This vetrepreneur learned more in the Marine Corps than at Harvard

Elizabeth Howe
December 17, 2018 - 12:12 pm

Photo courtesy of Ranch Road Boots

Sarah Ford, founder and owner of Ranch Road Boots, attended Harvard Business School — but before that she was a Marine. And, in a lot of ways, she learned more in the military than she did from Harvard. 

Ford decided to join the Marine Corps after college when a backpacking trip in Europe brought her to Normandy. 

"After college I backpacked around Europe, and it was on the D-Day beaches in Normandy where I kind of felt the sense that I needed to do something more and something for my country," Ford said. 

She spent some time deciding between teaching, joining the Peace Corps, or joining the Marines. While her father served in the Marine Corps and she had several family members who also served, it was a particularly effective recruiter who sealed the deal for Ford. 

"He made it sound fun — you get to work out, you get to study history. I had no idea what it was going to be like," she said.

Ford joined the Marine Corps in June 2001 and served as a logistician in Operation Iraqi Freedom. When her time in the Marine Corps started coming to an end, an instructor suggested she go to Harvard Business School. 

"An instructor of mine in the Marine Corps went to Harvard Business when he left the Marine Corps," Ford said. "And I didn't know this at the time, but Harvard really values the experience that you have in the military, so they do seek out veterans to add to their class."

After Harvard, Ford worked in consulting for a number of years before customized cowboy boots started calling to her.

"It started with me buying a couple pairs of custom boots for myself. The design part of it was really fun. You can do anything you want to them — toe shape, heel shape, color patterns, stitch patterns, leather, combinations. That part of it was really appealing and fun to me," Ford said. 

Photo courtesy of Ranch Road Boots

Ford decided to start her own customizable boot company and named it after the roads where she grew up in San Angelo, Texas. 

"In Texas, there's farm to market roads and there's ranch to market roads. I grew up around FM or R roads and that's how we got the name for it," she said.

Now, six years later, Ranch Road Boots has grown. And through a partnership with Amazon and their Fulfillment by Amazon program, Ford's business has doubled.  

"Beyond just selling and being the online marketplace, Amazon does fulfillment for all our boots sold on Amazon. It lets the company grow because you don't necessarily need the customer service staff you would need on your own website. It's absolutely helped us grow," Ford said.

Ford's advice for other veterans thinking of starting their own businesses? You don't need to go to Harvard Business School. 

"I think veterans sometimes underestimate their military experience and how applicable it is to running a business," Ford said. "I really value my time at Harvard Business School, but what I learned from my time in logistics in the Marine Corps helps me on a daily basis probably more than a classroom environment."

And Ford's business pays homage to what she learned from her time in service as well as the service of others. Proceeds from every Ranch Road Boots purchase are donated to Injured Marines Semper Fi Fund, and Ford runs a program that makes boots for amputees — ensuring that her business is both profitable and meaningful. 

"In the military, you learn to solve problems, operate with little information, make decisions, take care of the details, and all of that is very important to running a business. So you don't have to have a business degree, and you don't have to go to business school," Ford added.

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