Off the runway: at Ford Models, never a dull day

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Wake Forest alumnus Todd Bernard (MBA ’02) is chief financial officer of Ford Models, Inc. in New York City. Ford is the leading global management company for fashion talent with operation in the Americas and Europe and has represented names like Kim Alexis, Anderson Cooper, Twiggy and Christie Brinkley.

Ford Models is perhaps the best-known modeling agency in the world. Could you describe the career path that landed you on board and also tell us a little about your responsibilities?

I started my career working in public accounting at Ernst & Young, but after two busy seasons I moved over to a publicly traded company working in corporate finance and reporting. I spent a few years doing SEC reporting for them, but then moved on to working for a couple of smaller companies that were in an expansion period, all the while gaining more experience in areas outside the traditional scope of corporate accounting such as Information Technology, Human Resources and Operations.

After completing my MBA at Wake Forest in 2002, my wife Carol and I made the decision to move to New York City. We left our jobs, sold our home and moved in less than two months. I obtained a position as the Regional Controller for an international, publicly traded recruitment firm. Over the next seven years I was subsequently promoted to Regional Chief Financial Officer for the Americas, which required substantial international travel. I left the recruitment firm to take a position at a regional staffing firm as the CFO, where I gained significant experience dealing with high volume prestigious clients and multi-year contractual relationships.

When Ford Models made the decision to seek a new CFO in late 2010, they specifically searched for someone with international management experience as well as experience in staffing and recruitment. My name came up as a potential candidate through my connections in the recruitment industry. After several lengthy interviews I was offered the position. At Ford, I am responsible for all aspects of accounting and financial reporting, banking reporting & relationships, liaising with our board of directors and investors, as well as HR, IT and Operations.

Since Ford represents diverse talent from around the world, yours must certainly be a global working environment. What’s that like?

It certainly is a global environment. Ford represents talent throughout the world, and with our corporate headquarters based in New York City, it’s an exciting, challenging multicultural environment. Ford has offices throughout the world and having experienced a similar environment while working at a previous position, I find it both rewarding and challenging. There is never a dull day.

Is it a glamorous and competitive business?

It is a very glamorous and creative business given what we do. Ford represents the top models and talent in the world and has a client base that includes all the well known companies in the fashion industry as well as the world’s top retailers. It is an extremely competitive and fast-paced industry. Ford is the largest and most respected modeling agency in the world and sets the standard for beauty in the industry, so there are continuous challenges to our brand that we must face. The bar for success is set very high for both talent and operations. Behind the scenes the operations have to be highly efficient and effective to support the creative side of the business and ensure that our clients and talent have a seamless, positive experience.

What are the challenges and rewards?

Any organization and its management team will always face challenges. A specific challenge of working in the fashion industry is the need to bridge fashion-forward, creative artists to an efficient operational structure, while not compromising or losing the integrity of the artistic process, but still be able to produce positive results for our investors. We are also constantly strategizing on how to effectively grow and expand the business while staying true to the brand.

At the end of the day the greatest challenge is to manage the creative, financial and day-to-day operations in a manner that allows Ford to deliver exceptional talent and results. The reward is that extremely talented and professional individuals surround me, and it is professionally and personally fulfilling to see each division, as well as the company, continue to lead the industry and exceed expectations.

Where are you from originally, and were there particular professors or classes at Wake Forest that influenced your career path?

I am originally from Minnesota, but stayed in North Carolina after serving in the United States Marine Corp. The classes that I feel allowed me to expand my career and move outside of just pure accounting were Business Law, Operations and Entrepreneurship.

Do you have any career advice for current students or alumni?

My best advice to any alumni or current student is never stop building your resume. If you are not learning new skills and enhancing your professional career, it may be time to step out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself with a new opportunity.

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