Meet Regent Nathan Ford: Collaborative Leader

Regent Nathan Ford, center.
(EMU file photo)

Around the time Nathan Ford graduated from Detroit’s Cass Tech High School and entered Morehouse University, the movie “Wall Street” starring Michael Douglas made its debut. The film had an impact on Ford, albeit briefly.

“I wanted to become a New York Wall Street financier,” Ford says with a laugh. He earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration. “My goals evolved during my time at Morehouse. My concentration was in marketing, which captivated me more than finance. Marketing is all about relating to people—I’m a people person.”

Ford’s affable personality, combined with “people skills” developed over a long career in government and managing multi-billion dollar infrastructure projects, serves him well as a member of Eastern Michigan University’s Board of Regents, which he joined in December 2020.

Regents Dr. Jessie Kimbrough Marshall and Nathan Ford hoist golden shovels at the groundbreaking
Regents Dr. Jessie Kimbrough Marshall, left, and Nathan Ford prepare to break ground at the Welcome Home 2025 Groundbreaking ceremony.

“My business skills are certainly transferable to my work on the board,” says Ford, who lives in Detroit with his wife Dedra, a nurse practitioner and EMU alumna. “I try to fine-tune my skills every day and act as a motivator and collaborator.” 

Before attending college, Ford was an intern for former Detroit City Councilman Nicholas Hood II, who became an important mentor.

“I had always loved studying American history and government while in high school,” Ford says. “I was working as a stock boy at Sibley’s Shoes and one day Councilman Hood came in. His eloquent and graceful presence struck me immediately. I wanted to be close to him. I literally stalked his chief of staff and after about 20 phone calls got an interview for an unpaid internship.”

After college, Ford worked as a marketing representative for Baxter Healthcare Corporation in Illinois before returning to Detroit to work with Hood again—this time as an administrative assistant.

“My most memorable experiences with Councilman Hood are the private, deep, one-on-one conversations we had,” Ford says. “He lived a full life and shared a lot of his wisdom with me. His words still ring in my ears today.”

Later, Ford worked for former Detroit Mayor Dave Bing and became director of the city’s Buildings, Safety Engineering and Environmental Department. Ford also served simultaneously as a board member of the Wayne County Building Authority.

“Mayor Bing is a hero of mine and I’m grateful for the opportunity to work for him and serve the people,” Ford says. “In my job, I oversaw building permits, inspections, and demolitions; building licensing; and environmental affairs. Mayor Bing was very motivating and led without being a micromanager. He let me do my job and always had inspiring, positive words.”

For the past five years, Ford has worked for HNTB Corporation, a national infrastructure design firm. The company has designed many airports, tunnels, roadways, bridges, sports arenas, and transit systems nationally and internationally. In HNTB’s Detroit office, Ford is associate vice president and group director for program/construction management. Among the projects he currently oversees are the I-375 improvements and I-94 modernizations in Detroit.

“My group handles about eight to 10 projects at any one time,” Ford says. “There is no typical workday. I manage a group of about 40 people, from program managers to estimators and schedulers, communications professionals, utilities operators, and real estate folks. For my job, organizational skills are paramount. And I try to borrow from my earlier role models by providing collaborative, inspiring leadership to deliver satisfaction to our clients.”

Ford applied for an open seat on the Board of Regents with the encouragement of a close friend and his wife.

“A friend and EMU Regent Emeritus contacted me and suggested that I look into joining,” Ford says. “I was really intrigued and took some time to consider it. I’ve always had great respect for EMU since my wife and some other friends are alumni. It’s a huge commitment, and when I become involved in something, I want to be able to give 110 percent.”

Ford says he applies principles of collaborative leadership to his work as a Regent, just as he does in business.

“We want to ensure Eastern offers the best possible education and experience to its students,” says Ford, who serves as vice-chair of the Student Affairs Committee as part of his Regent duties. “I’ve learned that it’s vitally important to engage students from the president on down. At the end of the day, I want to hear from students—they’re the reason why we’re here, and I want to be as close as possible to them.”

Apart from business activities, Ford enjoys spending time with his wife and two adult daughters. Spenser is a brand manager for Nike; Daryn, his stepdaughter, is studying for her master’s in business administration at Wayne State University. Ford also was a baseball coach with the Detroit Police Athletic League for many years. These days, he enjoys squeezing in nine holes whenever possible at Eagle Crest Golf Club, as well as more lighthearted pursuits.

“I’m truly a child of the 70s,” Ford says with a laugh. “I love watching old reruns on MeTV.”

Ford’s term as a Regent expires in December 2028.

About Eastern Michigan University
Founded in 1849, Eastern is the second oldest public university in Michigan. It currently serves more than 14,000 students pursuing undergraduate, graduate, specialist, doctoral and certificate degrees in the arts, sciences and professions. In all, more than 300 majors, minors and concentrations are delivered through the University's Colleges of Arts and Sciences; Business; Education; Engineering and Technology; Health and Human Services; and its graduate school. National publications regularly recognize EMU for its excellence, diversity, and commitment to applied education. Visit the University’s rankings and points of pride websites to learn more. For more information about Eastern Michigan University, visit the University's website. To stay up to date on University news, activities and announcements, visit EMU Today.

October 26, 2022

Written by:
Jeff Samoray

Media Contact:
Darcy Gifford