Leah Brown is the president of the Jacksonville Chapter of NABA, moved to Florida from St. Kitts as a child.
By Hilary Reeves
Shoreside Logistics Controller Leah Brown moved to Miami from the Caribbean Island of St. Kitts when she was nine years old. The youngest of six siblings, the family moved on the heels of her eldest brother’s decision to attend college in the United States.
“My parents made a big life decision based on an immediate family need,” Brown said of her parent’s decision to emigrate.
Brown and her siblings were so close in age – they’d be attending college virtually one right after the other.
“My parents thought it was the best decision for the family,” she said. “They thought there were better opportunities for us here.”
Back in the Caribbean, Brown’s father was a radio broadcaster for a Christian radio station. Her mother worked at a bank. After the family’s move to Miami, the search for new career paths began.
“We only had one car, and my brothers needed it to get to work, so my dad would walk from our house to different businesses looking for work,” she said. “He finally got a job at an auto-parts store and worked his way up, then he got into insurance and eventually retired from the insurance industry. My mom got a job at the department store Woolworth’s, and then at a print shop, but ultimately retained a job as a bookkeeper at her church where she recently retired. All this so my brothers, sisters, and I could get a quality education and more opportunities. We all knew from an early age that education was very important.”
Changing direction in Jacksonville
Brown’s first love was computer programming.
“Before going off to college, the only thing I didn’t know how to do was type. My senior year of high school, I took an aggressive typing and shorthand class. But once I started taking computer programing classes at FIU, I think it was Pascal or Cobol…there was a programming language that just didn’t compute,” she laughed.
Brown changed direction and completed a Bachelor of Arts in Accounting with a minor in Finance at Florida International University (FIU). Her college internship at a travel agency was instrumental in finding her love of accounting, and it sealed the deal.
“Everything I had going on at the time seemed to point me toward finance and accounting,” she said.
After graduating from FIU, Brown married and moved from Miami to Jacksonville to pursue her MBA at the University of North Florida while working at the St. Joe Paper Co. She later joined Flagler Development, a commercial real estate office, where she worked in accounting for almost a decade before landing at CSX Transportation in 2005.
“I worked there for more than 10 years, in the Controller’s group,” she said. “It was a great experience. CSX is such a well-established company, there were several opportunities for various process improvement projects. I was able to do my day job and go into the field and work with operations. The process improvement fieldwork experience was invaluable and aligns with my job at Shoreside.”
After interviewing at Shoreside “I just knew I wanted to work here,” she said. “I immediately called my recruiter. It’s just such a great fit with my personality and skill set, and the leadership exudes great character.”
‘Lifting as we climb’
Brown joined Shoreside on Oct. 1, 2018. Her objective – beyond her meticulous controller duties – is to better connect everyone to the company’s overall goals.
“Finance is not always fun,” she said. “Having people reporting to me who want to be there and do their jobs well is very important to me. One of our greatest accomplishments has been getting our financial statements down to a granular level. Managers are now seeing their individual responsibility to the bottom line. We’ve worked toward adding those accountability sections, having consistent forecast meetings, consistent recap meetings – we’re forward-looking now, not so much reactive.”
And the community of Jacksonville is taking note of Brown’s pioneering ways. She was honored by the Women’s Center of Jacksonville with an “Unsung Sheroes” award at the Center’s recent Women, Words & Wisdom event.
“I was truly excited,” she said. “I didn’t know until a week or two out that I was actually a recipient. Every woman who came across the stage – were humbled. It was humbling. These women’s contributions cut across so many career paths – it’s kind of like you’re part of a sorority of women who are trying to do good in the world.”
Doing good is paramount to Brown. A member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority for 25 years, her community service work includes her 10-year involvement with the Jacksonville Professional Chapter of the National Association of Black Accountants. She sat on the organization’s Board for years before becoming vice president and now this year, she was elected president.
“Our vision and mission are ‘lifting as we climb,’” she said. “I’m most proud of the mentorship program we started last year between professional members of our chapter and students at UNF. This year, our chapter helped to start a student chapter at Jacksonville University as well.”
‘Hard work isn’t an option’
Brown has been married to her husband Richard for 23 years and the couple has two daughters, Alyssa and Courtney. Alyssa is set to graduate from high school later this month.
“She’ll be attending a university in Florida where she’ll study veterinary medicine and play volleyball,” said Brown. Her youngest plays Club Soccer, and the pair keeps Brown and her husband busy with sports year-round. Add a rescue pit bull Tilly to the mix, and Brown’s family is complete.
“My dad and my mom and two of my brothers reside in Miami,” she said. “The rest of us are sprinkled throughout. It’s been a journey, but I’m just so grateful to my parents for their sacrifices, and I’m looking forward to my future at Shoreside. I live by a great quote: ‘When you live for a strong purpose, then hard work isn’t an option, it’s a necessity.’”