Retiring Brown a Fixture of Copper and Brass
By Tim Triplett, Editor-in-Chief
Copper and brass fixtures are prized for their utility and longevity. Frank Brown, a fixture in the copper and brass industry for nearly 50 years, displayed the same untarnished resilience throughout his career. The longtime executive director of the Copper and Brass Servicenter Association retired May 31.
After a brief tour as a Navy officer following graduation from the University of Pennsylvania, Frank joined the Philadelphia association management firm of Fernley & Fernley in 1959. One of the trade groups he was assigned to manage was a collection of copper and brass distributors, which eventually became known as CBSA.
One of his first tasks was to organize the group’s annual convention in the Bahamas in the spring of 1960. One of his last tasks was to organize this April’s gathering in Tucson. All total, Frank oversaw 50 conventions with the precision and attention to detail of a military officer.
Frank has borne witness to many changes in the red metals sector in the past half century as companies and individuals have come and gone. During his parting remarks, he showed a slide listing the CBSA member companies in 1960 compared to today. Only about six names appeared on both lists.
Just like in the steel and aluminum markets, the red metals landscape has been dramatically altered by the merger and acquisition trend of the past two decades. Large players like Copper and Brass Sales, Metals USA and Reliance have bought up other distributors, while many mills have merged or closed. “I used to be able to travel the Connecticut Valley and visit 10 brass mills in just a few days. One after another they have gone out,” says Brown.
At its peak in the mid-1980s, CBSA had roughly 98 members, about 58 distributors and 40 mills. Today it represents about 38 distributors, 29 mills and six metal platers. It’s not that the association is withering—it remains relatively healthy—but rather the market it represents is consolidating.
No doubt, the dismal economy is a factor as well. To cite one example, many were shocked to learn recently that Guardian Metal Sales, based near Chicago, was forced to close its doors after 70 years as a leader in the nonferrous coil market. Other distributors have suffered, or may soon suffer, a similar fate.
Perhaps because the red metals universe is a relatively small one, the relationships between producers and distributors of copper and brass products seem to be more close-knit and congenial than in other markets. As their leader, Frank nurtured that sense of family and fraternity. “The people in the copper industry just seem to be so nice, genuine and helpful. That’s one of the things that kept me going,” Frank says.
Management of CBSA is now in the hands of Susan Avery, an association professional with the Overland Park, Kan., firm of Association Services International. Her tactful remarks as she took over the reins at Frank’s last CBSA convention demonstrated her respect for what he has accomplished and her desire to continue his legacy.
As he reluctantly said good-bye at his 50th and final meeting, Frank requested that he be remembered “as someone who took his job very, very seriously, but did not take himself seriously.”
Seriously, Frank, job well done.
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