A Publication of WTVP

Turner: Small Business of the Year

by Linda Smith Brown | Photos by Ron Johnson |
Annette and Brian Ford are the vice president and president , respectively, of Facet Technologies
Annette and Brian Ford are the vice president and president , respectively, of Facet Technologies

Peoria’s Facet Technologies has been protecting customers from hackers, fraudsters and computer bugs for almost 35 years

Like many small business owners, there came a day when Brian and Annette Ford of Facet Technologies, Inc. almost lost their house. No, it wasn’t the bank about to foreclose. It was a torrential rainstorm.

Looking to move his business from the kitchen table to a non-existent basement, Brian hired a contractor to dig one. During construction, a rainstorm flooded the hole under his house.

“At one point I was down there at 2 or 3 in the morning with a sledgehammer, knocking the foundation in so it wouldn’t take out the rest of the house,” Brian said. “We were in real danger of the house caving in.”

The house was saved, the basement completed and the burgeoning business that would become Facet Technologies moved downstairs.

During those early years, Brian’s goal was to sell just 300 computers a year.

Today Facet Technologies is providing IT support and cybersecurity to more than 500 businesses across the U.S. and Canada, with its larger clients receiving Facet’s services at some 500 distinct locations.

With some clients, Facet serves as the customer’s IT department. Sometimes Facet handles only a client’s higher-end cybersecurity threat protection, because its own employees “don’t know how to keep the bad guys out,” said Brian.

“They take excellent care of us,” said Craig Williams, executive director of South Side Mission, who has contracted with Facet for the last five years.

“I call them quite a bit. They’re very accommodating, prompt to answer any questions, to send out people to our location, take any call. They’ve been a great IT organization to work with.”

Ellie Ford, director of marketing for Facet Technologies
Ellie Ford, director of marketing for Facet Technologies

Williams credits Facet for helping South Side Mission look out for potential hackers. “They send out information periodically to make sure our staff is not answering emails that we shouldn’t. They are very good with helping us prepare for fraud, preparing us for what those emails might look like.”

“They have supplied us with computers, sourced software for us, they troubleshoot, they are our help desk,” added Denise Moore, CEO and founder of the Minority Business Center, which has worked with Facet for the last five years. “They will let us know we’re having problems with our system before we even know we’re having problems with our system.

“With cybersecurity threats and technology changing so fast, it provides a peace of mind knowing I have a partner who’s more than capable of taking care of those things.”

Meanwhile, Facet has served as a motivator for her students as a potential source of jobs, said Moore.

‘A great community spirit’

Facet Technologies is the 2023 Turner Center Small Business of the Year award recipient, nominated by Eric Sampson, director of the Small Business Development Center at Bradley University.

“Facet has such a great community spirit about their business,” said Sampson. “They strive to do really good work and take pride in working with other small businesses.

“Brian has been an advocate for Small Business Development Centers and sits on the state’s small business advisory board,” Sampson said. “He’s an advocate for the process of SBDCs being able to help other businesses. He’s never been shy about saying part of the reason he and Annette were able to get his business off the ground was because he reached out to the SBDC at Bradley.”

Sampson commends Facet for its commitment to the customer’s experience. “Brian is always asking “if we build this, how will it impact the customer? Is it making their life better?”

A family affair

The story of Facet Technologies is the story of family. Annette, who grew up in Peru, Illinois, and Brian in Danville, both attended Eastern Illinois University. He graduated with a degree in environmental science and she received a degree in computer management and marketing. She had taken a computer class in junior college and liked it enough to include computers in her bachelor’s degree.

The Fords married in 1986 and lived in Chicago a couple of years before they both lost their jobs within a couple weeks of each other.

“I was working in quality assurance in food and put out 300 résumés, with no results,” said Brian. “Annette put out three résumés and got seven job offers. I thought maybe I can figure out this computer thing.”

One of the offers Annette received and accepted was from OSF HealthCare, to work as a data base administrator, bringing the young Fords to Peoria.

Brian was accepted for the MBA program in computer science at Bradley, taking a semester of computer classes at Illinois Central College beforehand. “I’ve loved it ever since.”

A ‘disease called entrepreneurialism’

With a fellow student he started building computers. Brian told his friend, “These computers are so good and we got them at such a good price, we could sell these.” That was the birth of what became Facet Technologies, in 1989.

After completing his MBA program, Brian was recruited by Caterpillar and worked there 11 years as a programmer, information systems manager for legal services, and program manager.

While working at Caterpillar during the day, Brian was growing the computer business at night.

“It got to the point we had 100-plus businesses we were working with. I’m working 50-plus hours a week at Cat, coming home and working 50-plus hours a week at Facet” said Brian. “One day I said I just couldn’t keep doing that.”

He concedes it was hard leaving Caterpillar, “but I’ve got this disease called entrepreneurialism.”

Annette continued working at OSF until 1992, when she gave birth to Katie, their first-born, and wanted to stay home. “I said that’s great. You can help me with this business. It’s getting to be a lot,” said Brian.

An all-star team

Annette is the Facet vice president. Daughter Ellie is the company’s director of marketing. Katie is a programmer for Starbucks corporation, working remotely from her home in Peoria Heights. Son Nate lives in Glasford and works for Caterpillar as a contract mechanical engineer.

Brian admits that there were some difficult times along the entrepreneurial highway when he didn’t know if they were going to make it. “We’ve been blessed,” he said.

Facet has about 25 employees and only three of them have been with the company less than three years. Since the days in the basement — the company now is headquartered at 3024 W Lake Ave. in Peoria — Facet has hired high school and college students. Young employees have gone away to college and one completed a stint in the Marines, choosing to return for a full-time job at Facet.

Jason Hahn, Facet’s director of operations, started with the company at the age of 16. Facet recently celebrated his 25th year with the company.

“There are people working here I’ve known since I was a little kid, because they started working for mom and dad when they were in high school,” said Ellie.

Brian credits a lot of Facet’s success to “having a good team that’s happy to be here.” 

The Artificial Intelligence future

Facet Technologies will always be managing customer systems and cybersecurity, Brian maintains. In the coming months, they will expand their software business.

Facet has developed specialty software for clients and for itself. Facet’s own FacetTRACK is designed to help service businesses manage workflow. Later this year, the company will begin to market FacetTRACK nationwide.

Another company product awaiting national distribution is Provoptix, a software that monitors tens of thousands of end points within a system, looking for intrusions or any potential system failures about to occur.

The next big thing is Artificial Intelligence. “We’ve been building AI into a lot of our products for a long time,” said Ellie. “People who’ve been on the vanguard of software development have been using AI for a long time.”

“It’s coming of age,” said Brian. “Now we can develop things that are spectacular. AI can save people and businesses so much time and money.”

Linda Smith Brown

Linda Smith Brown

is a 37-year veteran of the newspaper industry, retiring as publisher of Times Newspapers in the Peoria area