In an ever-changing and increasingly complex business environment, Marathon Petroleum Corp.'s (MPC) chief audit executive plays a critical role. With a proven track record of leading high performing teams to complete complex audit, compliance, and accounting projects for publicly traded global enterprises, James Brown, Vice President of Audit Assurance & Advisory Services, is well poised for success.
With a passion for change management, enhancing audits’ value and developing those he leads, Brown is focused on positioning the department to guide MPC into the future.
Auditing the Auditor
“I’m a very curious person by nature. I am always looking for new and better ways to do things,” said Brown. “Throughout my life, I have learned to embrace the constant of change, the discomfort that often comes with it, and the positive impact that strategic and thoughtful change can have.”
Brown joined MPC in September of 2021 and has applied that philosophy since.
“In my appointment to the Chief Audit Executive role, I serve as a trusted advisor to the Audit Committee of both the MPC and MPLX Board of Directors, the Executive Leadership Team and various levels of leadership within the organization,” said Brown.
Brown was charged with leading the audit group, a function with deep knowledge and a rich history, through a modernization and transformation initiative that will allow its members to elevate their roles as advisors and support more areas of the business.
The group has set off on this journey, identifying and implementing opportunities to modernize and become more data driven. This includes testing new products and embracing technology – like automation and artificial intelligence – and contemplating new ways of thinking or working. At each step, Brown actively challenges his team to evolve and grow with one goal in mind: providing the ultimate value to MPC.
“My team is seeing the value we can bring to MPC now and in the future, and there’s a lot of excitement around it,” said Brown. “They see the opportunity for professional and personal growth as we continue to explore the roles we play as trusted advisors and business partners across the organization.”
One of these changes included implementing a Center of Excellence (COE) model for MPC’s Commercial organization, providing expertise in audit assurance and advisory services that aligns with Commercial goals and strategies.
Lea Ann Vlasek, Audit Commercial Manager on Brown’s leadership team, sees the value.
“The COE was established in 2022 with a dedicated team, and each member brings specific Commercial experience entirely focused on the Commercial value chain,” said Vlasek, who has been with the company for more than eight years. “I am excited to see the transformative changes that have been implemented and more that are on our horizon.”
The Path to MPC
Brown has more than 20 years of relevant industry financial management experience beyond audit. He is well versed in internal control, risk assessment, merger and acquisition assessment and integration, technology implementations, and financial reporting and analysis.
“I went to college with the dream of starting my own bank,” said Brown. “Accounting came naturally to me and this synergy with the subject matter really helped determine my career path. While I was open to many career options, I was keenly focused on professional success.”
Brown attended Jackson State University and interned with General Motors for only one semester before being quickly hired full time. He concurrently joined the U.S. Army Reserves while maintaining full-time employment and a full class load. He went on to spend 16 years with the military, including serving 14 months overseas during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“My experiences as a veteran strongly influence my leadership style – especially dedication to mission,” said Brown. “One of my favorite leadership books is ‘Leaders Eat Last.’ In the military, officers often eat after the enlisted soldiers. Demonstrating concern for your team in this small way has tremendous impact. If you put your team first, appreciation, respect and trust follow.”
After graduating with an MBA in Accounting, his career took him to Houston, Texas, joining Ernst & Young (EY), where he was invited to enter a technology rotation program. There, as a Product Manager, he led the design of EY’s electronic global audit methodology database (EY GAM) and codifying user requirements.
He later joined BJ Services Company, which was then acquired by Baker Hughes, where he ascended to a Senior Compliance role, managing his first large, non-military team of about 18 professionals engaging on a global scale from Asia to Latin America and the Middle East post the acquisition. Post-acquisition, he served as the Interim Director and led the internal controls team to facilitate integration.
Brown also worked for Direct Energy, Powell Industries and US Well Services before joining MPC. Those experiences brought some of the biggest challenges in his career.
“We exist in a rapidly changing world regarding expertise, demographics, technology and geography. Leading teams through this complicated terrain is a challenge with great reward,” said Brown.
One of Brown’s professional advisors, Odysseus Lanier, Founding Partner, Management Advisory/Consulting Practice Leader at McConnell Jones, the second largest African American-owned CPA firm in the U.S., worked with Brown when he was with Powell Industries.
“James is very thoughtful, strategic and decisive,” said Lanier. “Those are excellent traits when it comes to gaining the trust of a team. Your team must know that you listen to their input and are interested in their development. You must do what you say you are going to do in a decisive manner.”
Lanier said he knew Brown would succeed because he had a vision, discipline and focus. Brown now tells those he advises who are looking to grow their careers to be authentic, lead with integrity and embrace a curious mindset. As a future-oriented thinker, he strongly believes people should lean into the technological advances relevant to their work.
Beyond the Auditor
Outside of his work, Brown focuses on his family, including his wife of 19 years Aabha and his three children, a daughter and two sons. He believes positive change happens first on the local level, which led him to volunteer as a youth sports coach with the YMCA, serve on the boards of the Hobby Area District, one of Houston’s municipal districts, and his neighborhood homeowners association. He also signs up for volunteer opportunities with his teams to demonstrate the importance of community service.
“I strive to be a servant leader in all aspects of my life,” said Brown. “By modeling the principles of empowerment, humility, compassion and empathy, I have witnessed positive and sustainable impact on professional teams, within my military unit and in my personal life. Even as we work and live in a dynamically changing environment, these principles illuminate my path as a leader.”