Rich Ziade: I first discovered Paul Ford as a writer in the year 2000 actually.
Paul Ford: Yikes.
Rich Ziade: Yeah. Uh, really enjoyed the writing. I, I viewed you as like a futurist.
Paul Ford: Hmm. Okay. That’s fair. I was interested in like what’s gonna happen with technology back
Rich Ziade: Yeah. And it was, it was the Google Robot article that sort of kicked it off and then
Paul Ford: let’s be clear, I was 24.
Rich Ziade: He was 24. But you And there weren’t a ton of writers on the internet yet.
Paul Ford: No.
Rich Ziade: And I thought you were fascinating. And then, you know, you’d, you’d sort of drift into view. Cause I was an RSS freak. I would follow feeds. Uh, and then years later we met through a, through a mutual friend. And what often comes to mind is like, wow, this guy must have.
Strolled around Princeton and thought big thoughts.
Paul Ford: Yeah, that’s a [00:01:00] stretch. So, um, folks split when I was 12. Dad kind of vanished for a while and I ended up a coup, and it’s like a couple years fast forward at his school for poor kids called the Milton Hershey School.
Rich Ziade: Okay, so you’re 12 now?
Paul Ford: Well, no, now I’m actually like 14, 15. Alright,
Rich Ziade: so we’re, we’re moving ahead
Paul Ford: nothing. Chaos never comes in a nice sequence, right? Like it’s just a couple years of
Rich Ziade: right, so you’re 14, you’re at the Milton Hershey School. What is the Milton Hershey
Paul Ford: So, uh, the. Her, so Milton Snavely Hershey was the founder of, uh, what now is called Herko, the Hershey Chocolate Company.
Okay. Okay. And you started that in, around, I think it was around 1910 in Hershey, [00:02:00] Hershey, Pennsylvania. I wasn’t, it wasn’t called Hershey, Pennsylvania at that point. It was Dairy Township. And, uh, he got a, you know, he got a lot of milk, got a lot of cocoa, um, got married and, and you know, like built a whole like in it.
Empire like this
Rich Ziade: a chocolate empire.
Paul Ford: an absolute beast of a company, but his.
Rich Ziade: wife, who
Paul Ford: who he loved very much. Mm-hmm. Could not conceive,
Rich Ziade: They couldn’t have kids. No. Okay.
Paul Ford: So they started an orphanage. They’re like, well, you know, here we are. We’re very fortunate. We
Rich Ziade: help some people.
Paul Ford: we have, you know, at that point, a hundred thousand dollars or, you know, whatever.
Rich Ziade: whatever a billion is
Paul Ford: Exactly. It was like a couple million. And, uh, they’re like, all, well, well, they got a farmhouse together and they, they put some kids in it. And it was, um, orphans. It was all orphans to start. Okay. And so, uh, so that kept growing over time. And, and actually what is tricky, I think to understand what’s very interesting as a model of corporate governance, [00:03:00] the school is, okay.
So Herko, you’ve, you’ve had a Hershey chocolate party, you don’t like them. Go ahead. Talk about that. Get that out.
Rich Ziade: It’s a bad
Paul Ford: Yeah. You don’t like chocolate, you don’t like,
Rich Ziade: but they’re also m and ms. And I like a, I like a,
Paul Ford: no, that’s Mars. You don’t like mass consumer chocolate in general?
Rich Ziade: I like the pretzel m and ms at like two in the morning after too
Paul Ford: No, it’s not a Hershey product. The, um, but Reese’s is a Hershey product.
Rich Ziade: Okay. I like Reese’s pieces. Mm-hmm.
Paul Ford: There you go. Anyway, so. Okay.
Rich Ziade: built an empire,
Paul Ford: and just American love. American’s lovingness to shove, shove sugar in their mouths.
Rich Ziade: Totally
Paul Ford: makes sense. One of the great industrial can have children, and so he starts the orphanage and here we are.
And so like now he gives the whole company to a trust, right. That runs the, uh, that, that the school kind of operates. The trust exists to keep the school funded.
Rich Ziade: Right. And so it’s, it’s worth [00:04:00] noting, like it is hard coded into the charter, essentially the guidelines of the trust that this school must be funded forever.
Paul Ford: yeah.
So the size of the trust rich is about 4.5 billion to 17.4 billion. That’s what the web says, but let’s just assume like an unbelievable amount of money. And it’s, it’s similar to the endowments, like it’s smaller than the endowments of Yale and Harvard, but similar to those of like Texas a and m University, and it’s for.
You know, one to 2000 depending on how the, how they’re, how they’re doing it these days. I, I’m not in super close contact with the school. I don’t keep close tabs on it. Uh, it’s, it’s one to 2000, what they call social orphans.
Rich Ziade: Okay, so you don’t necessarily, the criteria isn’t a hard criteria of not having parents. Some
Paul Ford: kids, some kids were orphans when I went to the school.
Um, but many, many were. Not many. I had one parent, I had both my parents living, but we were really broke and there was just kind of no money and no stability. So they’re like, all right, well you’re, you’re a good candidate for this. You’re bright. Come on
Rich Ziade: Was [00:05:00] there, was there like testing criteria to make sure you were bright enough to go
Paul Ford: No, they basically, they wanted you to be about average, like average or above. Essentially. They, they didn’t want to be a place, it’s not a place for special
Rich Ziade: kids. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Or special needs. Yeah. Okay.
Paul Ford: There wasn’t an intelligence cap. Let’s be mindful.
Rich Ziade: Yeah,
Paul Ford: But, but anyway, it’s a strange experience and I, I went to some of those, some kids go there as early as four.
Rich Ziade: Okay.
Paul Ford: it really functions as like an orphanage and de facto family. There were kids in,
Rich Ziade: okay, so to be clear, this isn’t a school you’re living there.
Paul Ford: Yeah, it’s a, it’s a, it’s a boarding school. There are, there are no day students. You live there. They give you clothing, uh, they give you money for college. After you leave you, you have, you live in a house with other kids and the house parent,
Rich Ziade: Yeah.
Paul Ford: uh, there’s a, there’s a set of house parents, married couple who keep an eye on you and then you go to the school every day.
Rich Ziade: Okay. And
Paul Ford: you stay there often through the summer.
Rich Ziade: Okay, so you were living there, you were you, I mean, this is, was this awful for [00:06:00] you?
Paul Ford: It was a very confusing time. Like you’re 14, 15 and suddenly you’re gonna pick up and go to this weird pseudo orphanage in the middle of Pennsylvania. Nobody’s there for good reasons.
Like nobody? No, no. Family is just like, well, this, you know, great news. It didn’t work out.
Rich Ziade: Is it only for Pennsylvania
Paul Ford: No, no, it’s for people from all over. But it definitely is a con, like there are a lot of tough kids from Philly and a lot of poor kids from farms.
Rich Ziade: it. Okay.
Paul Ford: Looking back
Rich Ziade: now, what did you learn?
Paul Ford: Like,
Rich Ziade: Looking back, would you say There’s no way I would be where I am today had I not gone to the Hershey school?
Paul Ford: It definitely was a full brain reset because I was in this, so before I went there, I was in this kind of typical American suburban community and
Rich Ziade: indistinguishable from a thousand
Paul Ford: Yeah, a little older, a little, you know, like Pennsylvania has been around for a while and there was culture and there was a [00:07:00] university nearby and my dad taught. So before all that fell apart, I definitely had a, like I grew up in a house full of books and things like that, right? So, so I definitely had a life where I had access to intellectual things.
I got to go to the, you know, library and use the computer. But then I’m in an environment in which my peers and my fellow students are from really messed up environments. Um, kids whose parents had, uh, one, you know, like, like murder was not unusual as a reason that a parent had passed away. Like
Rich Ziade: and for you, you’re a very empathetic person. You’re, you’re definitely someone that, like, do you think that was shaped then
Paul Ford: I see where you No, I see where you’re going with that. Now the funny thing is when you put people together who’ve been through a mess
Rich Ziade: Yeah.
Paul Ford: They don’t wanna talk about the mess.
Rich Ziade: No, they don’t.
Paul Ford: They wanna, um, you
Rich Ziade: move on.
Paul Ford: Yeah. They want to like throw football. Yeah. And, and, and that’s, so that, which is, that’s one thing, it’s, it’s actually sometimes a little tricky for me in today’s very [00:08:00] modern psychotherapy and trauma driven discourse
Rich Ziade: Mm-hmm.
Paul Ford: because a lot of people who have been through it, Just kind of want to move on.
And I feel that we have a discussion in our culture where like, you can’t move on. Yeah.
Rich Ziade: Yeah,
Paul Ford: You can’t. Yeah. And, and I, I worry about that actually. I don’t, I like, I get it. I get that people need to process their stuff. I spent time on that myself. But another time, like the goal should be to move on, not to continually revisit the trauma.
And sometimes that gets lost anyway, regardless. You know what it actually taught me. So here I am. Okay. And I, I’m, I’m aligning a lot of stuff that was going on in the world around me at the time, but like I’m parachuted into this environment. Um, and uh, there was a whole, so there were a few things. First of all, there was a whole culture and set of norms that I had to learn really quickly cuz I was a later student saying people have been there since they were four.
Rich Ziade: Mm-hmm.
Paul Ford: And suddenly there’s,
Rich Ziade: up.
Paul Ford: I have house parents. There are rules. There’s, you know, when you get punished, you have to [00:09:00] do dishes. You do dishes for 15 kids, like you’re, you, some people have breakfast duty. I’m cleaning houses. I’m cleaning toilets with a to toothbrush. I’m waking up at 5:00 AM you know, and there’s, there’s stuff like that.
Um, it’s a very athletic jockey. Christian culture. I’m going to church, uh, I’m going to like, I’m going to chapel. I’m, you know, playing trombone in the band. Like there’s just like a whole world I’m
Rich Ziade: Yeah.
Paul Ford: Okay. And so, so
Rich Ziade: they taught you some work ethic.
Paul Ford: Yeah. No, no, no. My, my brother was in the Navy at the time, and at graduation he was like, boy, this reminds me of the military, right?
Like, it’s just very like, service oriented, religious, et cetera. Okay. The, but the real thing that I think I learned, the thing that I go back to the most often from that experience, and I don’t think about it, I don’t think about high school as much is, you know, you, you, you get older, was that I was parachuted into a vast and complicated bureaucracy.
Rich Ziade: Mm-hmm.
Paul Ford: And the bureaucracy had a lot of money and resources and there was a [00:10:00] lot swimming around. And as a high school student, I remember like. Where am I in this? And this place had unbelievable resources. I’ll give you an example. There’s 90 student homes. Each one has like 14 kids. And think about how schools usually operate.
And one day they went, you know, these, every student home should have at least one computer. And like a month later, a Mac lc shows up. And
Rich Ziade: So it’s just infinite resources
Paul Ford: a hundred of them. One for every classroom. And you know, that would be like a five year thing in public school.
Rich Ziade: Yeah.
Paul Ford: And here it was like, well, if we should do it, we should do
Rich Ziade: And they do it and, and so, so it sounds like you really were very fortunate.
Paul Ford: I’m incredibly fortunate throughout my entire life. It was just a tough time. And the, the school, the school itself was tough. I remember afterwards, I remember there was another, I was, you know, one of the, Smart, sensitive types in the school and it wasn’t a place that celebrated smart, sensitive
Rich Ziade: Sure, sure,
Paul Ford: fine. I’m sure everybody, you know, if any Milt is listening to this, they’re gonna go like, Hey, fricking was [00:11:00] so, um, a lot of fist fights, a lot of that stuff like, a lot of like
Rich Ziade: there’s, there’s a lot of kids working through stuff.
Paul Ford: it’s violent and it was a violent place. Now I understand more, I have more empathy than I did after I graduated for what that was all about.
But at the same time, you have vulnerable kids who end up in vulnerable situations and the the instinct. Of the culture and of that part of the world and of the school was to punish and get them out of the system rather than address the challenges or, or avoid them. They never, there was a, it, it wasn’t always like focused on, on managing, on diminishing harm and so, so it was all the regular stuff and all the regular drama of the era.
So, but look. Here’s the thing. I, for, for a while, I wore that as a badge. I’m like, I was poor. Right? I was like, and it was kind of nice to be able to, to be a little difficult about it in a room to be like, yeah, well I went to a school for, you know, people would be talking about their high school experiences.
And I’d be like, well, I went to a school for poor kids.
Rich Ziade: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Made you special.
Paul Ford: And then [00:12:00] I, as, as things got, uh, different in my life, I just had to stop talking about it. And I’ll tell you why. I was proud of it. Proud of who I am. Proud of where I came from, but no one could understand it.
Rich Ziade: What do you mean?
Paul Ford: You just can’t, you know, when you spend a lot of time with upper middle class people building a career Yeah. And you try to talk to them about what you came from and where you believe
Rich Ziade: Yeah.
Paul Ford: They see exactly what is in front of them and they don’t believe that you came from anything else. Interesting.
They don’t believe you.
Rich Ziade: Well, it’s, it’s, it’s really hard to process. Yeah. It’s really, really hard to process.
Paul Ford: Yeah. People see me as just like a, a tall, white business guy who also is a writer. That’s weird. Well,
Rich Ziade: you are those things.
Paul Ford: I am. I am. And, and you know, I used to try to narrate and explain to people that my background gave me a different context, maybe some different sympathy and empathy.
I don’t, I can’t anymore. I just can’t, I can’t, I don’t try. And then people come to me and they’re like, well, you want to invest in this? And I’m like, all right. This is the [00:13:00] conversation you want to have with me. Fine.
Rich Ziade: Yeah. Um, I, I think you’re touch, I mean, you zoomed out and you’re touching on something. Uh, you know, I think pretty universal, which is people, people’s interactions with others are very much colored by themselves in their own lives, right?
Paul Ford: And American business is an upper middle class enterprise.
Rich Ziade: I mean, it, it is and, and,
Paul Ford: Like leadership is like when you go, your average leader went to a pretty good college, had stable
Rich Ziade: for sure. Well it’s cuz it’s safer to hire those,
Paul Ford: Not your average employee. Your average employee probably come like the middle class in America is way more inclusive.
But once you go up one notch, oh my goodness. It’s a lot of men named Jeff and James.
Rich Ziade: it’s funny because. Some of the best people I’ve ever worked with were big gambles for me. Like one of the best engineers I ever worked with had no college degree. One of the best designers slash engineer unicorns literally lived in the [00:14:00] middle of the country and he is like, I’ll drive over.
I think you guys are cool, but I don’t have anywhere to stay and I would like front of money.
Paul Ford: Mm-hmm.
Rich Ziade: now he’s managing 20 people. I think what you’re highlighting and, and I have a similar experience. I didn’t go to like fancy schools and I had my own kind of version of instability.
Paul Ford: talked about it. I mean, you’re, you, you are an immigrant who left a war zone at age
Rich Ziade: Yeah. And so
Paul Ford: no money. So start there and then here we
Rich Ziade: but echoing what you are saying here,
Paul Ford: here,
Rich Ziade: no one wants to watch your autobiography movie directed by,
Paul Ford: I’ll tell you, it’s a funny thing. They actually, they don’t like the, you’d think that America would celebrate a little, like your story in particular, like self-made American
Rich Ziade: American
Paul Ford: and every
Rich Ziade: the, I mean, Horatio Alger or whatever his
Paul Ford: It’s deeply out of fashion right now, so that’s one
Rich Ziade: Is that true? Yeah,
Paul Ford: yeah. Oh yeah. You’re only supposed to be, we like our, we, we want our rich people to be anti-capitalist in [00:15:00] 2023. But hold on. I’m going to take what you said and take it a little bit further. So here is a, I, I mentored a guy for a long time. I still mentor him, but he doesn’t need me as much anymore. He succeeded. The mentorship worked really well When we started working together, he was a little all over the place.
And he ended, uh, he’s in engineering and he very ambitious, really smart. I really respect this person. I learned a lot from working with him, and he ended up inside of a giant company and I actually think Giant company was the right place to go because Giant company has already worked through all of its drama about different kinds of people.
They have, they’re overt about their goals, they’re overt about bringing people in. They’re overt about career paths and journeys.
Rich Ziade: they want to do it, they
Paul Ford: They wanna do it and they have the resources to do it, and they have the resources to invest in you and. If you want to get into this world, going to the biggest possible platform as soon as possible is, is where you’ll have the most opportunity for growth and to figure out where you sit.
Rich Ziade: I think that’s probably true. I think the other part is it’s [00:16:00] harder, but you just gotta have a lot of conversations because you gotta find that advocate.
Mm-hmm. You need that advocate to be like, okay, I, it’s like the agent who like finds the up and coming Broadway star or off-Broadway star. I was like, gonna make a bet on you. Um, and that just takes a lot more conversation. It’s not that clear cut.
Paul Ford: and I’m gonna
Rich Ziade: just applying for the job.
Paul Ford: I’m gonna say a brutal thing related to me going to this school. You being, um, you growing up broken, uncertain circumstances. Uh, you don’t get any credit for it.
You think you would, you think that the world would be like, wow, you’ve actually worked a little harder than other people to figure stuff out for yourself. Uh, they don’t. They just go, what can you do for me? Yeah. So you, you think that your narrative is gonna help you out, but it, it’s, you just gotta get in there and, and make contacts and figure out how you’re gonna be helpful if you wanna succeed.
All right, Richard, this was an uplifting one. Let’s, uh,
Rich Ziade: Uh, this podcast is sponsored by a board, which you can firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re inviting beta users in very, very soon.
Paul Ford: soon. Mm-hmm.
Rich Ziade: [00:17:00] sign up. Um, it’s a really cool tool, uh, and you’ll learn more about, more about it in the next in days. Now, uh, we have
Paul Ford: have to do a podcast episode describing it. Absolutely. All right, well, uh, hello. It’s the audi ford.com, at the Audi Ford on Twitter. We’d love to hear from you and we’ll talk to you soon.
Rich Ziade: take care.
Paul Ford: Bye.