"It was just like shop class, we'd come by with a supervisor to check for missing tools," he said. "By end of … it went like this, bing-bang-boom, no more spaghetti." He holds up a series of straight, symmetrical lines. "It's all about limiting movement."
He sees obvious applications at city hall and has encouraged the head of every department to hire two black belts. "It's the best investment any company could ever do."
Spontaneity, ambition and the bottom line
Doug Ford often refers to the city in company terms. He's had bottom lines on the brain since he was seven years old. Back then he was calculating income from his Globe and Mail paper route. "Those Saturday papers, I tell you, those were killers."
Later he would work at an ice rink, credit-card manufacturer and, for four years, Canada Packers, slinging beef (hence his aversion to red meat) on St. Clair Avenue for $12.49 an hour, a handsome sum for a young man at the time.
In 1984, his business attention turned to Deco. A strike at Humber College, where he was studying "business, football and females, like any college guy" prompted him to put on a suit and head to his father's office. "What are you doing?" he remembers his dad asking him when he strolled in.
"I'm not going to sit at home, I'm going to start selling," the younger Mr. Ford said. That was the only job interview he ever needed. Acting on impulse would become his corporate and political trademark.
He dabbled in politics throughout the nineties, helping with Doug Holyday's 1994 election as mayor of Etobicoke, his father's 1995 election as an MPP and then his dad's re-election campaign in 1999, in which the Progressive Conservative establishment under Mike Harris turned on the family, backing Chris Stockwell in a bitter nomination battle for Etobicoke Centre. "There was definitely a split in the conservative family there," said Mr. Holyday, now Toronto's deputy mayor.
As early as 2008 and 2009, when he and his brothers would sit in a Deco office talking about Rob's chances in a mayoral race, they saw the same pattern repeating. Not a single prominent conservative, save Jim Flaherty, was lining up to support Rob. They were shunning the family again. Doug would "personally leave millions on the table" to drop his role at Deco and enter politics. It didn't seem worth it.
Rob knew better. "He's like a walking pollster," says Doug of his younger brother. "Just imagine calling 80 to 100 people from all across Toronto hearing what they have to say. He gets this city. It really bothers me when people say this or that about him.…That guy is brilliant in his own way. Is he a brilliant speaker? Not all the time. Is he eloquent? Not all the time. But man, Rob's my hero. Rob's a political genius."
The grease in the mayor's wheel
Nowadays, Doug Ford may be down millions of dollars personally, but he's up some influential friends politically. He turns down phone calls from Mr. Harris and has rebuffed requests to run provincially from the same conservative establishment that once snubbed the family.
"He's not going anywhere, he loves his brother more than anything else," said Nick Kouvalis, who helped run Rob's campaign with Doug and acted as chief of staff for a spell. "You don't want to get between Doug and his brother. I've been there a couple times. It's hairy."
That's not to say Doug's running Rob's show. The rookie councillor is still green, and it shows in his frequent headline-making outbursts. "He's a very enthusiastic guy who has to learn to how to control how he acts and what he says a little bit," said Mr. Holyday, who has taken Doug aside on several occasions to offer advice on political comportment. "I offer him my thoughts here and there. Whether he heeds the advice, I don't know."
"The mayor's the boss, that's clear," said Mr. Kouvalis. "He approves everything. And the main brains belong to the chief of staff Amir [Remtulla]and Mark [Towhey, director of strategic planning] Mark is the smartest guy in the office. I'd hire him in a heartbeat."