For nearly 18 years, Ken Brown's main concern with his career had been finding ways to make such modern day staples as Jello, Post Cereals and Bird's Eye vegetables more attractive to consumers.
He had moved steadily upward in the world of marketing sales management with General Foods, and when the company was purchased by Philip Morris in the mid-1980s, and merged with a later Philip Morris acquisition, Kraft Foods, Mr. Brown found himself one of the few black people in senior management.
Then his promising and rewarding career ran smack into a moral dilemma.
"I was given an opportunity to go to Miller Brewing, which is also a subsidiary of Philip Morris. But what was unbeknown to them was that my wife's father was an alcoholic, and had been since his service in World War II.
"And then, number two, my assignment at Miller Brewing would have been to penetrate the black Hispanic and youth college market.
"Now I'm not one of these goody-two-shoes people, but that did it. That was counter to what I wanted to do.
"So after a lot of soul searching ("and a great opportunity to walk out of the company with some decent money," he adds with a laugh) I decided it would be a good time to leave."
Immediately after resigning from General Foods in 1989, Mr. Brown achieved one of his long-time aspirations by going into business for himself as a marketing consultant. But he soon discovered that getting business was a lot easier than getting paid what was owed him.
So he dusted off his resume and began to pursue another long dormant ambition -- employment with a minority-owned company.
"I asked myself what would happen if a minority-owned company would hire someone with my skills. How could I impact them? It's not all altruistic, because I'm in it for the money as well. But $30-million companies cannot afford blacks with 18 years' experience in major corporations with national responsibilities. You have the golden handcuffs on. Well, they were off, and I could think freely."
After receiving several offers, Mr. Brown chose Parks Sausage Company, and began working at the firm's Park Heights headquarters as director of marketing in December 1990.
At Parks, he found a culture much different from that of his prior employer, much more entrepreneurial in spirit, more sales-oriented, more demanding in terms of setting priorities and cutting through the red tape, Mr. Brown says.
He had to adjust to the fact that his boss, Raymond Haysbert, Parks chairman of the board and president, was also the owner, a man who, Mr. Brown says, feels personally responsible for the ongoing employment of the Parks Sausage Co. family.
Mr. Brown recently was promoted to vice president of marketing and sales, a position formed by the merger of two departments.
"In a company this size, marketing and sales have to breathe in a harmonious fashion. There can be no division between them. Fortunately for me, at Kraft/General Foods I went through a program where I was placed in sales and marketing management at various levels," he says. His sales management experience has been invaluable for him at Parks, Mr. Brown says.