James W. Brown2

The Last Word

Illustration by Alex Fine

Q&A With Hershey Company Board Member James W. Brown ’76

Brown is a board member of The Hershey Company, Hershey Trust Company and The Milton Hershey School.

How did you make the leap early in your career from law to private equity, then to the Hill?

My career has taken a circuitous path. Right after school, I worked for a congressional committee, then joined a Philadelphia law firm. When my partner at the firm, Bob Casey, was elected governor of Pennsylvania, he chose me to be a Cabinet member and, later, his chief of staff. After our terms ended, I joined a fledgling venture capital firm that grew substantially during the 12 years I was there. When Bob Casey Jr. was elected to the U.S. Senate, he asked me to be his chief of staff. These days, I sit on some corporate and nonprofit boards, and recently was a member of President Biden’s transition team. If there is an overall theme to all this, it is walking through doors when they open up. 

What did you learn from your time as Sen. Bob Casey’s chief of staff in terms of working toward compromise?

Compromise is possible—sometimes. I helped negotiate the appointment of federal judges with the other Pennsylvania U.S. senator and the White House counsel’s office during the George W. Bush and Obama administrations. We were able to get 19 District Court and three Third Circuit judges confirmed, all by agreement, with blue slips from both senators. On the other hand, I also worked on Obamacare, which would not have been done except by party line vote. 

What do you feel your legacy from working in politics is? Any advice for working across the aisle today? 

In the governor’s office, I am particularly proud of helping to strengthen many of the state environmental laws and enacting the first Children’s Health Insurance Program in the U.S. In the Senate office, as I mentioned, federal judges and Obamacare. And no one who worked for us ever got in trouble. As to working across the aisle, in many ways, personal relationships are the oil needed to keep the engine of government from overheating.  

You are chair of an oversight board created to prevent future abuse of children in a Catholic diocese. What have you learned? 

I was asked by the diocese and the investigating U.S. attorney to chair a newly created board overseeing the implementation of reforms, policies and procedures to make sure that previous scandals and cover-ups never happen again. Had these reforms been in place 20 or 30 years ago, I don’t believe most of the abuses would have taken place. 

You have a history of nonprofit leadership that helps children. What’s one highlight you’d like to share? 

I now sit on the boards of the Milton Hershey School and the Hershey Trust Company. We recently launched a new $350 million initiative to build and run six free early childhood education and development centers for low-income children throughout Pennsylvania. 

You have the last word. What do you want to say? 

To my fellow alums and especially to current UVA Law students, spend some of your career in public service. You’ll get paid a fraction of your law firm compensation, but you’ll get much more responsibility much sooner. It will be satisfying and fun, and it might be good for your soul. 

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