Brooks '79, in her company's test kitchen, checks the
quality of some Brooks Food Group products. Photo
© Skip Rowland
the value of intangible assets has helped Robin Brooks '79
build a strong business in the food industry
is a leader in her industry and exemplifies excellence in family
business. Her participation as a speaker at Kellogg events brings
a real-world expertise that benefits students.
School graduate Robin Brooks' special expertise in
business — placing a dollar figure on hard-to-value
assets — at first appears unrelated to her present role
as CEO and owner of a company that manufactures frozen foods.
nearly 20 years, Brooks '79 built a career in the valuation
departments of large consulting firms and smaller boutique
operations, quantifying the worth of trade names, customer
lists and credit card bases. She helped Nestlé put a dollar
figure on its trademarks and tradenames when it acquired Carnation
Co. in 1985 and Williams and Humbert decide on a licensing
fee for its Dry Sack sherry brand.
when it came time for the second act of her career, purchasing
and retooling a food manufacturing company with her late husband,
Franklin, Brooks continued to rely on the skills she had honed
at firms such as Arthur D. Little and Deloitte & Touche.
Her first step: to sort out the money-losing company's assets
and contracts to arrive at a fair purchase price.
think we got a better price than we otherwise would have gotten,"
Brooks says of the 1995 purchase from McCormick & Co.
"When we were negotiating we were able to say, 'There's
a lot of risk associated with this particular contract,' or
to tie our purchase price to a supply agreement. I'm not sure
that everyone would have looked at this acquisition the same
the Bedford, Va.-based Brooks Food Group boasts 360 employees
and is listed among Black Enterprise's top 100 firms. The
company works with high-profile restaurant chains to develop
specialized frozen food recipes. Clients and products include
Wendy's chicken nuggets, Ruby Tuesday's mozzarella sticks
and The Olive Garden's parmesan-crusted chicken filet.
says her industry is highly competitive, demands product consistency
and has a low profit margin. Quick-service restaurant chains
require their food be uniform in size, weight and number of
pieces, but still "want it to look homemade," she
says, laughing at the predicament.
manage to get quite a bit of market share and I think it's
because of our size," she adds. "We don't have all
these layers of overhead and management so that's not included
in the pricing."
valuation skills again came into play in 1998 when Brooks
Food Group sought to add a second plant in Monroe, N.C. It
was Brooks who acquired and renovated the plant, bought equipment
and managed regulatory issues. Frank Brooks, meanwhile, was
running the Virginia plant while fighting the cancer with
which he had recently been diagnosed.
Frank, who had filled the role of CEO, succumbed to the disease
in 1999, Robin had an enormous decision to make: how to proceed
with the company? Buoyed by her success in acquiring the company's
second plant — a process that served as a crash course
in operations, Frank's specialty — Robin decided to
assume the chief leadership responsibilities.
had always thought, 'Wouldn't it be great if we could have
a food manufacturing company of a significant size?' We had
such complementary skills. When he passed, I felt obligated
in a way to fulfill the vision," Brooks recounts. "We
had just closed on the new plant and weren't yet where we
wanted to be."
she believes Frank would be proud of her successes. Ten years
later, the new plant is more profitable than what the couple
predicted when they applied for financing. Valuing and managing
intangible assets remains Brooks' strength. She also mentors
others, particularly women (the company says that fully half
of its managers are female), and enjoys a continuing relationship
with the Kellogg School, where she was a keynote speaker at
the Black Management Association conference this spring.
truly value relationships with customers and employees,"
Brooks says. "We are generous with our benefits for a
company of our size. I want our employees to live happy, healthy,