Ted Ford Featured

8:00pm EDT April 25, 2007

While other business leaders wrestle with the issue of economic development, Ted Ford accepts the challenge with relish. The president and CEO of TechColumbus enjoys entering into a situation with a fresh vision and shaping challenges into opportunities as he leads his nonprofit organization toward technology-based economic development in Central Ohio. TechColumbus was formed through the merger of the Columbus Technology Council and the Business Technology Center, and today, its 253 member organizations represent more than100,000 employees. Smart Business spoke with Ford about leadership, communication and thinking big.

Rally your troops. I believe in surrounding myself with talented, capable people, any one of which could probably replace me if they needed to, with enough experience on the job. Mobilize as much energy, creativity and effort as possible toward the outcome you’re trying to achieve.

Be very clear about the critical competencies you have to have inside your organization to succeed. What’s your market look like, who are you trying to sell to, what’s the best combination of skills and talent you can find in somebody, and where can you go look for that. You can come up with your ideal candidate by doing that.

The challenge is not so much being able to figure out that ideal candidate but to convince somebody who has those skills to join you. You have to make it interesting to them because nine times out of 10, the ideal candidate you’ve pictured in your mind is probably the ideal candidate that a lot of different companies want. Chances are, you’re going to have to recruit that person from another company so you have to make it compelling for them to make that shift.

The last thing I’d want to do is hire a clone of me because there are things I do well and things I’m not good at. I need to supplement myself and supplement others here so as we hire additional people, we create a diverse set of skills that work together as a team.

Don’t analyze things too much. There’s a certain level of analysis that has to happen, and then you have to act decisively. Have the confidence and certainty to go forward and make a commitment along those lines. You have to do it, and if you make mistakes, you’ve got to adjust.

Inspire passion. You’ve got to believe in what you’re doing. You’ve got to be passionate about it if you want to recruit top people. If you don’t have the passion, you need to find out how to get it.

I’ve been able to assemble a very strong team here based on the potential of our organization. We’re going to have a significant impact on this region, and if you’re part of the team, you’re going to be part of that success. That’s very motivating for some people.

Some people are purely motivated by how much they’re going to make, and that’s not necessarily your best hire.

Be objective. You’ve got to be a little bit cold-blooded about your own situation and take a hard look at where you are, what you’re accomplishing, what you’re doing well and what you’re not doing well.

Sometimes it helps to have outside folks who will be honest with you and keep you honest. Some organizations, if they don’t have a board, will have an advisory group whose job it is to come together once a quarter and look at the business as a board would and provide impartial feedback.

It’s always good to get that, somebody’s who’s got enough distance and objectivity that they can look at it in a different way. No matter how smart you think you are, ultimately you are deep into what you’re doing, and you don’t have the perspective that somebody from the outside can bring.

You’d want somebody in finance that could take a look at how you’re managing and applying your assets and resources. Somebody in marketing can look at how you’re presenting yourself in the market and approaching your customers. Somebody with a technical background can look at your technology strategy. In some communities, there are organizations that will assist companies putting together an advisory board.

Encourage communication. You have to be accessible to your employees, as well as having structured settings where you can talk about company strategy and goals, at a high level and an operational level.

The most successful company is going to be one where the employees feel ownership for the objectives that are being sought. There has to be a way to engage employees in the cause and get them excited about it.

You can set up compensation systems where there’s an upside if the organization achieves the objectives you’ve been talking about. If it’s strictly compensation-related though, my experience has been you don’t get nearly the energy or the creativity you do if people actually buy in to it on a more fundamental level.

There’s a certain excitement that goes with the unpredictability of shaping the future. When you get people energized that way, they’re much more creative. They spend a lot more time doing what you need them to do, and they’re a lot more productive at it.

Think big, act big and be real. Combine a big vision with a willingness to step out and make something happen, and at the same time, understand what’s achievable. Reach as far as you can reach, but don’t over-reach.

When you get analytical and realistic about what you’re dealing with, you can figure out where your stretch opportunity is, how far you can really go, and try to set expectations around that. You don’t want to set expectations that are so lofty that they can’t be achieved and people become discouraged.

There’s an old saying from Ray Bradbury, the science fiction author, which was, ‘First you jump off the cliff, and you build wings on the way down.’ That’s a fine saying, but probably not the way you want to run a business.

HOW TO REACH: TechColumbus, (614) 340-1697 or www.techcolumbus.org