December 2017

Carlos M. Brown:

Excellence
without excuse

by Audrey Cannon

As an only child, Carlos M. Brown was expected to excel. Raised by a single mother in Chesapeake, Va., he was held to high standards. “My mom called it ‘excellence without excuse,’” he says. “She would often ask me, ‘Are you doing your best?’”

 

Carlos, vice president and general counsel, is a native Virginian with strong roots in the area. His family has been on the same land since the 1750s. According to several Civil War historians, Carlos says they “have the largest single family gravesite of free African Americans who enlisted with the Union in the Civil War.”

 

Making his mother proud, Carlos excelled at a high school that he notes was not very diverse. From football, track and wrestling to serving as student body president, he dabbled in everything.

 

Carlos went on to attend the University of Virginia as an Echols scholar where he majored in African-American studies and American government, with minors in religion and history. “I was interested in the interplay among politics, religion and morality,” he says. “When deciding what is just, we need to consider the outcome, rather than blindly follow a process.” In other words, it’s OK to question procedure.

 

That’s why Carlos enjoys serving as general counsel at Dominion Energy. “If something doesn’t feel right or align with our core values, we challenge it,” he says. “I love participating in that conversation.”

 

After graduating, Carlos had to make the difficult decision of continuing at U.Va. in the School of Law or enrolling in law school at Harvard University. “After talking with my mentors, I decided to stay at U.Va.,” he says. “Virginia is my home.”

 

And it didn’t hurt that he received a full-ride to law school and his (future) wife was planning to continue at U.Va. for medical school.

 

“She was a year behind me,” Carlos says of his wife, Tamara. The two served on student council together—he was student body president and she was a student body representative. “It was a bit of a scandal,” he says with a laugh. “When I found out she was single, I asked her to get a sandwich with me. She said she didn’t have any money, and I told her I’d pay for it. That was 22 years ago and the rest is history.”

 

After finishing law school, Carlos started his career as a lawyer at McGuireWoods in Richmond, where he had completed his summer clerkships. “I was excited to get started,” he says. “I had been a broke student for a long time.”

 

From there, Carlos tried his hand at entrepreneurship, co-founding two businesses that he ran concurrently. He enjoyed being his own boss, so he had to “think hard before taking an offer at Dominion Energy,” he says. “But it was an opportunity to work for a company that I admired, that provided an important public service and gave me better balance, and less time away from the family. I think my wife accepted the offer before I did.”

 

He joined Dominion Energy as a senior counsel in 2007. In 2013, he moved to the Alternative Energy Group to lead a team investing in new energy technologies. Two years later, he was asked to run a fleet of seven power plants. Then, after a brief stint as deputy general counsel, he took his current post as vice president and general counsel in January 2017.

 

“It’s incredibly humbling,” he says. “It’s one of the few jobs that touches every part of the company, everything we do.”

 

Community service was another area where Carlos’s family expected excellence.  As a young boy Carlos’s grandfather would send him to aid neighboring seniors in his community. “I didn’t know much about organized volunteer work back then,” he says. “But my grandfather taught me that if I could help someone less fortunate, I was expected to.” Carlos recalls watching his grandfather give up his seat at the dinner table to make room for an unexpected guest or a neighbor in need. “Those lessons gave me a passion for helping others.”

 

Continuing to serve, Carlos is the proud founding chairman of the company’s African American Employee Resource Group, and currently serves on several boards for local organizations, including the Commonwealth Transportation Board, Richmond Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the Dominion Energy Credit Union, Inc. and FeedMore Inc.

 

And while his career and community service are important to him, Carlos says he will always put family first. “Because I didn’t have a relationship with my dad, I always told myself that when I had kids, I’d make time for them.”

 

When they were finishing graduate school, Carlos married Tamara, now a pediatrician and president of her practice. They have four children, and it’s “no accident” that “C” begins each of their names: Carlos Jr., 16; Charity, 13; Chelsea, 9; and Cari, 7.

 

The Browns live by a mantra that’s displayed around their home—a list of cherished phrases dubbed,

“Brown Family Way to Win.” It’s a compilation of expressions that have been meaningful for Carlos and Tamara—a list to encourage the values they want to pass on. For instance, they often remind their girls, “Save your tears for when you need them.” And to foster excellence, they encourage their kids to “Plan, practice, perform”—in that order.

 

The family is active in their church. “I’m an associate minister, so I preach from time to time,” Carlos says. He also enjoyed coaching Carlos Jr. in little league football for six years. “I’m an avid Cowboys fan—and a U.Va. fan, of course.”

 

And Carlos makes it to every one of his kids’ activities—soccer games, dance recitals, band concerts. “Sometimes that means walking in the back to catch the end,” he says. “But I’m there to hug them at the end.”