Baton Rouge business leader Lela Mae Wilkes  to receive honorary doctorate from Northwestern State

Northwestern State University will award an Honorary Doctorate of Humanities to Lela Mae Wilkes during spring commencement ceremonies. Wilkes will be honored along with graduates of the School of Business and Technology on Wednesday, May 11 at 2 p.m. in Prather Coliseum.

Spring commencement will be held May 11-12 in Prather Coliseum. Graduates for the College of Nursing and School of Allied Health will be honored on May 11 at 10 a.m. Students from the Graduate School and the College of Business and Technology on May 11 at 2 p.m. On May 12, undergraduate students from the College of Arts and Science and the Louisiana Scholars’ College will receive diplomas at 10 a.m. Undergraduate students from the Gallaspy College of Education and Human Development and the College of Nursing and School of Allied Health will be recognized at 2 p.m.

Wilkes is owner and chief executive officer of Brown Eagle, a Baton Rouge company with more than 500 employees which serves chemical companies and other businesses across the mid-South.

“Lela Mae Wilkes owns and directs a major Louisiana-based company with hundreds of employees that has a major positive impact on the state economy and workforce,” said Northwestern State President Dr. Marcus Jones. “It is one of the most successful woman-owned companies in the South.  Lela Mae has provided extensive financial support and other assistance to the university over the years and has long been recognized as one of NSU’s most esteemed, involved and generous alumni.” 

Wilkes joined Brown Eagle as controller in 1977. She was promoted to president in 1989 and chief executive officer in 1990. Wilkes obtained 50 percent ownership pf the company in 2012 and acquired full ownership two years later. 

Wilkes has been a long-time supporter of Northwestern State. She was inducted into the NSU Alumni Hall of Distinction, the Long Purple Line in 2005. Wilkes served on the NSU Foundation Board of Directors. She has served on the School of Business Dean’s Advisory Board and has been recognized as a Distinguished Graduate of the School of Business.

While at Northwestern, she was a member of student organizations including Purple Jackets, Associated Women Students and Alpha Sigma Alpha. Wilkes was also elected treasurer of the Louisiana Student Teachers Association.

Brown Eagle is one of the largest companies of its kind in the nation and is the only woman-owned organization that provides material handling, on-site assembly, packaging, warehousing, shipping and other services to numerous chemical companies and other industries. A 1968 graduate in business from Northwestern, Wilkes later earned a degree in accounting from Louisiana State University.

Wilkes started her career working with her father on the family dairy farm in Pride before earning her CPA and becoming an accountant at Ethyl Corporation and a pioneer in the petrochemical service industry. 

She is a founding member of the Louisiana Chemical Industry Alliance and was the first woman to serve on its board of directors.

“Mrs. Wilkes has been an outstanding role model for women throughout her career. She has been an active, engaging member of the Dean’s Advisory Council in the College of Business who has brought real world knowledge to the table. Her input has been valuable in helping improve the College’s curriculum,” said Dr. Mary Edith Stacy, interim dean of the College of Business and Technology.

Recognized as a pillar of the Baton Rouge community service scene throughout her adult life, Wilkes has been involved in the Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra, Louisiana State Museum, Baton Rouge Children’s Advocacy Center, Louisiana CASA Association, Foundation for Historical Louisiana, Rotary Club and other organizations and programs.

The Baton Rouge Business Report honored Wilkes in 2005 as one of the Capital Region’s Influential Women in Business.