Jack Brown was born in 1940 in San Bernardino County, California. He was an only child whose father, a chief deputy sheriff, died when Brown was eight. His mother, a sales clerk, made less than $15 a week. To earn a little extra, she took in alterations. Watching her work six days a week taught Brown an early lesson about working hard to get ahead.
At age 10, Brown started mowing lawns and delivering newspapers; at 13, he began working at a grocery store. Soon, his diligence gave him more responsibility at the store, where he worked throughout high school. Brown attended San Jose State University on a football scholarship, but after two broken legs, he decided against pursuing a career in football. Instead, he returned home and enrolled in business classes at University of California, Los Angeles. He served with the U.S. Navy for two years and then went to work for a local grocery outlet, Sage's Complete Shopping.
By the time Brown was 28, he was the youngest vice president in Sage's history; he then took on other jobs of increasing responsibility with several other supermarket companies. In 1981, he returned to his hometown of San Bernardino as president and CEO of Stater Bros. Markets.
In 1993, the California Grocers Association named Brown Executive of the Year and gave him its Hall of Achievement Award for a lifetime of dedication to the grocery industry. In 2001 and again in 2004, he was voted America's Retailer of the Year. Stater Bros. became California's largest privately owned discount supermarket chain and one of the largest supermarket chains in the country.
Brown kept a plaque on his desk that stated: "The time to be happy is now, the place to be happy is here, and the way to be happy is to help someone else." He conducted his daily life on that basis and counted a day successful if he helped others within his company or community. "Leaders are chosen, not appointed, by those with whom they work each day," he said. "It is a high compliment when the people you work with put their shoulder to your wheel."
Brown said the Horatio Alger Award was the most outstanding honor ever bestowed on him. "Receiving this award has inspired me to do even more to assist others in pursuing their higher education goals," said Brown, who gave generously to California State University at San Bernardino.
When talking with youth, Brown's advice was simple and direct: "Respect your parents, your family, and those around you, and you will learn to respect yourself. Think big, love God, and work hard!"