Michelle Green-Ford was in seventh grade when she started learning how to write paychecks in the laundromat her father operated.
She started learning leadership when she was a captain of her high school cheerleading team and junior class vice president. And she learned the benefits of the Fort Worth Metropolitan Black Chamber of Commerce 20 years ago when she walked in and met the late Devoyd Jennings.
Now, Green-Ford is the president and CEO of the chamber, the first woman in the role. She succeeds Jennings, who served as the president and CEO for 31 years before he died in July at the age of 73.
“It was really just a joy to receive the confirmation that I will be serving in this capacity,” Green-Ford, 61, said. “I’m just overwhelmed with the amount of support and outreach already for the types of things we’ll be doing, and I’m really honored.”
Glenda Thompson, chamber board member and part of the hiring committee, said Green-Ford was the “whole package.”
“She’s agile, she’s teachable, and she’s not afraid of controversy or complicated issues,” Thompson said. “She has a sense of managing people. She also has to lead a small staff and she brings a lot of vitality to staff development that we so desperately need.”
A Fort Worth native raised in Stop Six, Green-Ford said she had several role models of small business owners growing up, but the most significant is her father, Herman Green.
After college, he moved to Fort Worth and got a job at One Hour Martinizing Dry Cleaning. He worked there for 20 years before becoming an owner. Her first introduction to business was going to work with her father and learning how to write payroll checks.
At the time, Green-Ford said, she was content to work there and eventually take over the site. But her father told her no, he wanted her to go to college, expand and learn new things, she said.
“It’s really important that he had greater sights for me,” she said. “And so from there I went to college and studied business and started working with IBM.”
Her father thought she would become a computer programmer, which Green-Ford said is not quite her field. She studied business at the University of North Texas and got her MBA from Amberton University.
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“There were a lot of people helping to push you into a direction where you knew you could succeed,” she said. “Some of my first leadership experiences were at Dunbar High School.”
As cheerleader captain and junior class VP, she said she was learning early how to communicate and work through conflict to reach resolutions. But she also learned how to have fun with a team, a lesson she wants to continue to carry with her.
The school was key in her success because of how it encouraged role models and told students the sky’s the limit for them, she said.
“I’m ecstatic to be working in this capacity, and I believe that when you have that labor, it’s a labor of love,” Green-Ford said. “And it’s something that I would do even if I wasn’t paid for it.”
In the 90’s, she started working at American Airlines doing international training, leadership development and management training. It was that work that led her to start her own training firm, which sought out city contracts, government contracts and other areas.
More than 20 years ago, Green-Ford first set foot in the chamber. She wanted to learn how to do business with JPS Health Network as part of her consulting business, which she owned.
The chamber and the city’s Economic Development Department welcomed and helped her, she said. Because of that guidance, her business grew and she eventually became an executive at JPS Health Network. At JPS, she partnered with the chamber to conduct business workshops for members.
The chamber helped her get her business certified and taught her about business plans, marketing, sales plans and other skills she needed to grow.
When she started using the chamber as a resource, Jennings welcomed her, Green-Ford said.
“But, most of all, he’s one of the people that said, ‘You can do this.’ I think that the legacy that Dee leaves in my life is that he always believed,” Green-Ford said. “And so, when I came back to his doorstep, as a vice president working for an organization and wanting to do business and talk with him about how to increase business with his members, he remembered those things. And we collaborated.”
At JPS, Green-Ford was VP of Diversity and Inclusion and worked with Kristin Sullivan, who was the executive director of the JPS Foundation, and is now communications manager for Fort Worth Housing Solutions.
“I think of her as a positive life force,” Sullivan said. “She’s a very creative thinker, and I love the way she considers criticism and that she’s undeterred by it. I think that’s so important when you’re in a public role like the one that she’s taking on.”
Green-Ford is warm, accomplished and has “a beautiful smile” and all of these are attributes that make people want to be around her and a leader people want to follow, Sullivan said.
“You can’t really bottle that,” Sullivan said. “I think we’re very fortunate when we find people like that in our community. It’s wonderful and about time to see accomplished Black women like Michelle move forward into leadership roles in our community.”
Green-Ford said she is glad she didn’t know going into the hiring process that she would be the first woman president of the organization.
“Because it didn’t really matter,” she said. “I knew that the work that was to be done was to assist business owners to increase economic development, to educate, to be an advocate for the small business owner, those are things again, that I have done and would always do. I am thankful that gender was not a factor, that no one would say, ‘Well, she can do it, but she’s a woman. Is that going to be OK?’ Because for me, it was OK.”
Board member Glenda Thompson, who was on the hiring committee, said the chamber has not had the benefits of female leadership and the different perspectives women bring to the table.
“I don’t think that we even took into consideration that it should be a male or female,” Thompson said. “We were just looking for the best person, but it just so happens that Michelle is a female, and she just has a fresh take on where we can go and what we can do that she needs to and perhaps a little different than that of her predecessor.”
There are plenty of qualities that make Green-Ford the best option — like her openness and balance — but part of what makes her a good president is because sitting in a room with her makes people want to pull out their checkbooks and give to her cause, Thompson said.
In her new role, Green-Ford said, she wants to continue the strong foundation the chamber has of helping small businesses and encouraging economic development. But she said she wants to improve how the chamber reaches out to other generations of business owners, specifically millennials.
She wants to find ways to connect with other generations with new ideas about innovation and technology
“I would also like to see us really focus on not just doing business, but legacy growth, business growth, not just we’re in business, but we’re growing and we’re leaving a legacy for others that come behind us,” she said. “We have individual areas we work for, but we’re all on the same team. And that is the team to make sure the Fort Worth community thrives.”
Michelle Green-Ford bio
Birthplace: Fort Worth, Texas
Education: BBA University of North Texas, MBA Amberton University
Family: Mother of two adult children, one is a UNT graduate and another is a Texas A&M graduate.
Work experience: Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer at JPS Health Network 2014-2020; Learning consultant at Texas Health Resources 2009-2011; Independent management training, assessments research consulting; International Management Trainer at American Airlines; Customer Relations at IBM; worked with FEMA during college at UNT
Volunteer experience: Fort Worth Hispanic Chamber of Commerce board
First job: High school work study job as a dental assistant and sold lemonade in elementary school. “I would always be the person on the block who sold lemonade and flowers,” Green-Ford said. “I always had money to share with kids on the block.”
Advice for someone learning to be a leader: Be a great listener and keep your promises.
Best advice ever received: Your hard work will pay great dividends!
Kristen Barton is an enterprise reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.