From the Football Field to the Industrial Field

Feb. 23, 2009

Growing up, Forest Farmer had a strong desire to escape the small industrial town of Zanesville, Ohio.

“I started out just wanting to get out of my home town,” said Farmer. “I saw sports as a way out.”

Ironically it would not be a life as a football coach or professional football player that defined him, but rather working within the industrial field and his “hands-on” approach.

In 1960, Farmer received the chance he desired to escape the small town and play football at Purdue University. Over the next three years, he became an All-America linebacker and captain of the football team. He decided to turn pro in 1962, signing with the Denver Broncos.

Farmer was living the dream he had longed for, but soon a preseason injury would end his football career. He returned to Purdue, earning a degree in physical education and biology. Farmer then decided to embark on a teaching career in Indianapolis.

In 1968, Chryslers Indianapolis Electrical plant was seeking highly-motivated minorities with management potential to enroll in its foreman training program. This was the new opportunity and challenge Farmer was seeking. His management style excelled within the Chrysler Cooperation and the industrial field.

Over the next 20 years, Farmer advanced rapidly through manufacturing managerial positions from industrial engineer to foreman and then labor supervisor. He departed briefly from Chrysler in 1979 when the company was on the brink of bankruptcy only to work for Volkswagen of America. Nine month later, after the passage of the Loan Guarantee Act, he was persuaded back to Chrysler. 

Over the 1980’s, Farmer successfully managed a number of Chrysler manufacturing plants throughout the United States utilizing the skills he learned on the competitive playing field.  Almost 40 years removed from athletics, Farmer attributes his leadership and team mentality to the time he spent at Purdue.

“I think the industry leads itself to a background in competitive sports,” said Farmer. “You need management that can respond to a challenge and who are used to pulling people together to work as a team.”

Coincidently, it would be the stories from his father who worked in the small town steel mill for 20 years that would impact Farmer’s management style.

“Growing up, I would hear the stories from my father about management indifferences and abuse,” said Farmer. “I learned very early on that it is important to treat people the way that I want to be treated.”

Through the implementation of this philosophy, Farmer was able to gain the trust of reluctant workers and develop a working rapport.  He left Chrysler in 1988 to serve as president of Acustar, Inc. until 1994.

Today, the 67-year-old, is President and Chief Executive Officer of The Farmer Group. He is also Chairman, Chief Executive Officer, and President of Enerflex Solutions LLC, which provides value-added subassemblies to the automotive industry, and of Trillium Technologies, a technology and engineering services company.

Looking back, Farmer’s career was deeply impacted by the dream of a young boy wanting to leave the industrial small town for the bright lights and glamour of football. The game of football faded sooner than expected, but the lessons learned at Purdue have lived on and produced an exquisite career within the industrial field.