Ford, Wallace L., II
Wallace L. Ford II
Wallace Ford, a corporate lawyer and professor at Columbia University, published his first novel, The Pride, in 2005. It portrayed a rarely seen segment of American society—the black elite, wheelers and dealers in the world of high finance. Ford, founder and principal of the management consulting firm Fordworks Associates, achieved success in international business and as an investment banker, venture capitalist, and writer. He served in the administrations of New York Governor Mario Cuomo and New York City Mayor David Dinkins.
Became a Campus Activist
The only child of Wallace Leonard and Carmen Elizabeth (Irvin) Ford, Wallace Leonard Ford II was born on January 13, 1950, in Harlem, New York. When he was four years old, the family moved to occupied Japan, where Wallace Ford Sr. worked as an auditor for the U.S. Department of Defense. After three years in Japan, young Wallace was well-advanced in school and spoke fluent Japanese, an ability that would prove useful in his later career. The family subsequently moved to Puerto Rico and, when Wallace was nine, settled in Teaneck, New Jersey.
Ford told Contemporary Black Biography: "My parents expected me to achieve professionally, which to a young black boy in the 1950s meant becoming a doctor. I even took violin lessons to improve my manual dexterity." Ford entered Dartmouth College in 1966 as a pre-med student. There a friend inspired him to begin writing. As a disc jockey on the campus radio station, Ford nurtured his love of jazz. He also worked as a professional actor, commuting to New York City on weekends to perform. However Ford told CBB: "I soon learned that there were not a lot of roles for black actors unless you sing and dance. I decidedly don't."
During the turbulent 1960s as the larger, rapidly changing world opened up to Ford, he began to lose interest in science and medicine. As head of the Dartmouth African American Society, he called upon the college to increase its racial diversity. He told CBB: "I was not a militant, although I might have appeared that way to some. I believe in the principles of fairness. That is what got me involved. I was very vocal, very committed to the things I believed in. I negotiated some major institutional changes at Dartmouth. I learned early to negotiate and come away with something."
In his last year at Dartmouth, Ford was named a Senior Fellow and allowed to pursue independent study. He graduated in 1970, at the age of 20, with a bachelor's degree in American history. Although Ford's goal was to become a history professor, he worried that, as a black man, he had little chance of ever attaining tenure at a top university. His own history professor encouraged him to attend law school because of the professional versatility of a law degree. Ford made full use of that versatility in his subsequent careers.
Graduated from Harvard
At Harvard Law School Ford headed the black student organization and continued to write poetry. He told CBB that "giving poetry readings morphed into songwriting and then into a 13-piece band that performed around New England. However I finally had to ask myself 'do I really want to head a band?'" Ford became the first record reviewer for Essence magazine and, after graduation in 1973, he continued with the magazine as a feature writer.
Ford began his law career as an associate in a New York City firm. In 1975 he became a law secretary to the New York State Supreme Court. Four years later he was hired as general counsel to the chair of the New York State Assembly Committee on Banking.
In 1979 Ford was named executive vice president and general counsel of Amistad DOT Venture Capital, a subsidiary of Inner City Broadcasting, the radio empire owned by Percy Sutton, a leading black businessman and New York political figure. Ford returned to public service in 1981 as deputy commissioner of the Division of Minority Business Development for the New York State Department of Commerce.
In January of 1983 Mario Cuomo appointed Ford executive director of the $1.5-billion New York State Mortgage Agency. During Ford's tenure the agency lent $500 million to first-time homebuyers. Ford also served as a director of the Council of State Housing Agencies. In 1985 he joined Drexel Burnham Lambert, Inc. as a first vice president and also formed his own venture capital firm, Eagle Ventures, Inc. In May of 1991 a Newsday investigation raised questions about Ford's public management and private business practices.
Joined the Dinkins Administration
In 1990 David N. Dinkins, New York's first black mayor, appointed Ford Commissioner of the Department of Ports and Trade, in charge of promoting the city's ports and the leasing its 500 waterfront and inland properties, including the airports. Ford oversaw a 200-member staff and a budget of $11 million.
The following year as a result of an administrative reorganization, Ford became Commissioner of New York City's Department of Business Services, including Ports and Trade. It was a high-profile position, with responsibility for all of the business and industry services provided by the city. Ford told Black Enterprise: "I have been focusing on the role between economic development and needed social change. It is clear to me that any involvement in government for me was best related to these concerns."
At a Glance …
Born Wallace Leonard Ford II on January 13, 1950, in New York, NY; married Constance Juanita Mitchell, 1993; children: Wallace III. Education: Dartmouth College, BA, 1970; Harvard Law School, JD, 1973. Religion: Catholic. Politics: Democrat.
Career: Golenbock & Barell, NY, associate, 1973–75; NY State Supreme Court, law secretary, 1975–79; NY State Assembly Committee on Banking, counsel to the chair, 1979; Amistad DOT Venture Capital, NY, executive vice president, general counsel, 1979–81; NY State Department of Commerce, Division of Minority Business Development, deputy commissioner, 1981–83; State of NY Mortgage Agency, president, chief executive officer, 1983–85; Drexel Burnham Lambert, first vice president, NY, 1985–88; Eagle Ventures, NY, chairman, 1985–90; City of New York, Department of Ports and Trade, commissioner, 1990–91, Department of Business Services, commissioner, 1991–93; Marks & Murase, NY, partner, 1994–96; Kaye, Scholer, Fierman, Hays & Handler, NY, counsel, 1996–2001; Columbia University, SIPA, NY, adjunct professor, 2001–; Turning Point magazine, columnist, 2001–; McGhee & Associates, NY, attorney, 2002–; Fordworks Associates, NY, founder and principal, 2002–; Metropolitan College of New York, adjunct professor, 2005–; Pace University, NY, adjunct professor, 2006–.
Selected memberships: Dartmouth Black Alumni Association; Gridline Communications Holdings, director; Haitel, S.A., director; Home Base, Inc., director; United Way International, board member.
Selected awards: Dartmouth College, senior fellow, 1970; Ebony, 100 Leaders the Future, 1978; Time, 50 Faces of the Future, 1979; National Housing Partnership, Man of the Year, 1984; Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce, Public Service Award, 1993.
Addresses: Office—Fordworks Associates, Inc., Suite 234, 75 Maiden Lane, New York, NY 10038.
In his new position Ford oversaw 18 Business Improvement Districts and created new ones. He headed the new Inter-Agency Task Force on Business in New York, which included 16 city agencies. He co-coordinated a new Vendor Policy Group, promoting services and providing opportunities for individual street vendors and eliminating illegal vendors. This turned into a confrontation in 1993 when Ford attempted to move the majority of Harlem street vendors from 125th Street to 126th Street. Ford also used his position to encourage black American business people to invest in post-apartheid South Africa and in promoting African economic development and communication between Africans and black American leaders.
Perhaps Ford's most celebrated accomplishment was the implementation of New York's Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprise program to address discrimination in the awarding of city contracts. By 1993 the program had awarded $270 million in preferential contracts for 1,927 businesses. Ford was quoted in the New York Voice: "Now … many New Yorkers are enjoying their first opportunity to engage in business with the City of New York. This program represents full and comprehensive economic development." However in 1993 Ford became the center of a probe by Manhattan's U.S. Attorney's Office on allegations of extortion by a black-owned ferry service.
As Dinkins's reelection race against Rudolph Giuliani heated up, Ford emerged as a public spokesman for the mayor. After Dinkins's defeat Ford moved into corporate law. Between 1996 and 2001 he represented a wide range of corporate clients on domestic development issues and international business acquisitions, partnerships, and alliances in Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean. His clients included the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, the Irish Stock Exchange, and the National Investment Bank of Jamaica.
In 2002 Ford founded Fordworks Associates, a management consulting firm focusing on international and domestic business solutions. He told CBB: "I was recently in Brazil doing due diligence for a tourist agency. I advise the minister of finance of Nigeria. In Haiti I am on the board of the cellular phone company and work for the Haitian government. I also do work for the Black Equity Alliance, part of United Way of New York."
In the fall of 2000 Ford went to visit his old friend David Dinkins, a professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA). Ford left as the advisor of a Master's of Public Administration workshop entitled "Restitution and Repair: A Comparative Study of Domestic and International Reparation, Redress and Reconstruction Methods." Ford worked with students preparing a research document for the Trans-Africa Forum, a group fighting for reparations for black Americans and international human rights. He joined the SIPA faculty in 2001. Ford also taught international business at the Metropolitan College of New York. In 2006 he became an adjunct professor at Pace University.
Wrote The Pride
Ford had continued to write magazine articles, as well as speeches for members of Congress, big-city mayors, and business leaders. One of his interests had always been small-business development, particularly in Harlem. In 2001 he became a feature writer for Turning Point, a magazine aimed at black-owned small businesses. In his regular column, "Freedom Suite," Ford commented on current affairs, politics, and racial issues from a liberal point-of-view, often with a satirical edge. He told CBB: "I remain outspoken; however my views have matured. I see lots of nuances and very little that is black and white. I am no longer wedded to the Democratic Party as the means for black advancement."
At the suggestion of his agent, Ford began working on a novel in 1990. Drawing on his personal and professional experiences, The Pride is set in the glittering but little-known world of New York City's upper-class black power brokers. Ford's characters live in opulent Harlem brownstones, dress in designer clothes, dine in gourmet restaurants catering to black executives and superstars, and vacation at the world's chicest resorts. They also revel in love, sex, alcohol, and expensive drugs. The story follows lawyer Paul Taylor as he attempts to merge three financial entities, including those of his ex-and future wife and Gordon Perkins, a corrupt sadist, into one large investment bank that can challenge white Wall Street.
When asked about his alter-ego Paul Taylor, Ford told CBB: "Paul has a lot more fun than I do. I live vicariously through him." He told CBB that the one piece of nonfiction in the novel is Taylor's job interview with former New York Mayor Ed Koch, a verbatim account of Ford's own experience. Koch asks Taylor whether he has any white friends. Realizing that Koch has no intention of hiring him, Taylor replies: "Actually Mr. Mayor, there are very few people who I call friends, and none of them are white. But, I do know a few white people if that would help. I think I can actually remember their names if you give me minute to think."
A recurring theme in The Pride is Paul's "Law of Unintended Consequences," such as the racial segregation of troops during the Second World War, which resulted in the survival of more black soldiers, with skills that prepared them for business opportunities and better lives. In a Turning Point column titled "Be Careful What You Ask For … You Just Might Get It—," Ford pointed out the law's corollary, noting that the civil rights movement and racial integration, while benefiting both blacks and whites, led to the demise of many black businesses.
In a Booklist review Lillian Lewis wrote: "The dealings and maneuvering of each player are told with intrigue and suspense. A great story!" Essence named it one of the top books of fall, 2005. A sequel to the The Pride was scheduled for publication in late 2006 and Ford was negotiating the rights for a television series based on the novel. Ford also was planning new novels, as well as completing a book of poetry, a book of poems and affirmations, short stories, and a children's book.
The Pride, Kensington, 2005.
"Crown Heights—the Aftermath," New York Amsterdam News, July 31, 1993, p. 13.
"Be Careful What You Ask For … You Just Might Get It—," Turning Point, July 2004.
"To Market, To Market …," Turning Point, May 2005.
"The One With the Most Toys …," Turning Point, September 2005.
"A Rose By Any Other Name …," Turning Point, December 2005.
"Nader: A Vanity Campaign for the Ages," NotNader, www.notnader.com/wford1.html (June 5, 2006).
Black Enterprise, February 1991.
Booklist, January 1, 2006, p. 54.
New York Voice, October 13, 1993, p. 1.
Village Voice, October 26, 1993.
"Kensington Publishing Releases Wallace Ford's The Pride," PR Web, www.prweb.com/releases/2005/11/prweb305804.htm (June 5, 2006).
Additional information for this profile was obtained through an interview with Wallace Ford on June 12, 2006.
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