Ferzan Ahmed starts his new role as the Delaware County’s new administrator this morning.
On Friday evening, he closed the door to his office and on a 23-year career with the Ohio Department of Transportation’s District 6 where he started as a trainee. “ I walked into this building on Sept. 14, 1992, as a trainee,” Ahmed said. “I’m going to miss the people I’ve worked with in the last 23½ years. It’s a long time to be in one place.”
He said he’ll miss the people at ODOT, and speaks of the change as bittersweet. “It was time for me to move on,” he said last week. “I can’t wait for Monday. I can’t wait for my day one. I hope I’m not going to be too nervous on day one.”
As deputy director of District 6, he was in charge of ODOT’s biggest district. Ahmed explained it this way: “Ohio is the seventh largest state in the country. Ohio has the fourth largest interstate system in the country. (The) Ohio Department of Transportation is one of the biggest departments of transportation in the country. District 6 is the biggest district covering eight counties in central Ohio. We are the biggest district of one of the biggest departments of transportation in the country.”
The office he shut the door on last Friday was once a goal he had set for himself when he was a trainee. “I met the deputy director in this office, (and) I said to myself, ‘This is going to be my office,’” Ahmed said.
Once he achieved the goal, he said he felt the office was a bit drab and wanted to brighten it up. He had the walls painted a pastel purple. Even though he was the boss, he took some ribbing about the office looking feminine. He went looking for a second opinion about whether it was too feminine.
“I had a gentleman here that used to work for me,” he said. “He was a combat Marine and had done three tours in Afghanistan. Talk about the stereotypical strong, silent type. I called him in one day and said, ‘I got to talk to you man-to-man, friend-to-friend.’ He said, ‘Yes, sir.’ That’s just how he talks.
“I said, ‘Does this office feminine?’
“’No, sir, I find it soothing.’”
That was good enough for Ahmed. “If he’s happy, then I’m good.”
As he puts ODOT behind him, he said: “I’m sure there will be some reflection, some sadness, Saturday when my wife and I talk about this. But that is part of life. One chapter ends and another chapter starts.”
Ahmed said he has felt for a few months that he needed to do something different. “To grow, you need to change,” he said.
He said he consulted with people that he trusts and respects about the Delaware County administrator job. He had a lot of conversations with people in the county about whether the job was right for him. He said he is not one to cast many nets in hopes of catching something, that he is more focused. Once he decided to apply for the position, “I made myself ready to prove to the commissioners that I was the right person for this job,” he said.
He said he feels like he’s going to a team that he’s already a part of. “I know George Kaitsa, the county auditor,” Ahmed said. “I’m going to join a winning team.”
All organizations have their own culture and their way of doing things. Being the new guy and leading an organization is difficult, but Ahmed said he only sees an opportunity to use all the things “I’ve learned at ODOT at Delaware County. … I love public service. The reason I love public service is because I can make an impact.”
Delaware County is growing fast and Ahmed said the challenge in his mind is how to keep moving forward. “We don’t want to read that Delaware County was the fastest-growing county. We want to read it still is the fastest-growing county.”
Ahmed grew up in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran and Algeria. He spent some time living in England before moving to the United States in 1985. He went to Kansas State University, going back to New York City every summer to work as a construction worker. After graduation, it seemed natural to him to go back to New York. But after a couple of years, “I said it’s time to move back to the Midwest,” he said.
He settled on Columbus but was jobless for some time after making the move. “If Columbus was going to be home, I was going to figure it out,” he said.
When looking for jobs, he would take a country drive, something he couldn’t do in New York. “I used to live in Westerville. Then I would come up I-71 and make a left onto a two-lane road called Polaris,” he said. “That was only 24 years ago.”
In 1998, he married and moved to Delaware. He built a house in Stratford Woods where he and his family lived for a number of years. Then a few years ago, they moved to the Olentangy area. “I can’t believe it’s almost been 18 years I’ve lived here and I’ve worked here for almost 24 years,” Ahmed said. “I am a Buckeye.”
D. Anthony Botkin may be reached at 740-413-0902 or on Twitter @dabotkin.