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My wife teases that I have a “bro-mance” with Ford, and maybe she’s right. Ford is a giant in South Florida real estate. He is the person and the real estate professional we all want to be… that I want to be. There is no one in the South Florida real estate industry who is more loved for who he is nor more respected for what he has accomplished. If that defines a “bro-mance,” then yes, I have one with Ford. But to my credit, so does just about everybody else who knows him.
Ford and I started out as competitors — Ford was running Codina, and I was running Trammell Crow. We would occasionally meet for lunch to attempt to recruit one another to join our respective teams — of course, this was always in good fun, but never really led to anything. Some time later, we both left our respective companies and started our own companies, but we both just about struck out during the Great Recession.
It’s long been known throughout South Florida that if you want to build the commercial real estate “Dream Team” in this area, you better have Ford as your foundation. A few years ago, during one of our ‘usual’ lunches, things took a decidedly unusual turn. Sitting in the Marlin Room at Outdoor World in Davie, I listened as Ford talked to me about an opportunity he had to build a new business on a new platform. I started to get really excited when he addressed that what was most important to him in this new endeavor was the ability to work collaboratively to help develop the careers and lives of young people in the industry. This, of course, sounded like the opportunity of anyone’s dreams, but add to the equation that the LeBron of real estate would be leading the charge, and I all but fell out of my seat to leap at the opportunity to be a part of this.
Ford’s “LeBron status” has never been more apparent than in the outpouring of love and concern after his recent stroke. I watched in awe as a flood of prayers and offers of help flooded in. Even more inspiring were the expressions of concern from people who knew of him but had never met him. At a South Florida Business Journal event that occurred during his recovery, several of us handed out cards with his hospital address for people to write to him expressions of love and prayers for recovery. I remember several people unfamiliar to me that came up to ask for that card so they could write him well-wishes and thank him for all he’s done for the community. When I asked them how they knew Ford, they told me they didn’t, but that they know of his contributions and they know what an impact he’s made in South Florida.
Ford has recovered in full, thanks in part to his indomitable spirit, and in large part to the dogged determination and love of his wife, Lynn, and children Travis, Olivia and Emily. Through the darkest hours, Lynn’s guiding light illuminated the path to recovery. There was never a doubt in her mind that he would be fully back. Anything short of a full recovery was never an option. And it worked – of course!
For this issue of Foundry United, so aptly focused on the importance of relationships, we spent time with a handful of people who have been impacted by Ford’s force – some many years ago, and some more recently. It was so special to hear their perspectives on and insights into who Ford is – as a celebration of his return, and also as an insightful guidepost to those younger real estate practitioners that want to learn how to model greatness. Humility, integrity, honesty, as well as a caring and giving heart comprise just small part of what makes Ford great. If that defines what a “bro-mance” is, then we should all be so lucky to find ourselves in that kind of relationship. I am a better person for having known Ford and being his partner today is one of my greatest joys. I wish the same for all of you.
Ford Gibson and Eric Swanson first worked together at Codina Group in Miami. “We’ve known each other for 26 years. He hired me in 1993; I was in North Carolina at the time, and Ford was a year into his job running Codina Development Group. He was looking for someone to run the Medical Development division. We were connected by our mutual friend, Jose Juncadella. When this position became available, Jose called me and asked if I would be interested and then connected me with Ford,” Eric stated.
From that moment on, Eric worked on many projects with Ford including Beacon Centre, Beacon Industrial Park, Beacon Point, an NCCI asset in Boca Raton (a 300,000-SF build-to-suit), and an industrial building for FedEx in Ft. Lauderdale. “Those were just a few of the more fun ones,” laughed Eric.
When Eric was asked why Ford is so good at what he does, he had plenty to say. “There are a tremendous number of qualities about Ford. What really and truly — in my opinion — always made him the best at development was he always had a knack for knowing what could go wrong. It was a negative outlook sometimes, which could be a pain, but the minute I realized that was his strength – predicting what could go wrong before it happened – I learned we could correct against it. We worked really hard on correcting against those things. Because we looked at the different components of what could go wrong, for the most part, we avoided them. Negative and positive at the same time. It was very helpful.”
“Ford was always willing to celebrate the successes. Whenever we did something right, he always made sure that we celebrated that. We even celebrated the little successes along the way, not just when a project was finished.”
Ford has made a large impact in a lot of people’s lives, including Eric’s. “Ford hired me for something I had never done before and had both the faith and trust in me that I would figure it out. That is incredibly empowering. Frankly, he was always like that; he always thought about the things you could do, not the things you’ve already done. That changed my career. From that point on, I was in development and that’s the side of the business I love.”
With Eric knowing Ford for almost 30 years, he has gotten to know his family well and calls him a dear friend. “One thing I would say is that Ford is one of the most driven people I have ever met. I truly believe that his kids and his family drive him. He got married to Lynn and had his kids, and he was driven to make sure that they were taken care of and knew they were loved. His family is such a critical component of his personality. It’s hard to separate his success from his family. Deep down, it is all about his family for him.”
Here are some final words from Eric about Ford. “I have been blessed to count Ford among my friends since 1993. In the first month of my job, I blew out two tires on my car. We only had one spare and I had no one in Miami to call except Ford. He was there in five minutes and gave me the keys to his Cadillac for the weekend. That’s just the kind of person he is.”
David Blount started working for Foundry Commercial in 2016 as Vice President of Development and Investments, located in Miami. Having previously worked together at Ford’s company, Gibson Development Partners, David joined Foundry Commercial about the same time Ford did. David alongside Ford and Ted Elam have formed the D&I South Florida team. David remembers the first time he came to know about Ford. “The first time I knew who Ford was, I was at an Orange Bowl game with Sebastian Juncadella (Jose Juncadella’s son). Sebastian pointed out Ford to me; he was down on the field during the coin toss, as he was the Orange Bowl President at the time. And then a year or two later, I got a job working for Ford. It’s a small world!”
Some projects that David and Ford have worked on together include Centergate at Gratigny, a 602,000-square-foot industrial development; the Carrie Meek International Business Park II & III, a 280,800-square-foot speculative warehouse and office building; and the Amazon Fulfillment Center in Opa Locka, a 2,400,000-square-foot development.
David smiles as he shares that the progress he has made in his career is due, in large part, to Ford’s belief in him and his steadfast commitment to the mantra that ‘hard work pays off.’
“Every step of the way, Ford believed in my abilities to lead a project. This started from the very early days of when I first began working for him. There would be a need for a minor tenant improvement, and he’d trust me to take the initiative to make that improvement. Then, he trusted me to lead several Sonic Drive-In ground-up developments and some smaller warehouse developments. Those led to the Centergate project and eventually to the Amazon development, which some might consider a pinnacle moment. Every step of the way, Ford has given me the freedom and ability to prove myself. Having both been athletes, Ford’s team approach really resonates with me. At no point do I want to let one of my teammates down. That’s how Ford and I have always worked together on our projects. He also has always given me the ability to feel empowered, not micromanaged. He has put me in a lot of positions where he knew I had the potential to succeed, but I also had to learn to sink or swim pretty quickly. Fortunately, he was always there as my back-up life preserver when I needed him.”
When asked about why Ford is so good at what he does, David responded, “Ford is one of the most caring individuals in the business and industry. He is very hard; he pushes you, but at the end of the day, he is your friend and wants you to succeed and will do everything in his power to help you do that. He has served as a mentor in my career. I owe pretty much everything I have achieved in my career to his guidance and to the opportunity to work under him for the last eight years.”
MANAGING PRINCIPAL & FOUNDER
MET FORD 27 YEARS AGO
Bruce Retzsch is the Managing Principal and Founder of RLC Architects, an architecture firm based in Boca Raton, FL, with whom Foundry has a wonderful relationship. RLC has partnered on many projects with Foundry Commercial including the Carrie Meek Industrial Business Park Phase II, Miami Central Commons and the Centergate development. And these developments don’t even include all the projects Ford Gibson and Bruce have worked on prior to Ford joining Foundry. Bruce started working with Ford in 1992 while he was at Codina Development Group to work on Beacon Centre. “That project really changed the face of industrial development in south Florida and Miami,” said Bruce. “It proposed a whole new approach to design and planning and overtook the market. To this day, it is still one of my favorite projects.” Beacon Centre is a 2.2 million-square-foot, mixed-use, business park located just west of the Miami International Airport.
When it comes to working relationships, Ford has always been held in high-esteem, and Bruce’s opinion of him is no different. “One thing I have always appreciated is that Ford lets us do what we do best – and that’s architecture. He doesn’t dictate what we design. He appreciates the design, and he respects what we do. The projects we’ve had the opportunity to work on with him have always turned out to be a great collaboration. Of course, he wants the developments to look good while also staying within budget, but he lets us do our thing. He has assembled a great team within Foundry. All the projects we have done for Ford look really good, and it doesn’t get any better than that,” said Bruce.
“Ford is really intelligent, and he kind of has that good ol’ boy manner about him,” Bruce stated, when asked why Ford is so good at what he does. “But underneath all that is an extremely intelligent human being. He really knows development, design and construction. He is a really strong leader who commands and gives respect if you earn it. You always know where Ford stands. He has always been very straight with us, and I appreciate that because it makes us better. He is also really humble and hilarious. He cracks us up! Our firm has been working with him for over 30 years, so you know he is also very loyal. That goes beyond his professional relationships to those he has with his friends and family; he is the type of guy who would bend over backwards for them.”
Bruce explains how Ford has impacted his career and RLC Architects: “He was very instrumental of putting our firm on the map. I look back to the early 90s when we started our firm. We worked very hard, and at that time, Codina was our only client. We started the Beacon Centre project, and it became the NAIOP poster child. We got to be very well-known around the industrial and office space, and that spring-boarded our practice. I will always be thankful for Ford’s hand in that.”
Bruce shared a story exemplifying Ford’s loyalty. “Ford is a passionate college football fan, and he’s especially passionate about his beloved Clemson Tigers. He is involved in the Orange Bowl and has become known as a national figure in the college football world. My son, Jeremy, and Ford’s son are just one year apart in age, and both have been playing football for years. When it came time for college, my son accepted a scholarship to the Naval Academy and Ford was so excited because he, too, was a naval officer. Ford made himself available to come to any of the games my son played in. When Jeremy got to the Naval Academy Prep School and decided football wasn’t what he wanted to do, Ford had other plans. He said: ‘that kid is too good, he has to play somewhere,’ and he personally sent my son’s game DVDs everywhere he could and tried to help out. I will always appreciate that.”
PJIM REAL ESTATE
REGIONAL HEAD FOR SOUTHEAST AND
MET FORD 23 YEARS AGO
Jim Mehalso works for PGIM Real Estate as Regional Head for Southeast and Southwest transactions. Jim is an LP partner on multiple Foundry developments, totaling over two million square feet. Some of those assets include Princeton Oaks in Orlando, Bryton in Charlotte, and Centergate in South Florida. Jim first met Ford in 1996. “I got to know Ford while working on Gables Grand Plaza. Gables Grand is a mixed-use development with retail and apartments on a site in Coral Gables that used to be a city bus terminal. As part of that development, there is a ground lease with the city of Coral Gables, which complicated the deal. Ford and Codina teamed up with Related to develop the property. We looked at the deal with another developer a few years earlier, but could not get comfortable with the ground lease. Ford convinced me (Prudential) to come in with Codina/Related to participate in the development. I always wanted to do a deal with Codina, and this was really the first. Ford assured me that Codina could convince the city to amend the ground lease as long as Prudential was in the deal. It was a very long process, but we got it done. Ford’s super positive attitude and friendship with several city council members were key.” Another project that Jim recalls proudly working with Ford on was the Transal Logistics Center. “Transal is two super high-quality industrial buildings that Ford developed for Prudential in the Doral market. We purchased the land and brought Ford in to develop. Honestly, they are probably two of the highest quality buildings in the market.”
When asked what makes someone like Ford successful in a good or bad market, Jim responded: “Real estate is a cyclical business. There are ups and downs. People getting into the business in the past 10 years or so do not know this yet, as they have only seen an up market. One key to this business is knowing how to cope with cycles and prepare for what is next. This did not happen across the board after 2008 and many people did not make it in real estate. It is important to keep all relationships intact during all cycles. This business is 100% a relationship business. Nurturing relationships is key.”
Jim laughs as he reminisces about a time when Ford surprised him before inking an important deal. “Ford had me come down to Coral Gables for a meeting with Mr. Codina and the city to discuss the ground lease for the Gables Grand Plaza project. As it turns out, the ‘meeting’ he had invited me to was actually a question-and-answer session to be featured on live television! I did not have a clue until I arrived. I used to have hair before that meeting!”
When asked about Ford’s impact on his career, Jim states: “Ford has taught me to try to keep a positive attitude and to remember that this business is fun and relationship-oriented. He has been a very dear friend of mine, pretty much since the day I met him. He has taught me a ton about industrial real estate development, but more importantly, he has helped me understand how to value and respect relationships.”
MET FORD 29 YEARS AGO
Jose Juncadella is a Co-Founder, Principal and Senior Advisor for Fairchild Partners serving the South Florida market. Jose has worked on many of Ford’s projects as the primary leasing broker including Beacon Industrial Park, Beacon 97, and more throughout the years. Jose first met Ford when he worked for Codina and was the leasing broker on Beacon Centre. In fact, it was Jose who helped Ford land a position at Codina working on the Beacon Centre development project in 1990. “He was exactly the person we wanted for the role. He is very positive, and he knows his stuff. He has great ideas, an entrepreneurial spirit, and is very creative,” said Jose.
Jose and Ford worked together for years and helped change the landscape of the Doral area, having built many of the Beacon developments in South Florida. Jose states: “Each project was very different from the next, so they weren’t competing. They were extremely successful and we dominated the South Florida market in terms of Class A assets for a time. We won every single award; Developer of the Year, Project of the Year, and more. To celebrate, Ford would get a big party bus and bring everyone to the awards ceremony so the whole team could accept the award.”
Jose talked about Ford’s knowledge in the real estate space. “Ford is very competent. He knows about construction, development, law, and property management. You want someone with his unique talents to be part of your team. He has knowledge in every aspect of the business. It’s hard to find someone with that skill-set.”
Jose and Ford have worked together through recessions and he has seen what makes him successful through hard times. “He and I shared offices during the downturn. We were a community. We would meet every morning and try to brainstorm creative ways to win business. During that time, we were involved in getting property management assignments. We took on projects outside of our traditional scope to continue winning business and to survive during the good and the bad times.”
“We have worked together for almost 30 years. Ford would always allow me to be a part of his projects even with Foundry developments like Miami Central Commons,” said Jose about working together. “He has always been there for people. He is loyal and I feel very lucky to have him as a friend.”
Not only did Ford and Jose work together, but they also knew each other personally. “He is a great friend and great family man. Our families have known each other since our kids were babies. We also worked together along with Lynn Gibson, his wife. I have always admired him; he is a great leader.”
MET FORD 28 YEARS AGO
Armando Codina is the executive chairman of Codina Partners, a real estate investment and development firm based in Coral Gables, FL. Prior to his current role, Mr. Codina served as chairman and CEO of Codina Group, which he founded in 1979. In 2006, Mr. Codina merged his firm with Flagler Development Group, and was then sold to Fortress Investment Group in 2007.
Mr. Codina helped Ford get his start in South Florida with Codina Group in 1991. “I was the one who told Ford to come to Miami. We did a search and Ford looked pretty good, so I sent him a first-class ticket to visit me in Miami. He came thinking that he’d have a nice trip to Miami and then say ‘no’ to the offer,” said Mr. Codina. “So he came to South Florida, and I romanced him; the rest is history. He never thought he would leave North Carolina, and now he wouldn’t leave Miami.”
Following years of forming a deep personal and professional bond, it’s no surprise that Mr. Codina also stepped up to help him following his stroke last year. “When I heard what happened and that he was in Atlanta, I knew he needed to get the best care available. He was lucky it happened in Atlanta because The Shepherd Center is located there, and it is one of the best rehab facilities in the country.”
Fortunately, Mr. Codina had several relationships with practitioners at the rehab facility. He called upon them to assist his friend and colleague during the recovery process.
“I think Ford would tell you that I helped him get into The Shepherd Center. The facility has limited capacity, and I had a connection there, so I helped him get the care he needed. Soon after, I went to Atlanta to see him there, and am happy I was able to help.”
Mr. Codina is still proud to have played a part in attracting Ford to Florida, and to have helped place him on the trajectory for his career. The two have remained close friends and colleagues for nearly 30 years. “Both events – Ford moving to South Florida and Ford working hard to recover from the stroke – those were transformational, and I am happy to have played a role in them.”
REAL ESTATE MANAGER
From the moment I met Ford, it was obvious that relationships mean everything to him. While cooking his grandmother’s famed red beans and rice recipe, he would routinely dial her up to let her know he was thinking about her. Speaking with his mother was never an obligation, but rather something he looked forward to everyday. He has always been passionate about helping others, whether his help is going to one of his own children or to a friend and colleague, to aid them in reaching their full potential. He is the first person ready to celebrate the accomplishments of those he cares about, without any expectation of reciprocity. He enjoys working with other community stakeholders and giving back through organizations like the Orange Bowl Committee. To Ford, one of the key reasons to remain involved in the community is to develop and foster lasting relationships.
When we travel, no matter where we are in the country, Ford finds a way to invite a former colleague or college friend to a meal to catch up. No matter how many years have passed since they have last seen each other, they pick up right where they left off, and Ford has a way of letting others know that they matter to him. I honestly don’t think there is a state where he doesn’t have a connection or friend to contact.
While he was lying in a hospital bed in an Atlanta ICU, barely coherent and with a shaky prognosis, I saw and witnessed how these relationships that Ford had built up over so many years came back to him and our family 100-fold. The outpouring of love and support was overwhelming. The cards, letters, texts, emails, phone calls, visits, and prayers were heartwarming and humbling. Friends and colleagues visited Georgia from California, Miami, New Hampshire, Texas and more. The compassion from every person that – at one point or another Ford’s kindness touched – helped him and our family through the darkest and most uncertain times.
One of Ford’s favorite mantras has always been “the word ‘can’t’ isn’t in my vocabulary.” From his athletic pursuits to his successful career and then to his fight to regain his health over the past year, he has proven that he truly lives by those words. He has displayed a powerful determination to never give up.
It’s through his hard work, answered prayers, and the love and support of his friends, family, and colleagues – those relationships that are foundational to who Ford is – that he found his way back to all of us.