E.E. Ward Moving and Storage Co. is the oldest African-American owned business in the United States. Before forming an official business model for a moving company, founder John T. Ward used his two horses and wagon as a method of transportation on the underground railroad, an early indication of his logistics intuition. Founded in 1881 by Ward and his son William S. Ward, E.E. Ward has grown to 20 plus trucks and trailers and over 100 employees between Ohio and North Carolina. I had the chance to sit down with Brian Brooks, Owner, to talk about the importance of the Ward family business legacy and these are some of his remarks.
Q: How did you become the owner of E.E. Ward?
A: Eldon Ward is the great-great-grandson of John T. Ward. Eldon was the last Ward to own the company and since Eldon and his wife Elsie did not have children of their own, there was not a succession plan in place when he retired in 1995. My father, William Brooks, was Eldon’s attorney, and they developed a friendship over the 20 years of working together. When I was born, my parents asked Eldon to be my godfather, so I was around Eldon my entire life. In 2000, I began to have conversations with Eldon about the business, and by April 2001, I had purchased the company and its assets.
Q: What is the legacy of the Ward family now?
The legacy is the longevity, milestones reached and challenges E.E. Ward has overcome in 141 years. It is the epitome of entrepreneurship and business ownership to “weather the storm” from world wars, the Depression, stock market crash, pandemics, and the list goes on. It is all a testament to our ability to endure through it all. I look at what has gone on in our country in the 21st century, and despite how hard it has been, it was different in the early years of the company’s history. The legacy I want to protect is that the Ward family has persevered through not only business challenges but also the struggles of racism as a black-owned business – struggles we could only imagine today. Their mindset at that time was to run a good business and develop relationships with white-owned businesses in Columbus. To present themselves as businessmen and sell their service in a time where the challenges were more than they are today, is important to put in context.
Q: What responsibility do you feel as the owner of the oldest African American-owned company in the US?
A: The legacy of E.E. Ward is bigger than me or one individual. We may be the poster billboard example of black-owned business history. When people hear our story, others are motivated and it can give you chills, the calls, and comments we receive about how we inspire other business owners. But also, me as an individual, along with my wife, I want to speak to entrepreneurs to help them avoid some of the challenges in business if I can. More importantly, I have seen things and learned lessons that I want to pass along to the next MBE businesses so they can navigate in a better way than I did.
It is clear from my conversation with Brian that resilience and perseverance is the main attribute that has led to over a century of success. Their ability to adapt to the constantly changing world of logistics has created a model that businesses large and small can emulate to this day. For more information about E.E. Ward and its services, visit https://eeward.com/ or https://www.youtube.com/eeward
To contact Brian Brooks email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Manager, Columbus Region Logistics Council