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Nat Ford Continues the Work of Transportation Leadership for Northeast Florida

By Lynn Jones, Jacksonville Free Press – 1961 was a pivotal year in American history. Civil Rights icons Martin Luther King. Jr., Congressman John Lewis, Reverend Joseph Lowry, Andrew Young and many others were on the front line for justice for African Americans.  It was also the year that Nathanial P.  Ford, Sr. was born in in South Carolina and moved to New York City ate the age of one. The move to New York proved to be the visual start of Ford’s transportation career.  He watched as his father’s legacy began with his climb up the corporate ladder and his rise to Chief Operating Officer for New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), “I wanted to be like him,” said Ford.  “At a young age I saw how vital public transportation is and I wanted to be part of that.

Expounding on his father’s legacy, at the age of 39, Ford became Chief Executive Officer of Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) in Atlanta, Georgia.  Atlanta presented Ford with the task of working directly with Atlanta icons, “I was amongst giants,” said Ford. “In Atlanta my team and I were bridging community gaps with working on projects expanding the rail system, navigating investment issues with former Mayor Maynard Jackson, of Jackson Securities, and developing programs with Atlanta Hartsfield airport.”

In addition to Atlanta being the cradle of the civil rights movement, Ford had an opportunity to work closely with and learn from leaders such as Juanita Abernathy, wife of the late Ralph David Abernathy, the Rev. Joseph Lowery and Rev. Walter Kimbrough. “They were members of the Board and while I worked at MARTA while I was CEO and we formed a close professional relationship that has helped guide my decisions over the years as I’ve worked to make transportation equitable for everyone.”

Being under the cocoon of giants Ford speaks with authority, “My career has made its mark because of being relentless, the desire to be the best, perseverance, emulating my mentors and always striving to be the best.”  While in Atlanta, Ford also established some solid long lasting relationships and friendships.  Atlanta Communications Public Relations Specialist, Jeff Dickerson, praised Ford’s work ethic, “Nat is a good listener. He basically had a kitchen cabinet and an external brain trust on his team. He brought people together with various skill sets to ensure Marta’s success,” said Dickerson.

Ford’s career also took him to San Francisco, twice. First, in the early 1990s, Ford spent five-years as the Assistant Chief Transportation Officer for the Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) before heading back to the east coast at MARTA. After leaving Atlanta in 2006, Ford returned to the Bay Area to become the Chief Executive Officer at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. During his time in the Bay area, Ford had the opportunity to meet and work closely with former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, former Mayor Gavin Newsom and current Democratic Party nominee for Vice President Sen. Kamala Harris, solidifying that he is always in the right position at the right time.

While successful on the west coast, he was anxious to return east where his family’s roots were planted.  After an extensive job search, Ford arrived in Jacksonville in 2012 to accept the Chief Executive Officer of the Jacksonville Transportation Authority (JTA). 

Ford is known for industry-leading insights and thought leadership on international transportation issues from trade and study missions around the world. The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) recently named Ford their Outstanding Public Transportation Manager for 2020. He has received numerous awards for his transformational programs and initiatives, including the White House Champion of Change. He was named “Ultimate CEO” by the Jacksonville Business Journal, inducted into the First Coast Business Hall of Fame and was honored with the 2019 “Thought Leader” Award by The Eno Center for Transportation. Ford serves on the boards of several nonprofits, including vice chair of the Board of Directors for Goodwill Industries. He is a past member of the United Way Board of Directors and the Board of Trustees for Daniel Kids.

His presence has not gone unnoticed. In the eight years he has been in the city, recognitions have ranged from chairing the city 2015 “Step Out: Walk to Stop Diabetes” campaign to feeding the homeless at the Sulzbacher Village. The Authority has also started an internship program to prepare college students for careers in transportation.  Ford’s impressive resume includes an MBA from the Davis School of Business at Jacksonville University and a Bachelor of Applied Science degree in organizational leadership from Mercer University amongst others.. He is a graduate of both Leadership Florida and Leadership Jacksonville.

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