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Busy baker/entrepreneur mixes business flair with a commitment to his employees
Story by Sally Kuzenchak; photo by Douglas Levere, BA '89
Tilmon Brown has fond memories of his mother’s from-scratch dinner rolls, but these days his favorite smell is the scent of baking bread that hits him when he pulls into his parking space at work. His favorite sight: Thousands of identical hamburger buns, sesame seeds dotting their golden crowns, coming off the assembly line “like rows of toy soldiers,” he says.
As president and chief operating officer of New Horizons Baking Company in Norwalk, Ohio, Brown oversees the production of two million buns and English muffins every day, many bound for Big Macs and Egg McMuffins across seven states.
Brown didn’t mean to get into the baking business. He was studying pharmacy at UB when his wife became pregnant with their second child. Needing money to support his growing family, he dropped out of college and took a job driving a bread delivery truck for Continental Baking Company in Buffalo. Two years later, he was promoted to supervisor. Then he was promoted again. And by 1985, he was a corporate vice president with plans for early retirement.
But before kicking back, he had some unfinished business. “I promised my mother that I would get a college degree, and I wanted to keep that promise,” he says. The Buffalo native reenrolled in UB in 1992 and received both a BA and a BS in business and sales administration at the age of 48.
Then he got the call that really derailed his retirement plans. A former business contact asked if he wanted to buy part of New Horizons, which was in need of a turnaround. After investing $35 million in upgrading the plant and equipment, Brown and his partner boosted productivity by 300 percent and grew the company from $40 million a year to $72 million today. With nearly 300 employees (most of whom Brown knows by name), New Horizons serves 1,200 McDonald’s restaurants. Another division of the company, Genesis Baking Company, supplies baked goods to companies like Jimmy Dean and Sara Lee.
Brown, who established an endowment at UB for minority students and received an Alumni Achievement Award this year, says the best part of his job is seeing people succeed and grow in their jobs—especially his three kids, who all work at New Horizons. “My oldest is pushing me out the door,” he laughs. “I hope this is a business my grandkids, great-grandkids and their kids can all be a part of someday too.”
First lesson on fiscal responsibility Waking at 5 a.m. every morning to do his paper route as a child and saving enough money to buy a bike
Partner in life Jonnie, his “bride” of 45 years, whose identical twin sister married Brown’s older brother
Hobbies Singing tenor in his church choir, playing golf and fishing for salmon once a year in Alaska
Business philosophy Advice from his father, who told him, “Always stand for something. And always like who you see when you look in the mirror”
Community work Brown sits on the boards of Ronald McDonald House, Cleveland Clinic’s Taussig Cancer Center and the Antioch Baptist Church Development Council.