Brown’s experience in developing pension and insurance programs for large businesses convinced him that he could operate his own business. In 1972 he created American Development Corporation (ADCOR), the first minority-owned manufacturing plant in the Southeast. It was financed largely by a $200,000 Small Business Administration loan, which Brown paid back in three years.
Manufacturer. Born in Charleston on February 19, 1934, Brown was the son of William Melvin Brown, a bricklayer and artisan, and Eva Taylor. Following graduation from Immaculate Conception High School, Brown entered South Carolina State College, where he received a bachelor of science degree in 1955. He served two years in the U.S. Army, then taught biology and coached basketball and football in Charleston County public schools from 1958 to 1963. On June 4, 1960, Brown married Juanita Washington of Charleston. They had one daughter and one son. Brown went on to earn a master’s degree from Atlanta University in 1964. Returning to Charleston, Brown went to work for Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, becoming the first black insurance consultant in Charleston. For five of his six years at MetLife, Brown was a million-dollar salesperson.
Brown’s experience in developing pension and insurance programs for large businesses convinced him that he could operate his own business. In 1972 he created American Development Corporation (ADCOR), the first minority-owned manufacturing plant in the Southeast. It was financed largely by a $200,000 Small Business Administration loan, which Brown paid back in three years. A federal program guaranteed government contracts for qualified minority entrepreneurs. Overcoming a difficult start, Brown and ADCOR soon began to prosper. Attending evening classes, Brown earned an M.B.A. degree from Webster College in St. Louis in 1974. By the early 1990s ADCOR was realizing revenues of more than $30 million annually and employed 350 men and women. The manufacturing equipment and environmental testing facilities were geared mostly to sophisticated defense contracts. ADCOR produced such items as five-thousand-gallon tankers, ribbon bridge erection boats, hydraulic test systems, ammunition trailers, and electronic vans and was a subcontractor for Patriot missile launchers. When defense spending was cut, ADCOR produced thousands of wheeled mail containers for the U.S. Postal Service. By the time of Brown’s death, ADCOR was the largest minority-owned manufacturing company in the United States.
Brown was the first African American named to the Charleston Aviation Authority board, the Palmetto Business Forum, the State Ports Authority Board, and the South Carolina Business Hall of Fame. In 1992 he was appointed to a seven-year term on the South Carolina Public Service Authority (Santee Cooper). He was a member of various other boards including the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce, the Clemson University board of visitors, the Talladega College board of directors, and the South Carolina State Educational Foundation board of directors. In 1991 Upscale magazine recognized Brown among the “Annual Power Brokers,” which included business executives, entertainers, and religious leaders. He died on June 7, 1994, following an extended illness. He was buried in Live Oak Memorial Gardens, Charleston.
Bartelme, Tony. “Local Civic Leader W. M. Brown Dies.” Charleston Post and Courier, June 8, 1994, pp. B1, B4.
Lunan, Bert, and Robert A. Pierce. Legacy of Leadership. Columbia: South Carolina Business Hall of Fame, 1999.