Board members retiring
Karla Chambers, Allyn Ford leaving at year end
Karla Chambers was 42 years old when she got a call from Ron Parker, then chairman of The Ford Family Foundation’s board of directors. “He asked me to come talk to the board, and I actually turned him down,” Chambers says. She was mom to four children and serving on the Federal Reserve Board. She and her husband were occupied running their own company, Stahlbush Island Farms in Corvallis, which they started in 1985. “Thank you, I said, but I am busy.”
Parker didn’t give up, and a board lunch soon turned into a board position that has lasted 16 years. Chambers is retiring from the board at the end of 2017; her seat will be taken by Andy Storment, a Eugene business investor. “You can’t help but love the mission of this Foundation,” Chambers says. “Rural Oregon is underserved, and the Foundation plugs a lot of holes and serves a lot of needs.”
Chambers, whose family has farmed in Oregon for 133 years, says her service is all about stewardship. “Those of us who have spent our lives in forestry and agriculture, we think of ourselves as stewards,” she explains. “And good stewardship means leaving things better for the next generation. We think in 30- to 50-year blocks, forestry even longer.
“Being part of the board means making sure we are good stewards of the Foundation endowment and carrying out the wishes of the founders.”
In her 16 years on the board, Chambers has seen the board evolve in several significant directions. “I’m the first board chair who has never met Mr. Ford, for example,” she says, “Now we have a whole group of staff and board members who have never met Mr. and Mrs. Ford. We have a phenomenal president in Anne [Kubisch], and now two new board members, one of them a Ford family member [Allyson Ford].
Chambers also notes a significant change of focus for the Foundation during her tenure on the board. “We used to fund pretty much every rural fire hall and community center. We still do a lot of that, but today we are also trying to support communities on social issues — improved high school graduation rates, early childhood development, awareness of child sexual abuse. We aren’t afraid of tackling really hard problems, and with that, you have success and failures. We have a good dialogue on being okay with that.”
There’s one practice Chambers hopes will never change. “We review the articles of incorporation regularly. To be a good steward, you always need to go back to the intent of the founders. Are we truly carrying out their missions? It’s your guide for what you do. The Fords were remarkable; they gave good instructions with unmistakable clarity.”
Chambers doesn’t have to think hard about what she will do with her free time after her tenure ends. “Those of us in the farming and food processing business never have to answer that question,” she says with a laugh. Besides co-managing Stahlbush Island Farms, Chambers is an artist who shows her works at galleries in New York, Florida, California and Oregon. Her artwork is featured on packaging for Stahlbush products.
What she won’t do is worry about the future of the Foundation. “I feel so confident in the board that is there now, and I know they will do great work. That’s the beauty of succession planning and having a good bench underneath you.”
When The Ford Family Foundation’s board of directors gathers for its first meeting in 2018, it will be the first time ever that Allyn Ford has not held a seat. Ford, son of Foundation founders Kenneth Ford and Hallie Ford, has served on the board since its inception in 1993.
Along the way, Ford, who recently retired as CEO of Roseburg, the family’s forest products company, has seen a lot of changes. “We’ve grown,” he says. “The Foundation looked different when Norm Smith [the Foundation’s first president] came on board. He did a terrific job of building the future.” That growth, Ford says, is a dynamic process that takes a particular type of leadership at all levels. “I’m very proud of the organization that we’ve built.”
One thing hasn’t changed is the listening approach that has always been woven into Foundation values. “As a Foundation, we listen, and we respect the people we deal with,” Ford says. “Our concept is to support them and their ideals and give them tools to change. We take a listening approach.”
Change happens fast, Ford points out, and in rural Oregon it’s often driven by economics and social conditions. That means the Foundation has to be able to adapt and stay focused while still being effective.
“I’m talking long term — there are little things you can do to help keep the wheels on, but as a Foundation, our role is to deal with the long-term things where we can have impact, and boy, that’s challenging. It requires a very strategic look, and, especially with rural communities; again, you have to listen.”
It’s not an easy job, and the difficulty is compounded by the high stakes for rural communities.
“Vital rural communities — that’s what it’s all about,” Ford says. “There has to be a sense of urgency. We can’t be complacent. You have to reinvent yourself as an organization all the time, you can’t sit still. If you sit on it, you slowly wither away. There’s a time for us to be in one area, then a time to drop it and move to a different direction. That is hard work.”
Although Ford is retiring, there will still be a family member on the board of directors, as mandated by Foundation bylaws.
“We think the role of family board members is not a right, it’s an obligation,” Ford says.
Candidates are nominated by family members and go through a lengthy application process with the board. The final decision is made by non-family board members, who recently chose Ford’s daughter, Allyson Ford, to fill his spot.
“We have top-notch board members and the family representatives have to be positive contributors who can work in a collegial fashion with the rest of the board. I think Allyson is very capable.”
Ford remains active in a host of volunteer activities, including serving on the University of Oregon Board of Trustees and as an advisor to the school of forestry at Oregon State University. He says the timing is perfect for him to go off the board. “I am very comfortable with the quality of the board and their ability to move forward.”
What will he do with his free time? “I don’t have any real hobbies — my golf game is horrible — but I expect to be very busy,” he says. “Here in Roseburg, I’m working more on the community level than I did before because I have the time. The biggest thing is my time is my own now.”
And Ford looks forward to continuing his relationship with the Foundation. He won’t be far — his new office is just a quarter mile away from the Foundation headquarters.