Robert C. Brown, III – GEMS of Fort Bend

Robert C. Brown, III

By Patti Parish-Kaminski –

Telecommunications mogul, public servant, big game hunter and devoted father and husband all describe this GEM of Fort Bend who was born in northern California near the Sierra Nevada Mountains and lived in many California towns throughout his childhood and early career.  But when he and his family arrived in Fort Bend in 1977, they made this community their permanent home.

Robert C. Brown, III spent his childhood working on his grandparents’ ranch, but the telephone company was in his blood from early on. “Dad worked for the power company, and in the early days, the power and telephone were the same company. When the federal government split them up, Dad chose the telephone company, and we started moving.”

As a young man, Brown moved throughout California as in the early days, telephone company employees were required to move frequently. When he was in high school, he landed in Barstow, California where his life changed. “I saw Bobby when he first came to town,” said Carole Brown. The two met when she was 13 and he was 15. “I went home and told my mom, ‘I think I just saw the guy I am going to marry.’”

“I thought she was wonderful,” recalled Brown. It was a case of love at first sight, and at 17 and 18 years old, the Browns married beginning a life full of adventure and giving.

When the two married, Brown had various jobs including driving a truck for the Mayflower Moving Company and working all night at a service station. While he wanted to follow in his dad’s footsteps and work for the telephone company, he couldn’t. “I wasn’t allowed to work for the telephone company because of their nepotism policy,” said Brown. So, he did the next best thing: He went to work for the power company.

“The power company and the telephone company still used the same property, and one day when I was moving transformers, a man came up and asked me why I wasn’t working for the telephone company,” said Brown. Brown knew the man as he had moved him while working with Mayflower. Young Brown explained to the man that his father worked there, and he was told because of their nepotism policy, he couldn’t work for the telephone company. “About a week later, he comes by and tells me that I no longer work for the power company; I work for the telephone company and that they no longer have a nepotism rule.”

That man was Art Taylor, president of California Interstate Telephone Company. Together, he and Brown participated in the acquisition of over 250 companies in 17 years, and Bobby and Carole began a life of moving through the southwestern United States.

“Our goal early on was to buy as many telephone companies as we could before the feds changed the way we would do business,” said Brown. “We knew AT&T was going to buy them all eventually.” As Brown continued to acquire companies for Continental Telephone Company, the other large telephone companies had the same idea. As Brown ended his 17 year tenure with Continental, his boss asked if he could move to Juno, Alaska and run a new acquisition there. “I went for about two weeks, and there was never a day where there wasn’t rain or snow.” Brown didn’t feel Carole and his two girls nearing high school age would appreciate Alaska weather. And, their dad had promised his daughters that when they entered high school, the Browns would stop moving.

In 1977, the Browns moved to Sugar Land. Brown had left Continental to fulfill his promise to Carole, Jody and Trudy, and he worked for the Public Utilities Commission in Phoenix and then in Sacramento. While attending a convention in Michigan, Brown met another man who would change his future. The headhunter represented a man who needed Brown to help deal with the Bell System and the Public Utilities Commission on behalf of a telephone company in Fort Bend – Sugar Land Telephone Company – soon to become SLT Communications. Brown assisted with the issues with Bell, and before he knew it, he was announced as the new president of SLT Communications.

And the rest, as they say, is history. Without capital for new acquisitions, Brown went to the federal government and borrowed $25 million at two percent interest. SLT Communications bought 11 telephone companies, a data processing company, some small construction companies and a cable television company – even though telephone companies at the time could not be in the cable business. “I got a lawyer in Washington and asked what would happen to me if I bought a cable business anyway. The lawyer said they would make me sell it.”  So, Brown got into the cable business and in two years when he was sued, he sold it – at a substantial profit, of course.

Under Brown’s leadership, SLT Communications was the fastest growing telephone company in the United States for five years in a row during the 1980s, with a great deal of competition. “All of our competitors were trying to buy us. When I came here, we had 5,000 customers in Sugar Land. When we sold the holding company, we had over 80,000 customers in SLT Communications.” Brown sold the company in 1993.

While it may seem that Brown’s focus once he moved to Sugar Land was strictly business, his passion for giving to the community that embraced him and his family was also becoming well-known. “My grandpa told me that if you go to a community and you do well there, your business is successful, then you ought to find some way to repay that community,” said Brown. “I don’t think there’s too many places where people did any better than I did when I came to Fort Bend County. It’s pretty simple: We made it here, we live here, we give here.”

And give he has. Brown has served on 18 professional boards and 30 community boards sharing his knowledge, time and talents. He has served as Chairman of the Fort Bend Economic Development Council for the past 25 years, an organization that didn’t exist prior to his involvement, and today, he sits on 16 boards. He has been instrumental in ground-breaking fundraising activities such as the Texas War on Drugs, part of former First Lady Nancy Regan’s “Just Say No” drug awareness initiative, and with the three organizations who have his heart: Child Advocates, Fort Bend Education Foundation and Fort Bend Corps.

Brown not only serves of his time and talent; he is a supporter. One would be hard pressed to name an organization he has not supported, and he is a staple at auctions throughout Fort Bend. “I asked James Patterson the other day how many dogs we have bought at auctions,” laughed Brown. “He said 57. I asked him if he counted that one we sold 11 times at one auction, and he said he did.”

An accomplished businessman, dedicated community servant and devoted father, Brown says that the personal accomplishment he is most proud of can be summed up in one word: Carole. “For all of the moving that we did, we had a great family. She was a huge part of everything working. We were lucky enough to meet about 99 percent of what we wanted to be, and that’s pretty good for two young kids who got married. We worked together, we made promises to our kids, and we kept them. That was big – not moving until the kids got out of high school. I felt good about keeping that promise.”

This October, the Browns will celebrate 60 years of marriage, along with their two daughters, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. The Browns will attend numerous galas this fall, bid on several dogs and Bob will remain at the helm of the Fort Bend Economic Development Council continuing to bring business to Fort Bend. For his dedication to give back to the community where he made it, absolutely! Brazos and Fort Bend Focus Magazines are proud to honor Robert C. Brown, III as a GEM of Fort Bend.