CEO Stories: Beyond Fair Trade

Scott Ford
Founder of Westrock Coffee

After selling Alltel to Verizon, Scott Ford started Westrock Coffee and the Rwanda Trading Company. Through his innovative business model, Westrock already has put over $100 million into the pockets of Rwandan coffee farmers, and to think, Westrock is just now hitting its stride!

A graphic with a microphone icon and text that says CEO Stories - Scott Ford.

Taking a Risk

Scott Ford’s father grew the company that would become Alltel into a telecommunications giant with financial support from the Stephens family. His hard work and dedication were all the collateral that Jack and Witt Stephens needed to invest in him. That same willingness to invest in people’s commitment to hard work inspired Ford to give opportunity to coffee farmers in Rwanda. His unique approach serves as a great example of capitalism and was a contrast to how others were dealing with the farmers. He centered on a simple question: “How much can we pay the farmers and still make a profit?”

The Three Freedoms

A conversation with the former president of Rwanda when Ford was still at Alltel about how to bring wireless to the East African country led to further conversation about the three freedoms of western civilization that can alleviate poverty: religious freedom, political freedom, and economic freedom. The president believed that a healthy, western-style economy would motivate the people of Rwanda and serve as an example elsewhere in Africa. His request to Ford was simple: if he ever had the chance to teach someone in Rwanda to manage capital and make a profit, to take it. Five years later, Ford found himself in the coffee business.

Profitability is Key

Ford insists on three things for West Rock: transparency about pricing, traceability about the supply chain, and sustainability – in both the environmental/agricultural sense and in its ability to allow farmers to earn a living wage. Those attributes means West Rock can charge a little more for its product and also invest in training for farmers and pay them well. All the benefits – tangible and intangible – that accrue to the farmers and their communities stem from West Rock’s profitability.

About the Series: Featured stories from the intersection of the free market and entrepreneurial success. Here we speak with leading CEOs, academics, philanthropists and up and comers on their contributions and perspectives on the American economy.

About Ray Hoffman: Ray Hoffman, a veteran business journalist, is highly-regarded for his news and analysis features and insightful CEO interviews. Representing BusinessWeek on air for twenty-one years, Mr. Hoffman was the morning business news voice on the ABC Radio Networks from 1995 to 2006. Mr. Hoffman also represented The Wall Street Journal, on air, for eleven years. His daily WCBS CEO Radio feature was recognized by the New York Press Club as best radio business news report in both 2012 and 2015. In this podcast, Mr. Hoffman invites some of America’s most dynamic CEOs to share their stories as business builders and perspectives on free enterprise.