Fifty-three years after long-time Arkansas Education Commissioner Dr. Arch Ford’s vision for economic education was realized, Economics Arkansas honored the Ford Family legacy. During a luncheon meeting at the Marriott in downtown Little Rock, Joe and Scott Ford, the son and grandson of Arch, accepted the Leadership in Free Enterprise Award on behalf of the family.
Economics Arkansas (formerly the Arkansas Council for Economic Education), begun under the leadership of Arch Ford and Dr. Bessie Moore, has been providing economic education training for Arkansas teachers since 1962. During that time, more than 80,000 teachers and 4 million students have been impacted, according to the nonprofit.
Business and political leaders from around the state praised the Ford family’s entrepreneurial spirit and legacy of economic education. “We have inspiration through the leadership of the Ford family in education, public service and free enterprise,” said Governor Asa Hutchinson. “Success in life can bring lot of attitudes in life. In the Ford family, success in life brings a renewed commitment to public service and desire to make difference in lives of others.”
Warren Stephens, Chairman, CEO & President of Stephens Inc., said, “It is fitting that we honor this family who demonstrates what hard work and free markets can do.”
He noted that the Stephens and Ford families have been friends and business partners for nearly 70 years. In fact, Allied Telephone began when the founders bought a telephone exchange in Sheridan, Arkansas from Stephens’ uncle Whit. Then a few years later, Joe asked Stephens’ father Jack for the capital needed to expand what would eventually become Alltel Wireless. When it sold to Verizon Wireless in 2008, Alltel served 34 states with 13 million subscribers.
“Dad always said it was the most profitable investment he ever made, both economically and personally,” Stephens said.
“That’s relationship banking based on a handshake,” said Joe Ford, Chairman of Westrock Group, LLC. He thanked the group for honoring his family, but emphasized the credit for the success of Economics Arkansas goes to the teachers who implement the curriculum with their students. “I’m convinced it will have huge dividends in the future.”
The Fords are now running Westrock Capital, the investment group behind Westrock Coffee. “I’m not sure why we’re doing this [building another business] again, but we are,” said Scott Ford CEO of Westrock. “Tell you what, I’ll quit talking if y’all go to Kroger and buy a bag of our coffee.”
Editor’s note: After the event, Kerri Case conducted a short Q&A with Joe and Scott Ford.
Q: This event is about business literacy for students. What’s the best advice you can give students?
Joe Ford: It’s all about integrity. You treat people the way you want to be treated. Be good to your word.
Scott Ford: Perseverance… what my grandfather told me. There are people who succeed who wouldn’t have, except they refused to give up. There are people who should have succeeded, but they gave up too soon.
Q: What do people not know about Arch Ford who got all this started?
Joe Ford: When I say education meant more to him than money, I mean it. When he retired, he was making $32-34,000 per year. The person they replaced him with made more than $100,000 per year. But he didn’t care. He genuinely believed that if people are educated, their lives will be better.
Q: What does the future look like for the Ford family?
Scott Ford: We still get into the office early and stay late every day. We’re trying to start two businesses [Westrock Investments and Coffee Co.] at the same time from scratch. I wouldn’t really advise this, but I know we’ll be glad we did it once it’s done.
Joe Ford: We’re really just trying to make a difference. I don’t think people realize what an impact they have when they buy a bag of coffee, but they are changing lives in East Africa. Farmers can send their children to school. Families are changed by what Scott is doing with this coffee company.