Power 50: No. 21 Fran Ford, Castelli North America

Welcome to the 2017 Power 50 list, which ranks the most influential people in the industry.

#21: Fran Ford, Castelli North America (asi/44305)

2016 Rank: N/A
Title: President
Industry Experience: 42 years
Birthplace: Allentown, PA

One of the highest ranked Power 50 newcomers, Ford has had an accomplished career in the promo products industry, earning the 2012 Marvin Spike Lifetime Achievement Award. But he doesn’t make this year’s list because of past achievements: Ford is possibly the industry’s most sought-after mentor, and colleagues often call him for advice when faced with key decisions. Here he talks life, leadership and his legacy.

Q: Do you think the promo products industry has peaked in terms of sales, or is there room for growth?
A: In our current state, I’d say it’s peaked – but there are always new horizons and opportunities that could change things.

Q: What’s the greatest challenge suppliers are facing right now?
A: I’d say controlling our destiny.

Q: Is the promo industry too dependent on China?
A: Absolutely. Fortunately, manufacturing is becoming more and more diversified, and our industry’s apparel companies have seen growth through other Asian countries. That said, we still need to look at newer sources and economies. It all depends on our relationship with China, and if they wanted to take their football and go home, we would be in trouble.

Q: Why did Castelli decide to merge with Magnet?
A: When I returned to Castelli in 2012, we had really dropped several rungs down the go-to ladder for our product category. It became apparent to me that we needed much more exposure, and the future trend appeared to be the rolling up of companies to gain a greater market share. Magnet had one of the top reputations in our business and they were void in the category of journals and paper products. More importantly to me, they had a management team that I really admired.

Q: How did the deal go down with so many moving parts?
A: It wasn’t the easiest task, as I had to convince the TMG group that we still had a great deal of growth left in Castelli and that we had the right team in Reno. Then I needed to convince the Italians that they needed a partner in the USA and Canada – this as the folks in Italy were in the middle of an ownership change as well. The task was tough, but bless Bill Korowitz and Dave Peden for giving me the time to put these two together.

Q: What have the results been?
A: Five years later, we are on track to be a better and more profitable company. It’s been the best thing we could ever have done. For three years now, we’ve experienced double-digit growth annually, and all it’s due to a great sales force and a steadfast team in Reno.

Q: Why is mentoring others in the industry so important to you?
A: I was so blessed to have two great mentors in my life – Bill Gart and Glen Holt. Bill hired me straight out of college, taught me how to believe in myself and how to manage people. Glen really laid out a career path that I would follow for 30+ years. The only thing both said to me in turn for repayment was to always be looking for someone to teach. Most people would never guess that from an early age I suffered from depression. These men gave me a reason to believe in myself and both, along with my wife, have saved my life and given me a purpose.

Q: What do you wish you would’ve known 20 years ago?
A: That you can attract more bees with honey than vinegar. My errors have taught me to be a kinder and gentler person.

Q: What does leadership mean to you?
A: Leadership is all about managing and sharing your vision. Simple as that.

Q: What’s the single most important trait a leader can have, and why?
A: Love and compassion are the greatest tools that a leader can have. With these, people will want to follow you.

Q: What are your top personal and professional goals over the next 12 months?
A: My personal goal is to be a better husband, stepfather and friend. Professionally, I want to share what’s in my brain with as many people as I can.

Q: What do you want your legacy in the industry to be?
A: That I was a man who gave more than he took.