Rod Ford


ESI Group of Cos.

Little Rock

Rod Ford

Rod Ford's ESI Group of Cos. is growing so fast that a casual observer needs a scorecard to keep up.

ESI, which includes ESI Automation, Extra Soft Inc. and Enterprise Solutions Inc., designs and builds computer-controlled systems that improve companies' efficiency. Its revenue on average has doubled every year since it was founded in 1988. Revenue last year was up 60 percent.

ESI opened an office in Tulsa, Okla., in October. A third office recently opened in New Orleans, primarily because of a big contract with Shell Oil Co. ESI is installing systems on offshore platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. The systems transmit data over a microwave link back to Shell's New Orleans office.

"We're not chasing these projects for the sake of technology," the 35-year-old Ford says. "We understand that our role is to solve a business problem and the technology is a tool set that allows us to do that."

Ford is an avid golfer and an occasional pilot. He'll relieve some of the pressures of his business next month at a Fighter Pilot USA school in Chicago. He'll fly a plane over Lake Michigan and play a game of aerial laser tag with another pilot, while cameras in the cockpit and on a chase plane film everything.

"I can't wait for it," Ford says.