Tony Ford, a serial entrepreneur who has built multiple businesses and is a leader in entrepreneurship in Fort Worth, is Fort Worth Inc. 2020 Laureate Entrepreneur of Excellence Supporter of Entrepreneurship, chosen by the owner and staff of the magazine. Ford was the magazine’s EOE program director for two years. He won the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award for Supporting Entrepreneurship in 1997 for starting the Fort Worth Business Support Center. Today, he is CEO of Success Fort Worth, a coaching company. Ford sat down with Fort Worth Inc. for a Q&A.
Inc .: Where do you think you started your business?
Ford: I started with Steak & Ale with Norman Brinker. He taught us to reproduce things. My undergraduate degree is in hospitality and catering. So I would run a restaurant for them, then they would take me somewhere else, and I would build a new one. I learned to multiply things.
Inc .: What do your coach clients have in common?
Ford: They are alone. I believe that loneliness is the hallmark of entrepreneurship.
Inc .: Why?
Ford: Because of what I call the big lie. The big lie is that independence is the final stop, that we are made that way. But all I’ve read, especially when I read the Bible, is that we are built to be interdependent. So when we stop at independence, it’s like stopped development. We ignite.
Inc .: Do you have clients who are lying to you?
Ford: Well, that’s a good question. Fear. They’re scared, they want to look good, they want to look good to me, and I call BS on that.
Inc .: But they’ve already confessed something to each other by looking for you in the first place.
Ford: Mm-hmm. These are levels though, they are levels.
Inc .: You get fan mail, don’t you?
Ford: I get a lot of mail from female fans. I do. I do. One example I can share: I coached this person three times, and he pushed an envelope across the table to me. I looked at him and said, “Hey, you don’t have to pay me now. I’ll bill you at the end of the month. I do the job first, and then you pay me. He said, “It’s not a check.” I said, “Well, what is it?” He said, “Well, I don’t know. I said, “Well, you give it to me.” He said, “No, it’s from my wife. I said, “Oh, okay.” He said, “Dear Mr. Ford” – I’ll call him Bill – he said, “Thank you so much for training Bill.” He became a totally different husband and father. If he decides not to have you as an executive coach, here is my cell number. Please call me immediately. Prosecute.”
Inc .: It’s funny.
Ford: Coaching allows people to better understand each other and learn to relax. In our companies – we had seven companies besides the coaching company – there were three things that we had always set out to do: Honor God, take care of our people, and make the world a better place. When I say our people, I’m not just talking about our employees and our customers. I mean our suppliers and the community, the four ridings. It was important to us. Fortunately, we were able to do it. Some companies have made more money than others; some companies haven’t made any money at all. But, we have never failed to do these three things.
Inc .: You’ve talked a lot about wanting to make Fort Worth an entrepreneurial hub in Texas. Let’s talk about our entrepreneurial infrastructure. What do we have here?
Ford: Unless Kansas City, I haven’t seen any on-site infrastructure that I would call coordinated.
Inc .: Tell me about Kansas City.
Ford: Well, Kansas City has the Kauffman Foundation there, doesn’t it? You have a $ 3 billion foundation that is prepared to invest that kind of money, $ 100 million, $ 150 million a year, in business creation. They literally mapped the city in search of entrepreneurial opportunities. We don’t have that. We have pieces of it. You have to understand the construction of entrepreneurship. Fifteen years ago, entrepreneurship was not cool. I remember I was at someone’s party; it was Thanksgiving. One of the daughters of the people who were having the party, her husband was asked, what are you doing? He said, “Well, I’m an entrepreneur. The brother-in-law looks across the table and says, “Well, send me your resume.” I think I can help you find a job.
Inc .: Kansas City mapped the city for entrepreneurship. What does it mean?
Ford: They have an organization where their work identifies all the different entrepreneurial resources so that someone looking for something can find it. You can go online and say, “I need that kind of entrepreneur who writes business plans. Which banks are the most favorable to entrepreneurs? What kind of training is available, loan programs, all those other things? So it’s kinda over there.
Inc .: I know people ask you all the time what you read. What books do you read?
Ford: I have a library of business books. I can tell you Who moved my cheese, I can tell you what seat on the bus to sit in, I can tell you all that. The best business book I have ever read and read every day is the Bible and, in particular, Proverbs.
Inc .: Why?
Ford: Because it gives us all the tools we need to be successful entrepreneurs. If I had a single book of Proverbs on a desert island, it would be chapter 3. It teaches you wisdom, understanding, knowledge, discernment, discretion, faith, and so on. It’s really handy that there are 31 chapters. So, I read a proverb, whatever the day. We are on the 14th; I read the 14. Just go to Proverbs, you can have it in 27 different versions, but just read it and say, am I wise or am I stupid?
Inc .: What are the principles of your coaching approach?
Ford: I coach on three things, the big three: fear, anger and procrastination. These are the three stooges. One way or another, all the people I work with, those three are the great things that come up. They interact and they are interconnected.
Inc .: How do you know if a person is ready for a coach?
Ford: I’m going to look at them and say, “Okay, now I’m going to ask you a question, and I need you to answer honestly.” Don’t think about it too much; just tell me the first thing that comes to your mind. Has there ever been or is it now that you hate your own business? They say, “Yeah, I hate my company.” Okay, you need some coaching.
Inc .: So you often get this answer?
Ford: 100% of the time. I have never met a business owner who has been in business for more than two or three years, who has not at some point hated his own business. It’s controlling them. It hurts them. It’s too much for them. It’s as if they grabbed the snake and couldn’t let go. They are just afraid every moment that it will bite and kill them. When you have a coach, this might be the only place you can go every week and be completely honest, because coaching is not about judgment. I do not judge. I help my people understand. The only two things I need: trust and cooperation from my client. You should write it down.
Tony Ford’s entrepreneurial journey
Founding CEO, Success Fort Worth Executive Coaching
Founding CEO, RIDE Television Network, Fort Worth-based Equestrian Lifestyle Network
Founding Executive Director, Fort Worth Business Support Center
Senior Partner, Kasper & Associates, Fort Worth M&A Firm
Founder and CEO, Salon Support, national distributor of tanning lotion products and equipment
Founding Partner, Sidelights, Inc., reflectors for American trucks and wagons
Founding Vice President, Flash Foto, chain of eight one-hour photo finishing labs
Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the year, Entrepreneurship supporter
Entrepreneur in Residence, Kauffman Foundation
Exporter of the Year, U.S. Small Business Administration
Certified Associate Professional Coach, International Coaching Federation
Bible Counseling Certificate, Southwestern Theological Seminary