A 1973 graduate of Northwood University in Midland, Michigan, where he majored in automotive marketing, Steve Brown always planned to join his family dealership, which originated in 1898 when his grandfather, Ben, opened a harness-making business in Charlevoix, Michigan.
“My grandfather went on to sell bicycles, motorcycles, Fords and Overlands until becoming a Dodge dealer in 1924,” he said. “My father, Lewis, joined the dealership after World War II and eventually succeeding in managing the business until his retirement in 1986, at which time I became the dealer principal.”
Brown started working at the dealership at age 12 and performed many tasks, including washing vehicles, sweeping floors, running for parts and cleaning. After college, he entered the accounting department and eventually advanced to sales and sales management, gaining a full understanding of dealership operations from top to bottom.
A 2018 recipient of the Northwood University Dealer Education Award, which honors dealers that make noteworthy contributions to public or private education, Brown supports numerous civic initiatives and nonprofit organizations.
“I have had the very good fortune to grow up in a small resort community on Lake Michigan, where my parents instilled in me a strong sense of community,” he said. “My father’s commitment to putting the well-being and best interests of others foremost is the most important character trait you need to possess, one that I am very grateful he quietly demonstrated.”
And Brown enjoys that attribute as well. He is proud of his association with McLaren Northern Michigan Hospital in Petoskey, where he has served as a board member since 2017.
“While on the finance committee, I assisted in the process of a $180 million expansion,” he said. “The hospital expansion greatly enhanced the accessibility and availability of medical services to the region and solidified a strong economic base in medical-related employment opportunities.”
In addition, the dealership has a tradition of providing Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner meal boxes to Brother Dan's Food Pantry for needy families in Petoskey. And each year, Brown Motors provides a scholarship to a Petoskey High School graduate who is pursuing a career in a technical field.
“The fund is meant to help those students who have the vocational ability, but not necessarily the financial ability to reach their full potential,” he said.
Brown has also raised money for area schools and students by participating in Ford Drive 4 UR School events, which generate donations for test drives. He has also supported the Petoskey Regional Chamber of Commerce; YMCA of Northern Michigan; Little Traverse Bay Humane Society; Toys for Tots; the Salvation Army; and many others.
“At my discretion the dealership supports nearly every community nonprofit in the area,” he said. “We have tried to give to all that we can.”
Brown was nominated for the TIME Dealer of the Year award by Terry Burns, executive vice president of the Michigan Automobile Dealers Association. He and his wife, Hollyann, have three children.