intellectual Ventures, an invention investment firm based in Bellevue, Washington, Brown has nearly 30 years of management experience and has been named one of Black Enterprise Magazine’s 100 Most Powerful Executives in Corporate America and one of Fortune Magazine’s women to watch.
I talked with Brown to learn a little about her life and how she’s broken through the glass ceiling.
What messages did you receive as a child about achieving success?
I was born in the late 1950s in Richmond, Virgina, at a time of great racial tension. I had two parents and an older brother who truly believed that a new era was coming into being. My parents expected that their children would live in a different type of country than what they had grown up in, which is something that really played out for me in the third grade.
In first grade, I went to a segregated school, but at the end of second grade, Virginia had passed a law that schools would be desegregated in two years. My family had the choice of keeping me at an all-black school for my third grade year or transfer me to an all-white school. My parents decided that my brother and I should go to the white school.
At the time, I was very upset at this decision. My parents told us that we had to be part of change; that life isn’t always easy and that you need to step up. They taught us that life was about getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.
It wasn’t until much later that I realized the profound effect of that decision. It was not easy for my brother and me. People called us terrible names, but we had comebacks for them and never fought. By my sixth grade year, I was elected class president.
How have you broken through the glass ceiling?
It has been challenging but thankfully I’ve had mentors who spotted me early on and brought me under their wings. They saw something powerful in me. I got a lot of positive cues early on from people who supported me.
People have really helped me along the way; you can’t move the glass ceiling by yourself.
In addition, I think I’ve climbed the ladder by going above and beyond, not giving up and giving excuses, but stepping in and ensuring quality and hard work.
What key lessons have you learned throughout your career?
I’ve learned that your work has to speak the loudest. You want to build the reputation for getting things done. I’ve learned that you have to keep your ego in check. I’ve learned that if you build confidence in your organization, people will take bets on you.
What challenges do African American men and women face in today’s business world?
I think there are still many stereotypes that may not always be visible that impact one’s performance. There can still be subtleties that cause doubt and concern in a person.
There are still biases that people are overcoming. I think there is still more progress to be made about building the right kinds of relationships to have fairness and appropriate judgments of people in the workforce.
How can businesspersons overcome these challenges?
In my career, I think of the three C’s: competency, character and connectedness.
I think we have to do our best to understand our competencies and know when they fit into a situation and when they don’t.
In terms of character, make sure to do things that you are proud of and that the organization’s interests align with your values.
Regarding connectedness, make sure you are in an environment where you can make efforts to connect with people and you feel that the culture reaches back out to you. When you have all of those met, you can grow and thrive.
What is one of your proudest professional moments?
I remember when I stepped into on organization and it was my first general management responsibility. They wanted to wake up the workforce -- many people had been there quite a while. When I got there, I was able to pull together a quality team to get ready for our first kick-off meeting. None of them had given a presentation in front of the entire corporation before, but I coached them and got them ready.
One of my proudest moments was at the end of that meeting seeing my team and how well they did in front of the entire organization. When I can take people out of their comfort zone and give them a new set of capabilities -- that makes me a very proud leader.
I also appreciate the role model that I represent -- a path that I didn’t see much of growing up. Through being a businesswoman, I have become an example of what a woman can do and I am proud of that.