Jim Brooks and Dick Haworth: Shared experience and vision nurture enduring friendship

Jim Brooks and Dick Haworth share an enduring friendship distinguished by a history of business success and a commitment to involvement in the greater Holland/Zeeland community.

Friends for more than 60 years, they worked their way up the corporate ladders at Holland-based businesses owned by their families to become leading executives.

Haworth is chairman emeritus at Haworth Inc., a worldwide manufacturer of office furniture systems, while Brooks is chairman of Brooks Capital Management and former CEO at Beverage America.

Friends since childhood

They can trace their friendship back to when they were youngsters attending Hope Church in Holland with their parents.

After joining the family businesses, they nurtured their friendship in numerous meetings to discuss their roles at those companies.

“We met on a number of occasions to talk about the unique challenges and opportunities of being in our positions and how we could help grow our family businesses,” Brooks says. 

Haworth fondly recalls those meetings.

“Those were enjoyable times because we were trying to figure things out together.”

Beginnings in business

Haworth’s father, G.W. Haworth, founded the company in 1948 as Modern Products, which evolved from a maker of wood furnishing for retail displays to a manufacturer of modular office systems known as Haworth Inc.

The younger Haworth joined the company in 1964 as an assistant sales manager. In 1969, he began his climb through the executive ranks while playing a major role in the development of office furniture systems. Those patented innovations served as a catalyst for the company’s status as a global player.

Lakeshore Advantage President Jennifer Owens talks to Jim Brooks (left) and Dick Haworth about their friendship and philanthropy legacy. Photo courtesy Lakeshore AdvantageWhen the Brooks family sold Beverage America in 1998 to Cadbury Schweppes, the company was the nation’s largest independent bottler of flavored drinks, with five plants, 52 distribution centers, and a workforce of 3,000.

The Brooks family bottling dynasty spanned three generations.

Phillip Brooks, Brooks’ grandfather, founded the company in 1934 as a 7-UP bottler and distributor. Brooks’ father, James W. Brooks, directed the company operation from the late 1940s through the mid-1970s. Brooks then assumed the leadership role.

Beyond the family business, Brooks’ community roots run deep. His family tree includes the founding family of Zeeland and an uncle who was the mayor of Holland in the 1920s in the early days of the city’s iconic Tulip Time Festival.

Legacy of philanthropy

Besides their achievements in business, Brooks and Haworth share a legacy of giving back to the community.

The high-profiled philanthropists have made generous donations of not only money but also time in moving the region forward on many fronts—from improving Lake Macatawa water quality to making the community more welcoming through their support of the arts.
They were part of a group that seeded Lakeshore Advantage, an organization that has been key in boosting the region’s economy. The Zeeland-based organization recognized the business leaders with its Visionary Award on Jan. 30. 
The men's latest effort is Future Search 2020, which will bring together a cross-section of residents to create a new strategic planning initiative for the Holland/Zeeland community. (See story)
Their giving has been motivated by a vision for making the world a better place to live, beginning with their own backyard.

Haworth is known for a quote that sums up the passion both men have for helping people live a better life.

“There’s not a thing that you’re doing that you can’t be doing better.”

This article is part of The Lakeshore, a new featured section of Rapid Growth focused on West Michigan's Lakeshore region. Over the coming months, Rapid Growth will be expanding to cover the complex challenges in this community by focusing on the organizations, projects, programs and individuals working to improve conditions and solve problems for their region. As the coverage continues, look for The Lakeshore publication, coming in 2020.