If you’ve ever drawn a paycheck in the motorcycle business, you owe a note of gratitude to Don Brown. If you’ve ever ridden or admired a classic bike at a Concours, say Thank you. And if you can remember starlet Ann-Margret riding her Triumph Tiger in the 1960s, nod your head and silently say, Ah, well done.
We believe the best way to acknowledge Don Brown’s contribution is to let his peers and students provide the testimony. Along the way, we’ve included some quotes from Don that we held on to throughout the years, knowing that they were golden words. We hope you enjoy, and find inspiration in this life very well-lived. — Mary Slepicka
Motorcycles have been an integral part of our family’s life. To say we didn’t breathe, eat and live two-wheels is an understatement.
I miss my Dad more than words can describe. What will always be part of our Brown family is the colorful, rich and vibrant soul of the sport of motorcycling — the people, the stories and the support that our extended motorcyling family has brought to us during this difficult time.
This evening, I quietly went into my garage and sat on my most cherished memory of my dad — my X75 Hurricane — raised a glass of wine in his memory and said, “Thank you, thank you for being my dad, my friend and my mentor.
One thing that stands out for me was his deep and sincere concern for the health of the motorcycle industry. Where many people look for what they can take out of the industry in fame and fortune, Don Brown functioned as if he was its caretaker, making sure it was healthy. I think his interest in statistics and data came from wanting to provide the tools for the managers of the motorcycle companies he worked with to make the right decisions.
Another trait I admired was Don’s determination to participate in industry matters despite the physical handicap he had to cope with following a freak trail-riding accident in the mid-1970s. If there was a meeting to attend, Don was there, having driven himself in a van converted for wheelchair use.
I first got to know Don when I joined Dealernews as an ad sales rep in 1978. At the time, he was vice president of the publishing/trade show company. He had his work to do and I had mine, but he would often wheel over to my area late in the day, and we’d talk about racing and other things to do with the motorcycle sport and industry. Don had been part of the U.S. management at BSA in the late 1960s, and he loved talking about those years, as well as when he was head of Triumph’s sales organization in the Western states in the late 1950s and early ‘60s.
It was great to hear Don’s stories about providing Triumphs for Steve McQueen and Bud Ekins to race; teaching Ann-Margret to ride a motorcycle, or working with Craig Vetter on the project that became the now-collectible Triumph X75 Hurricane.
I left Dealernews in 1980 to join Bell Helmets, and Don left shortly after to start his own DJB/Associates consulting business. He did, however, keep to the end his connection with the magazine as a columnist, focusing on statistics and keeping track of brand sales and market share.
In 1985, Dealernews was sold to HBJ Publications (precursor to Advanstar), and I was hired back to become publisher. Don and I were soon in contact, and we would often talk about the motorcycle market, which then was in a terrible decline of 30 percent a year. One subject we got onto was the idea of bringing industry leaders together for a conference to talk about how to solve the declining sales situation.
Don volunteered to deliver a keynote address at the conference, with the purpose of getting the needed data out in front of the group so they could see how serious the problems were. So when we did finally hold the meeting — in 1986 in Palm Springs, Calif. — Don led off with his presentation. The rest is history.
The group of industry leaders convening in Palm Springs finally identified the then-image of the motorcyclist as the leading cause of the market’s decline, and they recommended a campaign to improve this image. But additional funds would be needed, and there was no way we would get any additional funding other than what the Motorcycle Industry Council had in its budget.
But Don wasn’t about to back off. Through his contacts with the manufacturers and the help of Keith Van Harte from the MIC, we set up meetings with each of the four Japanese manufacturers, with every meeting including a senior Japanese manager of U.S. operations. With Don’s guidance, we made a first round, presenting the situation and asking, basically, for each manufacturer’s support if we were successful with the other three.
In a matter of weeks, we had that commitment. We followed up with a second round to confirm all four were on board. What we called the “Image Enhancement” campaign was funded with $100,000 from each manufacturer and managed by the MIC.
Now, 24 years later, the campaign — later renamed Discover Today’s Motorcycling — continues.
We can only wonder where the industry might be today if Don had not convinced its leaders assembled in Palm Springs that an extraordinary effort was needed to get the business growing again ... or if he had left the funding needs to others. DTM is just one of the many major contributions Don Brown made to our industry.
Don valued greatly the relationships he forged during his career. And I don’t know anyone who knew him who doesn’t feel fortunate to have worked with him and to have called him his or her friend. I know I do.
My first contact with Don was in April 1969 when as vice president, general manager and director of BSA, he called, looking for an American designer he could hire to show the Brits what we Americans wanted our motorcycles to look like. The result was the Triumph Hurricane.
I knew it was a secret project, but I never realized until recently that it was so secret that only Don and I knew about it. Don Brown was doing it on his own because BSA management would not have understood or approved. The clandestine project cost him his job. He never complained. ... He just moved on.
Few outside his personal associates knew that in 1974, Don Brown became paralyzed in a freak get-off. He never complained. He just moved on, and became a respected analyst for the motorcycle industry.
Don Brown was a stickler for accuracy. Because of that, you could bank on his numbers. Often, stories about our work together would contain some errors. Don was the first to let me know. The smallest inaccuracies had to be corrected.
As time passed and the Brits learned that Don Brown was indeed the “father of their Hurricane,” they were keen to have him attend their functions. But it was too late. Travel had become impossible for Don. It became harder and harder for him to discuss old times.
Now Don Brown has moved on again. His stories about Edward Turner, Steve McQueen and Marlon Brando have been told for the last time.
I already miss him.
Don Brown was an amazing man with a tremendous impact within our industry; always a true professional. He will be greatly missed.
The motorcycle industry, which ultimately evolved into what some call the powersports industry, was fortunate to be chosen by Don Brown as the industry where he would form and spend his career. Every industry needs those rare individuals that possess the ability to conscientiously consider multiple perspectives. Don demonstrated this ability time after time.
He understood OE issues, because he had held high office at the OE level.
He understood the aftermarket, because he had managed an accessories division.
He understood the casual rider and the racer, because he had been both.
He understood product and the product development process, because he had been intimately involved in steering the development of some legendary motorcycles.
Best of all, he understood the totality of our industry, and never once failed to care about its
health and reputation. He thought broadly, and was particularly selfless in seeking what was best for the industry.
I believe that he was one of the great men of our industry, and I am proud to salute him unreservedly.
I talked to Don anytime I could, because he really knew his stuff and was willing to share valuable insights. Our industry just lost some valuable smarts and passion.
Every month when I get my Dealernews I turn immediately to Don’s three pages. I had been wondering why it hasn’t appeared in recent months, and now I know. Don will be missed, not only by friends and relatives, but by many of us in the industry who came to rely on his work to help us steer our course.
Don Brown was a whirlwind in a wheelchair — you never knew where he was going to pop up. But if the industry was facing a crisis and called a meeting to address the problem, you knew Don was going to be there.
Don was probably the last of the old guard. He’d watched our industry move from a quirky sideshow to a mainstream recreational activity. He’d seen the industry lurch from sales of less than 100,000 units a year to more than a million, and he’d witnessed companies rise, fall and disappear. Don was able to put it all into perspective, extract the pertinent lessons and apply them to the situation at hand. Best of all, he was willing to share this wisdom with just about anyone who asked.
Like lots of people, I knew Don, but I didn’t really get to know him until I was CEO at Triumph Motorcycles America. I sought his advice on a variety of problems, and I was surprised at how often his past experience with BSA/Triumph paralleled the situation in which I found myself some 30 years later.
My moving to California and becoming publisher at Dealernews in 2003 brought Don and me into even closer contact, and I found myself frequently calling him to make sure that my supposition about this, that or the other was correct (rather than in outer space). Don was always able to rationally explain to me why my supposition was right or wrong.
Don lived through the golden age of motorcycling. It was a treat to spend an evening with him over cocktails, listening to him tell tales of the industry’s past follies and successes. I will miss those evenings, and I will miss the ability to give him a ring and do a reality check.
A very intelligent, caring man indeed. His insight was always of interest to me. He earned tremendous respect during his career. He will be missed.
Racer. Entrepreneur. OEM executive. Motorcycle co- designer. Hard-nosed businessman. Researcher. Forecaster. Magazine editor. Patriot for the dealer and the aftermarket manufacturers.
It’s difficult to try and discover what Don Brown didn’t do in the industry. Tough on the outside and caring on the inside, Don guided many businesses with a fiery passion.
What was amazing about Don is that he seemed to be able to seriously quantify business metrics with one portion of his brain while emotionally grasping the thrill of motorcycling with the other. One would usually hire an executive to run a business, an engineer to design a product, a racer to test it, and a media rep to spread the word. With Don, you got all four in the same person.
He was unique. He was old-school. He was a Renaissance man of the highest order. His fire-in-the-belly for this industry will live on inside us, and we will never forget him.
Even before holding a formal position on the Dealernews staff, Don was a regular contributor of knowledge, analysis and opinion to the editorial product and direction of the magazine.
As a longtime close friend and former racing colleague of Larry Hester, co-founder of Dealernews, it seemed Don was never far removed from the workings of both the magazine and the trade show epicenter of the motorcycle industry. I was privileged to be there for much of that period from the early ‘70s through the mid-’80s, first as an advertising salesman, then ad manager and eventually as publisher of Dealernews.
Always a classy professional but also the most amiable and accessible guy, Don was widely respected and appreciated. I enjoyed his company, his wisdom and experience and, in particular, his perceptive sense of humor.
The time I participated in a media training seminar with Don Brown as a fellow trainee was something I’ll never forget. His perspectives on the past, present and future of our industry were of more value than the actual training conducted by the professional media trainer. It was truly a course within a course, and Don was the teacher and head coach. Don’s representation of the powersports industry to the elite business media was invaluable.
Don once told me about the Trailblazers’ need to find a suitable home. We quickly agreed that the MIC should be that home. And sitting in on the Trailblazers board meetings reminds me of the essence of motorcycling — a combination of camaraderie, stories of great rides and great races, and people from all walks of life that enjoy a common love of riding. Don Brown knew the value of our heritage, and made certain that we would preserve it. And along the way, Don became integral to our heritage. Motorcycling has lost a great ambassador, and we at the MIC have lost a dear friend. We pledge our support to Teri and the Brown family.
Don Brown was the consummate gentleman. Always respectful, a great supporter of our industry and loved by all who knew him. He set the bar of professionalism. I’m lucky I had the opportunity to know him.
Eric Anderson – Owner, Vroom Network; columnist for Dealernews; and MIC Aftermarket Committee board member
Tim Buche – President, Motorcycle Industry Council/Discover Today’s Motorcycling
Mike Corbin – AMA Hall of Fame recipient; inventor and founder, Corbin Motorcycle Seats
Don Emde – AMA Hall of Fame recipient, publisher of Parts Magazine and Drag Specialties Magazine, president of Don Emde Productions, past publisher of Dealernews, and MIC Aftermarket Committee board member
Dick Hamer – Past publisher, Dealernews
Dave Koshollek – Owner, DAKO Management and columnist/editorial advisory board member at Dealernews
Bob Moffit – Former VP-Marketing & Sales for Kawasaki Motors Corp. USA and past chairman, MIC Board of Directors
Tom Rudd – Founder and president, Kuryakyn
Stu Segal – Owner, Sport Honda Powerhouse, Metuchen, N.J.
Tom Seymour – President, Saddlemen
Mike Vaughan – Former CEO, Triumph Motorcycles America and past publisher of Dealernews
Craig Vetter – AMA Hall of Fame recipient; motorcycle inventor, designer and racer