For Ethan Brown ’08, the journey to disrupting the meat industry began with his childhood, which he split between an urban life in Washington, DC and his family’s Holstein cattle farm in rural Maryland. The connection to animals and the food system informed his innovative idea.
After a successful career in clean technology, Brown began to feel disconnected from his upbringing.
“It started to really manifest itself when I had to make choices for my own children,” Brown says.
“I can remember being on the Jersey Turnpike and stopping to get something to eat with [my children] at Subway. I was ordering a ham sandwich or something for the kids. And here we had these pigs we kept as pets — and the whole thing just got to be ‘Wait, my life is not making sense to me.’ I needed to make a change.”
After that epiphany, Brown founded Beyond Meat, a company that produces 100-percent plant-based products with the taste and texture of meat. Brown’s vision for the future of protein is one which improves human health, reduces the environmental strains caused by meat production, and addresses animal welfare concerns.
The success of Beyond Meat — now found in more than 20,000 stores nationwide, always in the meat aisle rather than the “alternative” protein case — relies on “relentless innovation.”
“We want to innovate so fast that when people try to replicate they’re chasing ghosts,” says Brown.
Brown fosters this innovation by letting go of ego and surrounding himself with experts, something he learned from the Oracle of Omaha himself.
“I try as hard as I can to surround myself with people who I think are better than I am at what they’re doing,” he says. “And that’s a tried and true axiom. It really makes sense. And that comes back to Columbia. What does Buffett say about great businesses? It’s management.”
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