Bob Brown takes helm of Modern Companies

Bob Brown stands in his office at Modern Companies
Bob Brown stands in his office at Modern Companies in Cedar Rapids. He became CEO of the company in October 2022. CREDIT ELEANOR HILDEBRANDT

The third generation of the Brown family is now leading Modern Companies.

Bob Brown began his tenure as the Cedar Rapids company’s CEO in October 2022. His grandfather began Modern Refrigeration, Inc., in 1939. The company has grown since then, under the leadership of Mr. Brown’s father and uncle Dave and Ken Brown. 

One of Mr. Brown’s focuses early in his tenure as CEO is maintaining the positive workspace that was created by his family and other Modern leaders.

“It’s really important to me that it’s a good place to work,” he said. “As we’ve grown, we’ve worked hard to maintain that family business feel, and I want to keep it that way. It’s hard, but we’ve had a lot of generations of families work at Modern over the years, not just the Browns, and that feels really special. To keep it that way as much as we can as we grow and change, it’s important.”

Jason Miller, president of Modern, has worked closely with Mr. Brown as they both became leaders within the company. He said he knows the company and its culture is in good hands under Mr. Brown’s leadership.

“Modern is a family-based company that’s focused on taking care of our fellow Iowans in any way that we can, and Bob’s leadership and focus is keeping us grounded in our roots while serving our community and customers the right way,” Mr. Miller said. “Modern is committed to doing the right thing when it comes to the people we work with, and I have no doubt Bob will continue that. He is a good human being and he cares a lot.”

Diverse experiences blaze the path forward

Mr. Brown joined the ranks of Modern after he graduated from Wartburg College in Waverly with an engineering degree in 2014. His family moved to Denver in 2017 for three years for his wife to pursue a master’s degree. Mr. Brown worked for Apollo Mechanical Contractors and U.S. Engineering as a project engineer and manager while in Colorado.

Upon returning to Cedar Rapids, Mr. Brown began as president of Modern Sheet Metal Inc. in March 2020. After some consolidation and changes within the company, Mr. Brown took over as CEO seven months ago and is working hard to push Modern, and its team, forward. 

“I’ve always known how important effective communication is,” Mr. Brown said. “But it is really hard to do. It’s easy to say you made people feel heard, but to really make people feel heard and have them feel like they are part of the team, because they truly are, is hard. It’s something I’m deliberately working on.”

Ken Brown said Mr. Brown is a jack of all trades and said his time in Colorado gave him the opportunity to learn and improve his leadership skills and Modern’s business techniques. When Bob  Brown returned to the company, Ken Brown said he knew it was time to step down from his CEO position. 

“We believe the best time to turn a family business over to the next generation is when they are ready, not when you are ready,” Ken said. “Bob has been guiding the ship here and learning the ropes and the speed bumps and the successes. He’s really grown at a surprising pace, putting his team in place and setting Modern for success.”

Mr. Miller said Modern’s new CEO has the skills to balance his priorities, especially when it comes to his family. Mr. Miller said he admires Mr. Brown’s ability to focus clearly on the Modern family while on the clock but on his own when he’s off.

Modern companies to expand

The Modern Companies building resides at 500 Walford Road in Cedar Rapids.
The Modern Companies building resides at 500 Walford Road in Cedar Rapids. CREDIT ELEANOR HILDEBRANDT

Modern is currently working to prepare for the next generation, Mr. Brown said, with its strategic plan that aims to bring the company together to prioritize strength and growth over the next decade.

“We’ve had a strategic plan for the past few years to double in revenue in the next 10 years,” Mr. Brown said. “We’re still early in that journey but, with all this change we’ve been going through, we’re laying the foundation for that growth. The next couple of years is really settling into that new structure we’ve been building and growing from there.”

Mr. Miller said the current company vision is to build for the next generation of customers, employees and community. He said Mr. Brown is keenly focused on the importance of the company’s vision for a better future for a variety of people.

Another focus of Mr. Brown’s tenure is to ensure the company continues to give back to its community and its team. Mr. Miller said Mr. Brown is uniquely suited for the CEO position because he values the company’s history and the impact it has had.

“Bob knows he’s a third generation owner and leader of the business, and he does not take that lightly,” he said. “He appreciates the history and all the families who work here at Modern. He wants to do the right thing for them all. He’s a very smart guy, especially this early in this position and in his career, but he develops trust and camaraderie really easily.”

Ken Brown said the company has always worked toward improving the construction and service needs of their clientele, and his nephew is the newest iteration of those goals.

“Integrity is one of our five key core values, and that means we do the right thing all the time, and it’s something that’s required of all of our people,” he said. “Bob will continue that. He has been instrumental in putting forth those core values, and we’re excited about the future and how he puts his team together to bring in all opinions when moving the ball forward. He leads from the front and we are excited for what that means for Modern and our community.”

Mr. Brown said he does not know how long he will remain in the CEO position, but he knows the success of the company is based on the team he has — something he takes to heart. 

“Modern has been lucky to have so many people in the community who have worked here to help make it what it is,” he said. “I’m really appreciative of that and all the families that have been a part of that journey for 84 years. I’m excited to keep it going and continue making it a good place to work while giving back to the community here in Cedar Rapids and across all the other markets.”