Paying It Forward

Adriane Brown is the president and COO of Intellectual Ventures, a business that focuses on funding the creation and development of new inventions. In this role, she leads an organization of more than 650 employees worldwide with a focus on developing leaders and emerging talent. But she doesn’t merely invest her time in monetizing ideas. Brown’s passion outside of work is mentoring women and girls from all walks of life, aiming to develop leadership skills, and she also serves on the board of directors for Jobs for America’s Graduates, a high school dropout prevention program. In 2009, Brown was named one of Black Enterprise magazine’s 100 Most Powerful Executives in Corporate America, and in 2006, she was named one of Fortune’s Women to Watch. Recently, Brown spoke with Diversity Executive magazine.

Describe your career progression leading to your position at Intellectual Ventures.
I started my professional career as a shift supervisor in an electronics manufacturing plant in North Carolina. There, I learned the power and impact of having a motivated and committed team around you. After working in manufacturing for four years, I worked in sales and customer service and then entered into a GM role.

At that point, I realized my love for business, but recognized that I needed more knowledge in areas like marketing and finance. I knew this was important in order to expand in business leadership roles, so I pursued a master’s degree in business. My experience as a Sloan Fellow at MIT opened up the world of business in ways that I only dreamed about. It was there that I fully appreciated what it meant to be a leader at the top and that I wanted to be one.

I went on to work in nontraditional industries for a woman, leading several automotive and aerospace businesses before joining Intellectual Ventures, where my love of business, innovation and technology came together yet again in a dream job.

What are the biggest challenges for corporate leaders right now?
The biggest challenges I see right now all point to our need for top talent in today’s fast-paced market. For Intellectual Ventures, this means great people with STEM and problem-based learning backgrounds.

If you play in the tech arena, you have to be concerned about the pipeline of talent. This is why I am an active supporter of STEM initiatives. The data says we will have a big problem in the not too distant future, which is why we must grow the numbers of STEM graduates.
It is on all of us to inspire, mentor and encourage our young people toward STEM careers.

What tips do you have for female leaders trying to make it to the top?
Here are five things I’ve learned the good old-fashioned way:

1. Let your work speak the loudest. Do more than is expected.
2. Get comfortable being uncomfortable. Don’t get complacent.
3. Listen. Suspend judgment and truly listen.
4. Be quick to give credit to others and be willing to accept blame and move on.
5. Be a mentor in your environment. See that spark in others and invest time in it.

I want to touch on that last point because mentorship is so important and it doesn’t have to be time consuming. Last February, I participated in a panel discussion at the Ernst & Young roundtable honoring Black History Month. There are so many possibilities for young people these days, but sometimes they need someone to remind them of what is possible. And girls need to see other women in leadership roles so they feel supported as they begin their journey. I had several people come up to me afterward to say how the panel made a difference for them. For me, that was energizing and motivating.

Jennifer Kahn is a former editorial intern at Diversity Executive magazine. She can be reached at editor@diversity-executive.com.