Intellectual Ventures President Adriane Brown on Global Impact, Benefits of Being Uncomfortable, and “Positive Change Through People”

Adriane Brown was the CEO of Honeywell Transportation Systems, based in the Los Angeles area, when she got a call from a headhunter last year. The next thing she knew, she was talking with Intellectual Ventures, the Bellevue, WA, company focused on the business of invention. One thing led to another, and Brown is now the president and chief operating officer at Intellectual Ventures, helping run the daily operations of the 600-strong firm led by co-founder and CEO Nathan Myhrvold.

Brown admits she was an outsider to the company, and new to its whole concept of supporting inventors, and investing in both new and existing inventions and patents. In fact, her outside perspective is probably one of her strengths. Brown says that when she first looked into Intellectual Ventures as a place to work, she thought, “This company has done something unique and could have a huge impact on the world.”

In her new role, Brown has responsibilities in “all of the key functions across the company,” she told me recently. She has about 10 direct reports, and the biggest adjustment for her has probably been the transition to a smaller, private company. But that transition seems to be going fine. “I just love this job. It is exactly as advertised,” Brown says. “It is a neat addition to my career.”

Brown’s experience is both broad and deep. She spent 19 years at Corning (NYSE: GLW), the materials and manufacturing giant, where she rose from the rank of shift supervisor to vice president and general manager of environmental products, and became an expert in the automotive industry. She then moved to AlliedSignal, which acquired Honeywell (NYSE: HON) in 1999 (the merged company is called Honeywell). There, she distinguished herself in the aerospace sector, becoming president and chief executive of Honeywell Transportation Systems, a $5 billion business unit. Before all of that, Brown studied environmental health at Old Dominion University (where she later received an honorary doctorate in humane letters) and got a master’s degree in management at the MIT Sloan School of Management as a Sloan Fellow.

I recently had a chance to speak with Brown and hear about her first 100 days on the job. She started on January 1, and this was, to my knowledge, her first media interview since joining. We didn’t have time to drill down into new details of the company’s strategy, but I got the sense that she is both a process person and a people person, and that she brings a unique worldview to Intellectual Ventures’ leadership. Here are some condensed and edited highlights from our conversation:

Xconomy: You talked about having impact on the world. Can you give some examples of how your background fits with Intellectual Ventures’ broad vision?

Adriane Brown: My undergraduate degree was in environmental health. Over time, as I spent a number of years at Corning, I rose to lead the catalytic converter business. While it was the automotive industry, we were incorporating a technology that makes a difference in the world. When I traveled to Third World countries, the first thing I noticed was the pollution.

After Corning, I was looking to be uncomfortable. I find it exciting to step into a situation … Next Page »

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