Travis Brown Photography: The Color of Wine

A bottle of Chateauneuf de Papes:  Vieux Telegraphe, “La Crau,” over the Missouri River

A bottle of Chateauneuf de Papes: Vieux Telegraphe, “La Crau,” over the Missouri River

Even within the Show Me State of Missouri, you can find many Travis Browns.  Travis Brown the cyclist.  Travis Brown the school superintendent.  A Travis Browne that fights.  There are Travis Browns that sing, that play professional football, and even Travis Browns that advertise tattoos.  However, I think that my profile is still relatively-unique in its focus on fine wines, entrepreneurship, and growing our Midwest economy.

If there’s one Travis Brown that I should partner with, it is likely another Travis Brown with a creative focus on photography, graphic arts, and creative productions.  It turns out that even near Saint Louis, there’s another Travis Brown whose career is precisely that as well.  Even though the two of us have never met, occasionally I get to observe his handiwork inside an Opera Theatre of Saint Louis event.

Growing up on our family farm in Ste. Genevieve County, my mother and father used to say that “there’s a Brown in everything.”

There are certainly fewer Travis Brown searches related to the Northern or Southern Rhone valleys in France.  That is likely in part due merely to the fact that the name “Travis” is often thought to be derived from native American/French Canadian roots (like travois).  In any event, for those looking for great wines on this blog, I often refer you, again, to the South of France.

A recent cover article for Decanter Magazine outlines my case better than I could do for myself.  There’s so much diversity – of color, of varietals, and of blending, to be found within the Great Rhone river regions.  Even the bodies, depths, and range of colors found within Rhone whites can be incredibly complex, just like the spectrum of google searches for Travis Brown.

Kansas Learjets Fly like Sinatra, Dance like Lady Gaga

A recent New York Magazine detailed how money used to walk (or rather, fly) in the days of Frank Sinatra, by Learjet.  Celebrities, Chief Executive Officers, and charter clients alike have long relied on the Kansas-inspired aircraft platform for more than four decades.

Even the learjet airframe seems crafted like Kansas Governor Sam Brownback – focused, fast, and relentless towards the pursuit of less drag.  What Governor Brownback has engineering by removing a state income tax for many small businesses may enable a faster economic growth rate.  By flattening his tax code, his Midwestern efforts may make his economy just like the custom-built Kansas learjets – ready to fly direct, sharp, and high.

I don’t have any time flying a Learjet. My opinions are based upon its hangar reputation and pilot gossip.  Without paying much attention to it, it seems that I hear of landing gear complications the most out of any squawk.  One time outbound from a lobbying run out of the Jefferson City airport, I saw one come in with gear/brake/reverse thruster issues.  Fortunately for the crew that day, they skirted off the side of the runway without personal injury. However, their jet was down for maintenance there for several weeks, along with their pilots’ wounded egos.

Perhaps if I had had a different start in government affairs, or an earlier start in general aviation, I might have worked my behind into an older Learjet.  However, now, I have become a loyal believer in efficiency through large and diverse payloads.  For most of my missions, I will gladly choose my Swiss army transport plane full of everything I can think of before my startup.

However, for those used to flying high and fast, with fewer than five passengers and not much gear, the Lear will remain their 446 knot per hour workhorse.  Plus, as my wife once observed leaving Midway Chicago airport, there may be nothing as sleek as seeing Lady Gaga swing out of a jet black Learjet.  Apparently, Sinatra is not the only famed musician that enjoys the rarified air to the tune of “come fly with me.”

Learning the Sport of Self-Publishing

The quest to publish your own book can be quite daunting.  First there is the idea, the main story that must be extracted from your brain.  Then the ordering, sequencing, negotiating, and editing of it all.  Then comes the lobbying, arm-twisting, and knuckle-busting process of getting your copies digitized, printed, and distributed.  It’s easy to see why many authors are worn out even before they start any promotions or book signings.

If you have an idea for a book, do it anyway.  Follow your passion.  Make your voice heard.  Just like an artist or entertainer, it is really gratifying to see the light on someone else’s eyes when they appreciate your message.

Along my early path of book promotions for CNBC studio, I had occasion to see something that New York does best:  broadway theater.  While waiting to watch “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” I noticed that a key subject found within my book (How Money Walks) is found within the Playbill.  The State of Florida, on which I have dedicated an entire chapter (covering their $86 billion in net AGI gained), has a several page spread covering why the Sunshine State is great.

Once you start your book tour, you see evidence and linkages for your book everywhere that you travel.  I guess that is normal for a marketing brain.  In any event, the Tennessee Williams play wasn’t bad either.

Having the Oldest, and Perhaps Now, the Best

By Travis H. Brown

Some sommeliers from the Court of Master Sommeliers probably have been tracking the oldest bottles of champagne in the world at auction.  A few years ago it may have been hard to beat the age of a bottle of bubbly that has laid on the bottom of the ocean for 170 years.

However, Decanter Magazine just released news from China that may blow away any European claims that Bacchus vino started in the Western Hemisphere.  It seems that the historic set, complete with a “drink in moderation” table set, have now been unearthed with dates likely to be older than 3,000 years.  It may be that everything old is new again in China soon.

Several years, I had the occasion to travel extensively on a healthcare-related business mission across China, from Beijing to Xian to Shanghai.  Back then, it was still far easier to find many exotic green teas at elaborate tea houses, before you would find lots of fine wine lists.  However, with a taste for global offerings of luxury, China is replacing the historic demand in European wines that was once lead by Americans.

Chinese wine buyers lobbying to buy up the best of Bordeaux have now surpassed German buying on the famed Atlantic Coast.  Wine Spectator also had a recent article that Chinese investors are buying up some California estates such as Atlas Peak.  Whenever a NBA superstar sports brand like Yao Ming can move in to peddle $625 bottles of Cabernet to China, you know that market demand is really hot.

In honor of participating the next Saint Louis, Missouri china air cargo hub deal, I am offering up my 2005 DRC Montrachet Chardonnay below for the low low price of $5,500.

Pitching Jefferson City Missouri State Capitol Art

By Lobbyist Travis H. Brown

Every year, for at least five months or more, professional lobbyists like me wear out a few pairs of shoes working the granite halls of Jefferson City’s Missouri State Capitol.  Having passed more than 10,000 logged hours there just over the last decade alone, it is easy to overlook many of its arts and cultural attractions that give advocates a working office that is also one of America’s greatest living museums.

However, during the summer months when the State Legislature is not in session, the walls of Missouri’s social history told by our finest genre artists seem to speak with a greater voice.  Maybe it is because my mind is not as bound on multi-tasking from debating legislation, moving from committee hearing to floor action, or hosting the next Saint Louis or Kansas City in-bound client.  It could also simply be from the relative absence of humanity that energizes the Missouri General Assembly.  Without 163 members running in and out of their offices, to appropriations meetings, to press conferences or public policy meetings, it is as if the building’s presence shifts from hotel concierge to more of a wandering tourist.

Perhaps, as an oil painter myself, it is my recognition for how hot the House Gallery must have been for Thomas Hart Benton.  More than 80 years ago, it is easier to imagine why more than a few State Senators or State Representatives might have scoffed at the nature of his art work.  However, a deal was a deal – Benton could paint anything he desired within his two year deadline, provided that it had relevance to Missouri’s social history.  There have many days where visiting trade groups or business associations were caucusing about their Capitol Day in this very gallery, only to be interrupted by many others passing through.   Imagine the curious smell of Benton’s 35 dozen eggs that he used to make his mural in the heated months of June, July, and August.  Imagine listening to the comments from his fellow State Senators who wondered why painting a baby’s diaper at a political town hall would have been more justified than discussions of the old Confederacy.  The scaffolding mess that Benton eventually concluded must have seemed a lot like the first public reactions to the Eiffel Tower.

Thankfully for all Missourians and our tourists, these unique works have survived the test of time despite early criticisms.  If you are not one of our frequent guests returning to speak, lobby, visit, or vote within our State Museum, then I can recommend to you this book worth exploring by Priddy and Hall.  This book is an excellent coffee table display of how Jefferson City lobbied for and secured one of America’s greatest public art collections of our day.

Five Scenarios for A Missouri Lobbyist to Use General Aviation

By Travis H. Brown

Contract lobbyists that survive past ten years of state & local experience know all too well that time is usually the most limiting variable within your professional services.   Clients seem to want help promoting, passing, progressing, or defeating legislation at the same time periods within any given legislative session.  While State Capitols may vary, the demands on a corporate client’s industry most often requires a state affairs director to juggle one day in Jefferson City with another meeting in Columbus.

For lobbyists less familiar with precisely what general aviation offers those who may be influence-peddling in the morning, while campaigning in the afternoon, I offer the following five Jimmy from Seinfeld scenarios to explain how plane makes for gain:

  1. Lobbyist Travis Brown has a Sunday night meeting with healthcare clients who cannot easily meet during the week in Kansas City.  Due to their prolonged dinner meeting, a late night return drive is no longer optimal.  An early Monday morning hearing or legislative briefing before 9 am in Jefferson City prompts Lobbyist Travis Brown to shorten his two hour car ride into one 30 minute flight to optimize both meeting slots.
  2. Lobbyist Travis Brown needs to meet several new candidates for office that his clients may wish to support for higher office.  Three of the top five candidates are having their major fundraisers or town hall debates within the same week.  Each of the candidates are from completely opposite corners of Missouri, making a show me state drive or shared commute with other lobbyists impractical.  Due to campaign deadlines, and future travel obligations, lobbyist Travis Brown chooses to flight plan all candidates within one full day of short excursions.
  3. Lobbyist Travis Brown has held an important ballot strategy dinner appointment in Saint Louis with a major client and his guests for eight weeks now.  However, after a long day of legislative committee hearings in Jefferson City, followed by two Capitol Lobbying Days on the same afternoon, Travis is running late to make his dinner on time.  To make matters worse, an emergency meeting with a State Senator has been called for 9:30 pm back at the State Capitol on a pressing policy matter.  Travis Brown chooses to correct his schedule by compressing four hours in a car into less than one hour to and from the State Capitol with time to spare for his last caucus meeting.
  4. Lobbyist Travis Brown has agreed to speak at both a morning radio show in Springfield and a chamber of commerce debate in Joplin months in advance on the same day.  Within the last 72 hours, it becomes important to attend an issue advocacy conference in Washington, DC that starts bright and early the next morning.  Since Travis can be joined by copilots and his film production crews if he flies, he arranges private aviation to make all of his travel segments on time.
  5.  Lobbyist Travis Brown is having a great legislative session in Jefferson City, but has seen little of his newest industry client near the Missouri River.  His government affairs client handles state & local public affairs across at least eight Midwestern States.  Due to new industry regulations and several crisis communication projects, his client is only available to meet this week in Chicago.  As it turns out, Travis was headed to Des Moines, Iowa earlier on the same day, after his legislative testimony was finished mid-week in Jefferson City.  By flying onto Chicago from Des Moines, Travis is able to join the industry meeting and compress a three day slot of client prospect travel into one overnight trip.

I use these third person references because my life, and the lives of others on which I depend, have been improved through the vigilant use of general aviation.  America is a big place, and lobbying across the fifty states and some major cities can quickly take its toll as a carpet-bagging frequent flyer.  While using airplanes is very important to me since I am my own owner-operator pilot, it is also very important to thousands of small communities.  The Airplane Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) produced some great studies that outline the 1.2 million jobs that are sustained by one flight after another.  Many Governors themselves depend on private pilots themselves, or are familiar with how worldwide aircraft manufacturing is lead from states like Kansas, Georgia, Missouri, or Washington.

Like most freedoms, the price to use it is responsibility.

Career Growth Must Start with Vision

By Travis Brown

This year marks my tenth year earning an exclusive living as an entrepreneur, making payroll for others, while balancing our client interests from professional sports to community medicine. I feel privileged to join the ranks of prior generations that found a way to make it on their own, even despite its natural trials and tribulations. While I thoroughly enjoy being a citizen of the world in my travels, new ventures, and projects, I believe that American entrepreneurs must carry the lit torch of “exceptionalism” with extreme care. To borrow a late Governor Mel Carnahan legacy phrase, “don’t let the fire go out.”

Travis H. Brown with Governor Mel Carnahan, Bill Signing of SB518, 1999, an act promoting entrepreneurship

Increasingly, it is my responsibility to pass along to contract lobbyists, issue advocates, digital media producers, and event planners how to find, share, and expand our company vision and values. While every Aquarian job creator has at least one part dreamer already built in, it is important to realize that most of us are not born with such a landscape. Absorbing, learning, and applying a worthy vision comes from much customer research, strategic insights within your supply chain, and applied experience within your niche of professional service.

I had the honor of working for several visionary leaders in their days. While at the Monsanto Company, there was no doubt that executives like Bob Shapiro, Hendrik Verfaillie, Hugh Grant, and Robb Fraley laid down an audacious yet inspiring path for their employees to follow. Yet, if you look deeper into every corporate history, you begin to realize others before them, such as Dick Mahoney, Ernie Jaworski, and Will Carpenter may have secured such a foundation with dedicated research, a strong cultural history of results, and a focus on creating their own future.

When I mentor leaders today, sometimes others see the pursuit of a vision somehow as a license toward free roamingJames C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras may have said it best when they outlined what real visionaries do to make their cultures great, in Built to Last:  Successful Habits of Visionary Companies.  Here’s an excerpt:

“Visionary,” we learned, does not mean soft and undisciplined. Quite the contrary. Because the visionary companies have such clarity about who they are, what they’re all about, and what they’re trying to achieve, they tend to not have much room for people unwilling or unsuited to their demanding standards.

They go on to outline four common characteristics of these driven cultures:

1)     Fervently held ideology (like Wal-Mart)

2)     Indoctrination (like Walt Disney)

3)     Tightness of Fit (like Nordstrom)

4)     Elitism

If you do not have this management book on your reference shelf, I recommend pinging itunes for it. Having lobbied for such companies as Procter & Gamble, mentioned in the book, it seems to me right on target.

I have found it very useful in the strategic planning process to always start with a values or vision conversation, before moving to strategy, tactics, operations, and best practices. If you have an approach that has worked well for you, feel free to share it with me at @pelopidas.


A Twelve Year Post-Mortem on an MBA Education

By Travis H. Brown

My wise economics professor and honors school adviser once told me, “Travis you can go broad, or you could go deep” into the career choices you make. By most accounts, my Washington University Masters in Business Administration completed from 1998-2000 was a decision to go broad. Twelve years later, it continues to serve me well.

Having an MBA under your belt from a major university helps expose you to a broad sets of disciplines, such as finance, marketing, management, and statistics. However, it was equally true that knowledge came as much from the real-life experience of your peers, as it did from your assignments or professors.

Washington University really understood this concept when I attended their programs, in Saint Louis, and in London for a summer in international finance.  Unlike the post-mortem reviews of most lawyers from the same institutions, teamwork was encouraged for true win-win scenario planning. Since many of our case studies were from actual corporate histories across many industries, it was likely that someone in the room was there when the decisions were made. Since this broad-based training tends to function like how real work gets done for customers, I cannot think of anyone who graduated who would have been better elsewhere.

Having said that, it’s astounding how fast the seasons pass before 12 years have expired. It still seems like most of what we learned, minus a few asset pricing models here and there, is still very relevant to our professions. By comparison, I know many others who chose to “go deep” into one technical degree who are no longer practicing with it. To be clear, I hold in high regard anyone who chose a different expert path. However, it seems like if that description fits you, you had better know for certain early on.

I do not know of any entrepreneur that hasn’t had to wear multiple hats to get started, survive, or thrive with their ventures. For most, a broad exposure to many things will help ensure that you can draw upon those intellectual assets later like a google data archive on a new blog posting for creative thinking. Most business schools also intentionally inundate you with more data and information than you should rightfully need to use. The same can be said for entrepreneurship: it must balance analysis with action in order to function.

Business school also reinforced that learning is both formal and informal. Most importantly, it is lifelong. While everyone’s style may be different, embracing this attitude into daily and weekly habits will help ensure that you find success at the crossroads of luck and preparation.

“I dream my painting and then paint my dream.”  — Vincent Van Gogh