There is no shortage of prominent challengers for the governor's office, as is seen by the list of Q&As with hopefuls that Westword has published to date. On the Republican side, we've spoken to businessman (and nephew of Mitt Romney) Doug Robinson, entrepreneur and former state legislator Victor Mitchell and 2016 Denver for Trump co-chair Steve Barlock, in addition to Tancredo and Brauchler. We are also working hard to exchange questions and answers with State Treasurer Walker Stapleton and Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman.
On the Democratic side, candidates/interview subjects include former state senator Mike Johnston, onetime Colorado treasurer Cary Kennedy, Congressman Jared Polis and ex-Republican-turned-Dem Erik Underwood, as well as businessman Noel Ginsburg, who dropped out of the competition last month, and Representative Ed Perlmutter, now focusing on a re-election effort in the 7th Congressional District.
Farah has started several successful businesses, including Master Solutions, which developed software used in military satellites, and Precocity, specializing in customer-satisfaction strategy. He's also the author of two books, 1998's Customer Success and 2017's The Magic Wand: Creating Exceptional Customer Experience — A Leadership Fable, that offer solutions he believes will translate to the governorship, as well as a longtime speaker on conservative principles and theory shared by his wife, Tamra. She's best known locally as a spokesperson for Colorado's wing of Americans for Prosperity, an organization closely affiliated with two of the nation's most powerful funders of conservative causes, the Koch brothers.
In addition, Farah confirms that he's been a donor for another Koch brothers-related project, Freedom Partners. And while these organizations are frequently bashed by progressives, he speaks about them both with pride — and while he balks at being portrayed as the Koch candidate for Colorado governor, he makes it clear he wouldn't turn down financial assistance from folks he's met in such circles.
After talking about his background and the dissatisfaction with the current gubernatorial slate that inspired him to enter the fray, Farah digs into issues such as sanctuary cities (he opposes them), charter schools (he's a big supporter), transportation (he believes he can fund major improvements by cutting waste in the current budget rather than raising taxes), energy (in some ways, he thinks fossil fuels are kinder to the environment than alternative approaches), marijuana (he'd defend Colorado laws against federal intervention even though he has his doubts about the wisdom of recreational sales) and more.
Continue to get to know him better.
Barry Farah: I have long thought about running for governor. We almost jumped in this past October before we decided not to. But with George Brauchler and Tom Tancredo dropping out, it seemed to me that the combination of those two represented some conservative ideology that's not being represented, certainly at the assembly level, and maybe in total. I feel very strongly that needs to be represented. It's part of the infrastructure of the Republican contribution. The American idea means something, and if it means anything, it means that we celebrate economic freedom, that we dignify personal responsibility, and that we champion limited government. I've spoken on those three things for twenty years and have spent a lot of time thinking about them and processing through myself as my own personal philosophy — and that's why I say they're not being represented in the way they need to be for the heart and soul of the Republican Party to continue with a cogent argument.
Tell me a little about your background. Where are you from originally? And how would you describe your family?
I was born in California but raised primarily through my school years in Tulsa, Oklahoma. And I was raised in a wonderful home — economically very humble, but I had dynamite parents who loved each other a lot and loved us three kids. My first job was driving a tractor in the fourth grade, and then I got elevated to baling hay on my uncle's ranch — my mom's brother's ranch. That dates way back to soon after the Boomer Sooner time frame of having some land to ranch. I was the guy who, when baling hay, would run ahead of my older brother and my older cousins to get three bales of hay at twelve cents a bale to their two. I'd just run ahead and get that extra bale or two. I was that skinny, scrappy little kid.
By the time I was in high school, I'd sold water-treatment equipment, I'd sold Electrolux vacuum cleaners door to door, I'd sold siding door to door. It just depended on what you needed. I had this little kit in my car, and I'd whip out the right thing to sell depending on what you needed. That was kind of my entrepreneurial beginnings. By the time I was a senior in high school, I had fourteen employees and a landscaping company. Then, between high school and college, I had it in my heart to have an adventure. I was going to graduate early at seventeen, so what was the rush? So I built a log cabin between Creede and Lake City, out in the wilderness — still the wildest area in the contiguous U.S. I talked a buddy of mine into coming up with me, and we really had a lot of fun. It turned out to be a great cabin, with hot and cold running water. We put the little pipes next to each other, eight inches apart, with a "U" turn inside the wood stove, so you would have enough pipe to heat up. When the water made its way through the wood stove, it would come out piping hot. And we had a restroom that we could flush. It was a great experience. We ended up extending our stay. I did a lot of hiking and climbing and wilderness work. I must have climbed fifteen or twenty of the fourteeners. I wasn't really keeping track at the time.
But that experience really crafted something in me that was foundational to who I am. Number one, opportunities come from freedom. If I was overly regulated and unable to take part in that experience, it would have limited what I would have been able to do in the future. I came out of there thinking I could do anything, and Colorado, with its freedom mindset, would give me the opportunity, the wide-open door, to dream and to accomplish whatever I set before myself.
Where did you go to college? And please share with me a little about your post-collegiate jobs at IBM and Ford.
I got my computer-science and math degree at ORU [Oral Roberts University]. My dad was a professor there in systematic theology and in history, so it made a lot of sense to take advantage of that free tuition. I came out of there with my computer science and math degree and went to work for IBM — sold computers to the oil and gas industry for a few years. Top salesman at IBM, top performer at IBM. Then I decided to get my MBA. Got that at Ohio State. I married a gal when I was 21 who I'm still married to today. She was from Columbus, so we decided to do my graduate there. No more free tuition, though. At Ohio State, I did well and really loved it. I got my MBA in finance and logistics, was named Weidler Scholar and Logistics Scholar, which basically means you're among the top in the country. Came out of there and went to work for Ford Motor Company. I was one of their youngest controllers for one of their largest programs ever; I was the controller for the Taurus, Sable and Lincoln Continental car programs. Ran almost 500,000 cars through under my jurisdiction. And then, after a few years there, I just had it in me to run my own business. Now I'm all of 28 and I go and start my own company. I build a business-to-business suite of services primarily for the high-tech industry, and I grow into multiple states. We had employees in 43 states and three countries, so we were a national player. It took me ten years to sell it to four different buyers. All in, I had that from 1991 to 2013 or 2014, when the last vestige of that was sold off.
At 34, I started another company, called Master Solutions, which upgraded the radar satellite systems for NORAD. We were the first $1 billion software contract coming out of the Air Force. So we had that ISCC contract — that's Interspace Command and Control — and the sensor contract. We were managing the architecture of those solutions. You have to keep all the satellites running 24/7, and then you have to upgrade them from 1950s and 1960s software technology to a more flexible, current software technology that allows for all the new tools as they become active to function without missing one second of visibility while you're spying on Russia. They described the project, the four-star generals did, as akin to swapping out a jet engine in flight. It was that complex. We ran that and delivered for the investors a very handsome return on investment, then sold that to the NASA Hubble telescope developers in 2010.
After Master Solutions, I built some extended-stay hotels, including the Hyatt House in Minot, which was really kind of the first four-star hotel in the state of North Dakota, up in oil country. That was to burn off some of my non-compete related to technology. Then, three years ago, I started Precocity — the word means to think ahead. We do customer-experience strategy with all the digital touchpoints for Fortune 500 companies. In three short years, we've built that to 330 employees in 25 states. And then I just recently handed that off to some superstar talent we have and named somebody the managing partner to run Precocity. It's in really good hands now, and I've matriculated to the chairman role.
It all starts with the taxpayer from the governor's perspective, and what's going to be the best use of that taxpayer money. The first book, Customer Success — and I coined that term in 1998 — is looking at the customer through the lens of proactively taking care of him, and that includes breaking down all of the components of his little journey map with you, the company, and reducing the frustration, reducing the number of unnecessary silos and bureaucracy he has to go through, so that his experience with you is as pleasing as possible. Of course, if you do that, it's concurrently as profitable as possible for you as a company because you're reducing the number of steps required to give him that great satisfaction. The customer satisfaction is similar, but it has this question, this empowering question. We call it the magic wand question. What it does is say, "Look, Mr. Customer, I'm going to give you this power to change the way we deliver a service to you. If you were to wave a magic wand, what would you ask us to do differently that could be better for you?" And what comes out of that, when you really give them that power, is you get great suggestions that actually change the way you deliver the service.
As governor, there are things we do where we have an enormous amount of waste. We have duplication. All organizations do: I'm not just ragging on the state or the government. Every organization that I've done a lean-thinking analysis with, including my own, including ones I was running, come away with a 3 to 6 percent reduction in waste. You'll just find you're buying subscriptions twice, you'll have people doing the same job in two different locations. You'll have duplication of effort, and over time, things get built up into a way that actually serves the company, not the customer. As the governor, I want all the departments the governor has control over to be trained on the approach of reducing our own internal bureaucracy and our own unnecessary silos so that we get the most bang for the buck. My minimum estimate is $800 million a year of reduced waste that we can reallocate toward fixing our roads. That's 2.8 percent of the budget, which would be the smallest amount I've ever been able to pull out from any company.
So you think the savings could go beyond that 2.8 percent once you get in there and really start looking around?
I think that's the low-hanging fruit, without even talking about the controversial issues.
You mentioned your wife earlier. She's worked for the Colorado branch of Americans for Prosperity, which is closely connected to the Koch brothers, and there's been some speculation that you are in some way the Koch brothers candidate. Is that false?
I wouldn't say it's false. I'll give you the facts. Obviously I have been to Freedom Partners, which I think is a wonderful organization. They're all about economic freedom and they're all about elevating the person up to being able to have their own sense of worth by adding value, and they're about limiting government so people can govern themselves. What's not to love about that? So I've been a strong supporter of Freedom Partners for years, and in those settings, when you go to the Freedom Partners seminars, you meet lots of people. So I've had the joy and the blessing of meeting entrepreneurs who are the most generous people I've ever met. They're worth a lot of money, but they got there by giving and reaching out and adding value and making contributions and taking risks. Those people, not just the Kochs, are friends of mine. Yes, we have relationships with them, and I'm not apologetic about it, I'm not embarrassed by it. Those are some of the most wonderful people I've ever met: generous and willing to put their money on the line to do what they can to preserve the whole concept of the American idea.
I've also been a donor to Americans for Prosperity. I used to joke that I paid my wife's salary. I love what AFP does. AFP is like the foot-soldier response team to what the Democrats were doing for years, and that is actually knocking on doors and talking to people face to face to push an issue that fits somewhere within the broad realm of limited government and economic freedom. And so these are things I've talked about independent of Freedom Partners for years. I've spoken on the American idea. I've spoken on the American dream, the whole development of the American dream. It's fascinating, and it goes back a couple of thousand years. Even earlier, to Cicero — and by the 15th century, we have the Magna Carta, and all that builds up to the Declaration of Independence. Everything that builds the heart and the soul of what's made America great. I've spoken on that for twenty years, and it's a very important thing to me. What they represent are two wonderful organizations that are very involved in putting their money where their mouth is to help preserve what made America great. And as we know from history, anytime an empire loses its core, founding principles, it crumbles from within. What made America different from all the other great empires is that we were based not just on a territory. We weren't based on a location or even a people. We were based on an idea, and the idea is, you can reach for the stars as you define it. So, yes, I'm part of those organizations, I believe in them and think they're fantastic people.