Featured Kevin Brittingham – The Original Honey Badger Rob Curtis May 16, 2016 RECOIL Talks With One of the Loudest Voices in the Quiet Revolution Kevin Brittingham doesn't care if you read this. He doesn't care if he comes off as a saint or an a**hole. He's going to do his own thing. He'll be the first one to tell you he's a mixture of both of those attributes. No matter what, he's always motivated by two primal urges: love and a deeply primitive sense of competitiveness. The 42-year-old multimillionaire started selling guns when he was in high school, opened an NFA shop selling silencers, and then incorporated Advanced Armament Corporation when he was 19. His marketing prowess mated with an uncanny sense of innovation alone would get him going in the right direction. But, his nose for talent and a relentless drive to prove everyone who may have doubted him wrong all combined to make him the Sun King in a firearms industry run by powder-wigged nobility who wouldn't know cool if it were a rapier against their collective throat. And, it was. He spent 16 years growing AAC into a money and tax stamp printing machine when Brittingham sold his baby to Remington Arms Company in late 2009. AAC was the coolest company in the firearms industry, hosting parties at SHOT Show with Mini Kiss (a dwarf Kiss tribute band) and inspiring silencer aficionados to tattoo the brand on their bodies in return for a free can. Brittingham in 1992. He came from humble beginnings. His fashion sense would develop in tandem with his ability to influence the firearm industry. Brittingham sold his company for nearly $18 million in a can't-beat-them, join-them (and-beat-them-from-the-inside) move. The problem was the suits at Remington wanted the cachet Brittingham brought, especially his contacts in SOCOM, but they got more than they bargained for. The whole story is laid bare in court documents you can find online. Let's just say that signing off on the cost of a (kick-ass) Star Wars Tie-Fighter themed conference room wasn't something that washes down with a two-martini lunch. Brittingham was airlocked in a way that would save Remington from paying nearly half of what the company agreed to pay him for AAC, but the strategy backfired and Brittingham was paid, with interest. He may have won the fight with Big Green, but he didn't walk away clean. The battle sidelined him from the work he loved for a couple of years, it took years off his life, and likely set the wheels of divorce in motion. Once released from non-compete purgatory, Brittingham settled into a new home with SIG SAUER in New Hampshire. The Americanized European gun company was growing fast and had just invested in a brand-new manufacturing facility that was probably the most modern firearm factory in the country. The company wanted silencers and military contracts, something Brittingham could bring. In return, he wanted back into the industry with his own handpicked team of all-stars and the resources to do what Remington wouldn't let him do — make the best silencers in the world. Alas, the second time wasn't the charm. Brittingham became frustrated by the politics and bureaucracy he perceived at SIG. The breakup wasn't nearly as ugly as the one with Remington. But, when he was walked out of the office this past winter, a handful of SIG's key talent walked with him to start his new venture, Q. That tells us Brittingham might be a royal pain in the ass to manage, but you don't endear that kind of loyalty without being right about a few things. We sat down with Brittingham for a bit at Q's offices. Brittingham took this mule deer in west Texas in 2014. Brittingham spent considerable time hunting while sidelined from the industry. RECOIL: Was AAC your first business? Kevin Brittingham: The first company was originally called SubGun before it went corporate. In '97, I started manufacturing cyclic rate reducers for the M16. It was a Max Atchisson design. I named the company Advanced Armament Corporation. How many of those do you think you made? KB: Enough to buy a house. Did the military buy them? KB: No. Small quantities, but never anything other than a sole source contract. No, we never got the reliability 100 percent. Was there a lesson you learned from the M16 cyclic rate reducer that you apply to designing and manufacturing other products? KB: Don't compromise. Don't cut corners. It's a little easier now that I have a lot of financial resources and I didn't then. A great thing of not having debt is, if I say we're going to have this in 12 months, and in 12 months we're 85 percent of the way there and we can release it, and it's still something that's going to be profitable and make money, or we work another six months and it's 100 percent and we change the world, and I'm going to make $2 million less money, that's what we're going to do. That's success to me. Not having to compromise in any regard. Were you into firearms from early on? KB: No. I didn't grow up with guns. At that point, I had gotten into them. Essentially, in my late teens, I shot a gun when I was maybe 17 for the first time and then at 19. Just kind of a random happenstance and shot an MP5SD and, of course, fell in love with it immediately and didn't understand why every gun didn't have a silencer. Brittingham confers with Lynsey Thompson in AAC's plant in 2009. Thompson was AAC's operations manager and one of Brittingham's closest friends at the time. Can you remember the day you thought this could be your future? KB: I remember the day I realized I liked girls. I was watching TV at my parents' house and two shows back to back. One was Wonder Woman and the other was Buck Rogers, the one with Princess Ardala. That was the day, and I remember … I didn't even know what cleavage was, I was probably like 5 or 6 years old, and thinking, “I don't know why, but I want that.” I had the same feeling when I shot that MP5SD. I shot the first round, and I thought the bullet got stuck in the barrel. We were shooting at a still target maybe 75, 80 meters. Then, I heard it impact the steel. I was like, “What?!” It seemed so simple, like I'm about to be a billionaire. Why wouldn't you just put these on every gun? So, I've gone through the last 22 years trying to sell some of those products. Everything made sense to me and I was going to put a silencer on every gun and every soldier one day would have one. What would you tell yourself if the older you were standing next to you that day? KB: I think, looking back at that guy, I would say, “This is the future.” I don't know if other things come to mind. Sometimes you just need bigger balls. Are your balls big enough now? You drive a Lamborghini. KB: Yeah. That's not a compensation thing. I think given our industry especially, we're an industry of tiny balls. I'm pretty bold. I think I'm pretty confident. I'm not afraid of confrontation. I'm not afraid of losing. Well, I'm definitely afraid of losing. But, I'm not afraid of failing. Brittingham was a Top 20, nationally ranked, factory BMX racer for Blazer and Redline bikes from age 6 through 12. Why buy a Lamborghini instead of a Ferrari? KB: Because I can. I would say a Ferrari is a cute car for your woman, or if you're over 60 and you starch your shirts and you crease your jeans. Then it's a cute car. Do you own lots of firearms? KB: I probably have a bigger gun collection than almost anyone in the world. It's 2,000 guns. Pick one gun. KB: The M4. I think the MCX could have been my choice, but I think SIG cut corners. I'm very disappointed in that. I kill a lot of stuff every year. I use 300 Blackout, and I use the AR platform for the most part. I don't think it's the greatest cartridge ever. It's just like if you want a .30-caliber cartridge in the M4 that feeds from the magazine that gives you the power, then it's the best cartridge. Do I prefer to shoot sh*t with a .308? Yeah, but then you got a bigger, heavier gun. I'm kind of a pussy. I like carrying a light gun. I hike the mountains. I climb trees. I enjoy whatever gives the guys an advantage. I took .260 to SOCOM six years ago. Now they're adopting it. I saw you could make a .260 SR25, or AR-10, whatever you want to call it, a pound heavier than an M4 and you can shoot to 1,000 yards, and it has half the recoil and flatter trajectory, and it's less effected by wind. Brittingham drives a Lamborghini Huracan as a marketing and recruiting tool for his new company Q. His other car is a pickup truck. What actor would you want to portray you in a movie? KB: I've never thought of it. I don't know. It wouldn't be like a pretty boy. It definitely wouldn't be Ben Affleck. See, the thing is if I were richer, or I were smarter, or I were more articulate, whatever the combination of things would be, I wouldn't have the personality and attitude that I do. I tell you what, it's everybody that's going to work with me who's smarter and more capable than me, but they're just not as confident or willing to risk. Some of that is you have to go overboard. I want to employ every smart 27-year-old kid in the industry who wants to change the world. Do I drive a Lamborghini to impress girls, or do I do that because I want every 27-year-old kid to say, “I want to work with him because that's the f*cking car I want?” Did your goals change after becoming a millionaire? KB: I tell you, what I was doing at 30 is no different than what I'm doing right now. I've been fortunate; I've been very lucky. I deal with those guys at Remington and SIG where you have people above you who don't make as much money as you and they're envious because they're a slave to the bank or whoever, and to their bonus. They wear a suit, they drive a BMW, and I go to board meetings in flip-flops and shorts. They find it insulting. I don't f*cking care. I want to be successful. They want everybody to be like them. I don't need anybody else here like me. We don't need two people alike. Brittingham revels in his new role as president of SIG's new silencer division. What are you scared of? KB: I'm scared of letting people down who believe in me. When was the last time you cried? KB: Maybe two days ago. Probably about my kids. You look like you're about to cry right now. You feeling all right? KB: Yeah, I'm good. You just made me start thinking about my kids, and what I've put them through. You shoot with your kids? What's the most important thing you want to pass on to your kids about firearms? KB: Safety is number one. You don't get a second chance, so you respect it as something that can kill you. That's a number-one thing to me. Then, to me it's something I can do with my children. We all hunt together. All four of us hunt together all the time. It's a way we provide food for our family. It's a way we harvest deer on our farm to manage the deer. We pick deer out to shoot for that purpose. We shoot targets. It's something we can do together 'till we're old. It's something we can enjoy our entire lives together. Where we can't do that with football or whatever, hunting and shooting we can. Brittingham with his children, Aiden, Reese and Ryan atop Mount Washington, in New Hampshire during the summer of 2015. How many kids do you have? KB: I have three children. I have a 12 year-old-boy, a 10-year-old girl, and a 9-year-old girl. Aidan Maxim. Maxim, because he invented the machine gun and the silencer. Reese Maddox and Ryan Madsen. Madsen, after the 1950s CIA submachine gun. OK, so what about Reese? What was she named after? KB: Reese … I just liked it as a girl's name. And, she's mad cause she's not named after a gun. What do you get out of hunting? KB: I like to kill sh*t. If you want a simple answer, there it is. It's like, I don't know, it's a small part of my brain. I think it's where I'm competitive. I hear it from the guys who I work with all the time, if you could have chosen a different path in life, you probably would have been successful there too. I like taking souls, what do I say? You're competitive. KB: I like to kill. That started with getting real-life testing on stuff we were trying to develop, whether it's white tail deer or me hunting pigs, they're about the size of men. I get people at high levels at SOCOM who would talk sh*t to me about 300 Blackout, and then I realize, they've never killed any f*cking thing in their life. I'm not over in Iraq and Afghanistan shooting dudes, but I can go kill stuff here, and I can do autopsies, and I can tell you what the f*ck a bullet does. I think, then, learning to shoot long range, and I think with the stress of the last five or six years, it's kind of been an outlet. It's a rare time that I have solitude. And then also I like killing big animals. It's just what I like. I like to bow hunt, I like hunting with guns. I eat the stuff. You know, I'm kind of a stereotype of why people who are anti-hunting hate it. I f*cking love to kill stuff. I don't mind managing populations. I do it responsibly at my places, but a lot of places the farm hand kills all that needs to be managed. I do that. Clearly, Brittingham valued winning from an early age. What about silencers versus suppressors? What do you call them? KB: I don't give a f*ck. I call it silencers because that's what the dude who invented it called it. He patented the firearm silencer, not the firearm suppressor. If you fly to the moon and you plant the flag, you get to f*cking name it. If your balls are that big, or you're that smart. That's what I call it. The dude who invented it named it. Give him props. What's the most important constitutional right? KB: Tough question. Right now, I would say the First. I think freedom of speech is probably most important. I think the Second Amendment is obviously important to all of us. I think, without the First you're not getting the Second. Sometimes I feel like it's the other way. There's probably truth to both. Do you have a lot of friends in the industry? KB: Yeah, Trey Knight has been one of my best friends for 20 years. His dad is a mentor of mine. Johnny Noveske certainly was. I loved him a lot. Who do you look up to in the firearm industry? KB: When I think of people who I respect in the gun industry, Reed Knight always comes to mind first. Reed Knight supported [soldiers] when they started. I honor all soldiers. Anybody who serves this nation deserves that, but when you talk about the real tip of the spear, where half of them end up dead, or severely wounded … Supporting those guys, I get a huge satisfaction out of it. From a selfish perspective, they also drive innovation. There wouldn't be a LaRue Tactical if there weren't groups that gave him every product they wanted him to make. Mark LaRue and I do not see eye to eye on most things, but I honor him because of the support he's giving those guys, and that he built a really good product. Reed Knight, he did that. But then he took it to the next level. He started coming to these organizations with products that they didn't even know they needed. And that's how Reed Knight became a billionaire. Moving on to AAC, I think that's how the honey badger, and the LVAW came about. The MCX, why 300 Blackout exists. Brittingham will tell you surrounding himself with talented people, such as Ethan Lessard, Q's vice president of engineering, is critical to his ability to succeed. Where did it start going wrong at AAC? The transition to a Remington brand didn't go well. KB: Well, we grew 50 to 100 percent a year for eight years. I don't think it really went wrong. Silencers were still a stepchild in the industry. I needed to make it legitimate. No matter how right I was, still before I sold [the company], Guns and Weapons for Law Enforcement magazine wouldn't consistently put silencers on the cover, because they were sold in grocery stores across America. I knew to sell a silencer company to a conservative gun company would make them legitimate, and that's what I did. The problem was I sold to Remington. Remington was part of Freedom Group. They owned maybe 14 companies in our industry at the time. Us and maybe DPMS were making money. Everybody else was sucking. They got to where they hired Bob Nardelli who, MSNBC ranked as one of the worst CEOs of all time. He became my boss. When I sold to Remington, the first year was great. They left us alone, we were autonomous. I ran stuff. We had a 60 percent margin. We were growing 100 percent a year. You cannot dream of that in anything outside of maybe technology or dealing drugs. My second phone conversation [with him] he says, “Kevin, I'm proud of what of what you're doing. You guys are doing great. You're growing. You've got a healthy margin. You're at 58.5 percent. What I need you to tell me, is how do I get you to 65 percent?” It really pissed me off and I made an enemy of Bob Nardelli that day, because I said, “Mr. Nardelli with all due respect. We're growing 100 percent a year at a 58.5 percent margin and your first question is how do we go to 65 percent margin. Why isn't your first question, how we get to 200-percent growth?” The problem with cutting cost is, that's not growing a company, that's not generating income. The problem with an entrepreneur, or visionary is, when you tell me we need to make more money, my initial thought is we have to create more product, we have to create more demand, and we have to create something that people will give us more money for. It never occurs to me to cut cost. That's a lot of trust, Trey Knight. Reed “Trey” Knight, III and Brittingham have been close friends for many years. What was it like getting led out of your own company? KB: They lead me out of the building with a bunch of people, plain clothes with guns. They had guns out of the holster. They were trying to make a point. They led me out of the building, I think not as much for me, but the way the office was set up was not too different from here. They had plainclothes guys with guns and they bring everybody up front in front of my office, which was all glass, which they led me out of the building and then they tossed my sofa and everything. Said they can't tell anyone what I did, but that I was no longer with the company. They make it look like they're looking for drugs, whatever. It's just f*cking despicable. I think part of it was intimidation, because they knew a lot of the employees were loyal to me and would've left. Good move on their part. What did you do for two-and-a-half years? KB: For two-and-a-half years I was preparing for the court date. I hunted. I took my kids to school every day. I tried to make up for a lot of sh*t that I missed. How did it affect your personal life? KB:I think it hurt a lot. I think it took years off of my parents, probably me, probably cost me my family. Anything you're really proud of accomplishing at AAC? KB: Yesterday was the official day that 300 Blackout became a legitimate thing in the armed forces. Despite Remington not believing in it. I think we thought of it sitting around in shorts and flip-flops, probably drinking beer, and it was forward thinking. One of Brittingham's most inspired projects wilted on the vine after his departure from Remington. AAC's Honey Badger project would eventually fail to reach the market while SIG's MCX, a competing product, would flourish. Was it ever your intention to make a company that would ask people to tattoo your brand on their bodies? KB: I forgot about that. It's like… I love guns, but the industry is f*cking horrible, run by a bunch of people I don't like. A bunch of 60-year-old suits who I don't relate to. I didn't grow up rich. My parents weren't executives anywhere. I didn't understand so it just hit me one day when I was 30. It's like half of my customers are younger than I am. They all loved the sh*t I loved. Tony Hawk, skateboarding, X Games, motocross. I go to Super Cross every year. I just admire that sh*t. How are you motivated by your experiences at Remington and SIG? KB: Oh, it totally motivates me. I'm a bully, and I'm an a**hole, and I'm the youngest. My dad frickin bare-knuckle fought when I was a kid. I come from mean people, and I'm the youngest. The motivation of showing them that I was right and that I can do it, and be successful, it far overshadows my fear of having failures. Can you talk a little about your plans for Q? What does Q mean? KB: You tell me. What's the letter Q? I don't know that I'll ever divulge that. You could say it means quiet, or quality, quagmire, or Q in James Bond. I don't give a f*ck what you say. It engraves nicely. It's small. It's short. It embroiders nicely. Advanced Armament Corporation was long and a pain in the ass. My primary focus, and what I love at this point, is the relationship that I've built over two decades working with dudes that really kill other dudes. What can I do for them? If that means we're developing ammo. If that means we're developing guns, silencers, optics, f*cking grenades. Whatever it is. One of Brittingham's shrewd business decisions while at AAC was bringing robotic welding to the silencer industry. What are you going to build? KB: I'm going to build accessories, silencers. We're going to build rifles. We're going to build the best gas rifles in the world and we're going to build the best bullets in the world. We're going to build the Remington 700 for the next 50 years. Then we're going to go from there. I think we have the next generation of some things I've worked on before. Everybody can guess; whether it's the integrally [silenced] handgun, or it is the next M4, or it is the Honey Badger 2.0, or it's titanium scope mounts, or it's anything that gives a guy an advantage, or it's improved from what's out there now. That's a great thing about not needing a lot more money and not needing to impress anyone. I'm going to do what's right. We're going to devote ourselves to that. I hope to produce better firearms and accessories to help soldiers, the commercial shooter and the hunter. I'm super-passionate about hunting at this point in my life and I see the correlation between what we do with the military and the American hunter. With what I'm going to invest in this, if I lose it, I could still retire and not work, but I want to work. I'm driven to work because I love what I do, and I have the opportunity to work with my best friends [on something] that I believe in, and we can support my other best friends; The dudes that really kill bad guys. KEVIN BRITTINGHAM BIRTHDATE January 13, 1974 HOMETOWN Lawrenceville, GA KIDS Aidan Maxim, 12 Reese Maddox, 10 Ryan Madsen, 9 FAVORITE GUN M4/AR15 Chambered in 300 BLK NOTABLE EVENTS 1980S – Top twenty ranked BMX racer from age 6-12 1996 – Graduated Georgia College w/degree in Political Science 1994 – Began working in firearm business 1997 – Founded Advanced Armament Corporation 2009 – Sold AAC to Remington 2011 – Fired from Remington 2014 – Prevailed in Lawsuit and Appeal Against Remington 2014 – SIG SAUER, President Silencer Division 2015 – Fired from SIG 2016 – Began Q URL www.qllcgroup.com Kevin Brittingham's EDC/Pocket Dump Wad of cash Keys for his Lamborghini and apartment Chapstick Dental hygiene tool Bottle cap Explore RECOILweb:Preview - Reaction TimeThe $35,000 1911Swiss Army: B&T's GHM9 Gen2Sheep Hunting for Caribou in Alaska NEXT STEP: Download Your Free Target Pack from RECOILFor years, RECOIL magazine has treated its readers to a full-size (sometimes full color!) shooting target tucked into each big issue. 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