Brandon Watkins – 35th Annual Black Excellence Awards Honoree

Corporate Trailblazers

Brandon Watkins

Brandon Watkins is a rare breed—born and raised in Milwaukee and after graduating from Tennessee State University, opted to use his talents at MillerCoors right here in his home town.

A graduate of Homestead High School, Brandon earned a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering, a master’s degree from Keller Graduate School of Management, and he is a certified professional project manager. Throughout high school, he played basketball and, for a year, attended St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin where he played basketball. After a year, he transferred to his parents’ home state of Tennessee to complete his education at Tennessee State University.

“I came from a very nurturing household, living with parents who had high expectations for my brother and me. My brother is a pharmacist and has worked at Walgreen’s for more than 20 years. Growing up, keeping God first, family, learning and developing skills were important traits my parents instilled in us,” he said.

Brandon never had to look far for a role model— his dad, Shelton Watkins—aptly filled that role.

“My father taught me the importance of having a great work ethic. He also helped me to understand and believe that I could do whatever I set my mind to do, if I put in the work. I also admire his ability to communicate and connect with people of diverse backgrounds and perspectives which I try to emulate. For instance, I went from attending predominately Caucasian schools— Homestead High and St. Norbert College—to an HBCU, Tennessee State. This major ethnic and cultural transition was easy, because I watched how my dad interfaced with people and was able to influence and build relationships, and I adapted some of those principles for myself,” he said.

Now with MillerCoors for more than 18 years, Brandon started working in Milwaukee as a corporate electrical engineer. He then moved to Fort Worth, Texas for four years, and to Albany, Georgia for about four years, working in leadership roles in engineering and operations before moving back to Milwaukee seven years ago.

As with anything worth achieving, success doesn’t come without some challenges. Brandon has encountered, faced and overcome his share of challenges.

“Figuring out the right balance of managing senior level resources and new employees in the workforce can be challenging. The ability to adjust styles and communicate differently to get the most out of each employee has always been a focus. In addition, being an African American in the corporate environment—where diversity is limited specifically in the technical side of the brewing industry—comes with challenges. It can be difficult navigating a career and surviving in an environment like this. Building relationships and gaining trust can take longer. I’m one of a few African American technical resources that have a long tenure with the company. Thankfully, I’ve had many mentors throughout my professional career who have lent their insight and guidance to help me understand how to succeed within a corporate environment,” he said.

The upside of being one of few individuals on a technical career path is that Brandon understands the need to groom those coming beside and behind him. To that end, he makes it a point to mentor employees at MillerCoors.

“I know many of the African American employees at MillerCoors—particularly those based in Milwaukee—and even some outside of this state. I try to do my due diligence to mentor and give them the tools they need. It can be a challenge if you don’t know how to maneuver in this dynamic environment. Also, each year, I get involved with the African American Male Initiative through Concordia University. The purpose of the African American Male Initiative is to support young Black men toward higher levels of academic performance in their persistence toward college/trade readiness and completion. For the past four years I have brought 80-100 high school students to MillerCoors’ campus to meet with leaders who provide mentorship and discuss their backgrounds, knowledge and experiences. It’s impactful—not only for the kids— but MillerCoors’ leaders as well,” he said.

Brandon also supports Junior Achievement Day, where MillerCoors employees go into Hopkins- Lloyd Community School and spend a day with students. They cover specific information that the students apply by enhancing their understanding around entrepreneurship, workforce readiness and financial literacy.

MillerCoors also has an African American Employee Network (AAEN), which is an employee resource group that focuses on developing and retaining and African American talent within the organization. In addition, the group shares cultural insights that supports the business and programs that benefit the community. Brandon previously served as the group’s president.

“I want to be a leader who helps others reach their ultimate goals. Throughout my career I’ve observed that if I give my employees the skills and tools they need to grow, develop and deliver results, everything else—from my standpoint—will take care of itself,” he said.

Brandon and his wife of 16 years, Brandy, have three children—Brandon, age 12; Brayden, age 9; and a newborn daughter, Braya. In his downtime, Brandon loves coaching basketball with his son’s team and spending time with youth, helping them develop.

“My younger son, Brayden, has cerebral palsy and he’s really helped me develop and become a better person and leader. When I see his daily struggles working extremely hard on the little things in life that we take for granted, it helps me put things in perspective when I’m going through my challenges. There is nothing to complain about as no challenge is too great if you have the right mindset,” he said.