Lessons in success from both coasts
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The serendipity wasn't lost on the two businessmen who got involved in Washington County politics in the 1990s and now live on opposite ends of the country. Unbeknownst to one another, each has released a book on how to succeed in business -- and life.
Twenty years ago, the two Republicans came out of political nowhere to do battle against long-standing Democratic en-trenchment in a county roiling in controversy, scandal and corruption that led to indictments.
Joe Ford, a Peters councilman, became a Washington County commissioner in 1992, and a feisty one, having regular confrontations with the two Democratic commissioners.
The president judge even threatened to jail him for cutting the county court budget.
Bill Townsend, then of Chartiers, waged a high-profile congressional campaign in 1992 against Austin J. Murphy, an eight-term Democrat in a district with landslide Democratic plurality. He lost by only a little more than a percentage point.
After their political forays, the two resumed successful business careers, Mr. Ford focusing on beer distributorships, a fast-food restaurant, then real estate ventures and medical clinics, finally focusing on equity management. Mr. Townsend, who opened an advertising agency after college, found success in noted dot-com ventures with more recent interest in philanthropic foundations.
Then serendipity struck.
In June, Mr. Townsend, a 47-year-old self-proclaimed "serial entrepreneur," released his 302-page book "Yes You Can! How to Be a Success no Matter Who You Are or Where You're From."
Following in August, Mr. Ford, 57, of Stuart, Fla., released his 127-page book "Life's Shortcuts: How to Polish Your Most Important Asset: You."
Both feature entertaining and instructive anecdotes about their experiences in politics and business.
Each has his own recommendations on building confidence and harnessing strengths to reach success.
Their political experiences represent positive steps in their development, they said.
"When in office, I was in for a fight," Mr. Ford said.
He resigned midway through his second term because, he said, he had reached his target goals and needed more time for family and business. "I knew I could win, plan and execute. I employed a lot of techniques of business in politics."
Mr. Townsend, now of Pasadena, Calif., said running for office at age 27 was "a pivotal moment" for him.
"To me, it showed that one person can make a difference," he said. "Even though I lost the election, the impact on my life has lasted to this day."
In 1992, he had a political poster of Mr. Ford hanging in his office as inspiration that a Washington County Republican could be elected on his first try. The two men haven't been in contact since those days, but each was surprised to hear about the other's book.
"It's funny that he came out with a book at the same time as I did," Mr. Townsend said. "I'll have to see if he wants to trade books."
As an upstart politician, Mr. Townsend had a notable pedigree. His mother Jacquelyn Mayer Townsend was the 1962 Miss Ohio who went on to be crowned Miss America in 1963 before launching a career as a popular inspirational speaker, often with young Bill in tow.
Mr. Townsend also is a great nephew of the late Delvin Miller, who owned the famous harness racehorse, Adios, and founded what's now The Meadows Racetrack and Casino in North Strabane. Miller's brother, the late Albert Miller, founded Meadowcroft Village, the rural history museum near Avella.
An art major from the College of Wooster who later got his master's degree in business administration from Baylor University, Mr. Townsend was a natural campaigner with a strong political message, good looks and confidence that nearly worked to unseat Mr. Murphy, the Charleroi Democrat scandalized by news that he'd fathered a child to his Washington, D.C., mistress, with whom he was accused of living during his time there.
"I worked hard for Bill at the time, and we still keep in touch," said Floyd McGurk, 75, now living in Greenville, S.C. A Democrat, Mr. McGurk said he supported Mr. Townsend as a moderate Republican who showed political potential.
"He was a good candidate, but I'm glad he lost," Mr. McGurk said, explaining his fear that Mr. Townsend would be tainted by politics. "He was a good man. He had some morals. He had a good reputation."
After losing the close race, Mr. Townsend took a job with Ketchum Communications before investing in the Lycos computer search engine developed at Carnegie Mellon University.
That led to his participation in launching and managing major dot-com enterprises including involvement in GeoCities (now Yahoo!), Newegg.com, Deja.com (now Google and eBay) and sixdegrees.com (now LinkedIn).
A motivational speaker, he's lectured in the United States, Europe, China, Taiwan and Japan with numerous national media appearances.
His latest interests include developing foundations.
He traces his success to "the fact that I'm good at understanding the consumer and predicting what people will be interested in."
Raised by a single mother, Mr. Ford never got a college degree but worked as a steel-mill machinist then as a successful industrial salesman before moving to Peters and purchasing beer distributorships and a fast-food restaurant.
He expanded into commercial real-estate holdings and opened a hair replacement clinic after his own hair replacement procedure went awry. He also opened a pain-management clinic when he couldn't get help for a bad back.
An avowed capitalist, he's recently turned to equity management after realizing that "the mother's milk of capitalism is equity."
In the early years, he won an underdog victory as county commissioner, with aspirations to operate government as a business. Soon he realized that "government doesn't operate like a business."
He also encountered powerful opposition from Democratic commissioners, the late Frank R. Mascara and the late Metro Petrosky. But he went toe to toe with them on a daily basis, developing a reputation among supporters as a firebrand and from critics as an obstructionist.
James McCune, county solicitor from 1996 to 2000, said Mr. Ford was extremely conscious of what any program would cost taxpayers.
"Joe was a volatile, fiery guy sometimes but he always had his eye firmly on the taxpayer's wallet," Mr. McCune said. "Joe also made a real effort to bring business principles to county government and was frustrated by that. He was speaking a different language."
But Mr. Ford, whose book says to learn from success and failure, said "every experience is positive."
"I always am able to extract something from it."
First Published November 15, 2012 5:15 am