From Playing a Bully to Running a Business: How "A Christmas Story" Star Zack Ward is Leveraging His Brand to Achieve Professional Success
From Playing a Bully to Running a Business: How "A Christmas Story" Star Zack Ward is Leveraging His Brand to Achieve Professional Success

The actor and entrepreneur has come a long way since his portrayal of Scut Farkus, but Ward says the role continues to play a part in his new position as CEO of Global Sports Financial Exchange, Inc.

It’s been nearly 35 years since the world was introduced to Scut Farkus, the iconic antagonist of the holiday classic “A Christmas Story.” But the actor behind the role—Zack Ward—strays far from his character’s terrorizing ways. He’s not interested in calling anyone a crybaby—instead, Ward is using his role as a bully to inspire his business.

While Ward’s Hollywood career continues to grow far beyond his credit as Scut Farkus at just 13 years old, the actor and filmmaker has pursued other entrepreneurial career paths outside of the spotlight. One of those is with Global Sports Financial Exchange, Inc., the licensee of the financial technology created by AllSportsMarket (ASM). The company is developing and operating a regulated sports exchange that aims to be the first West Coast Wall Street, allowing sports fans to buy and sell shares of their favorite teams. Ward was recently named the company’s CEO, proving that he’s come a long way since his on-screen issues with Ralphie. However, Ward says his role as a bully is more relevant than ever in his new endeavor.

“The iconic aspect of my brand is Scut Farkus, the bully in ‘A Christmas Story.’ Now, I’m able to leverage that role because there’s a clear correlation between bullying and gambling,” said Ward.

1851 sat down with Ward to learn more about the ways in which he has leveraged his personal brand to succeed in business and get tips for other entrepreneurs and business owners looking to do the same.

1851: What inspired you to pursue a career in business outside of your Hollywood roles?

Ward: The guys who created ASM are two friends of mine. We’ve been working together in production since 2011, and it’s gone incredibly well. We produced a few films together, and when you’re doing a movie, it’s either a fantastic experience or the worst time of your life. That outcome isn’t dependent on what’s in front of you—it comes down to the people beside you. You need to learn how to trust those people and go through the filmmaking experience together. That connection is how I was introduced to the world of ASM. I was brought in initially as the face of California’s Amendment Protecting Sports Integrity, which we put together. The whole concept opposes sports gambling. When gambling laws were first put together, they left a doggy door open for fantasy sports. That isn’t a problem when it’s the small pool your office organizes that allows Alice in accounting to win $300. The problem is when you’re trying to fit a rhino through that small doggy door. Our process at ASM creates transparency around sports markets, and it’s what has translated into the appointment of the West Coast licensee of ASM.

1851: How does your personal brand play a role in your business endeavors?

Ward: The iconic aspect of my brand is Scut Farkus, the bully. I’ve been a working actor in the industry for 18 years, but that bully storyline in “A Christmas Story” still resonates. Today, that character lives on through the correlation between bullying and gambling. Everybody remembers the dystopian future that Biff Tannen created in “Back to the Future”—I believe that’s what gambling does to people. It causes a lot of problems. But how do you communicate a complex issue like gambling in a way that isn’t from a place of moral indignation?  How do you talk about gambling in a way that reflects what’s good for society and differentiates between a fun weekend in Las Vegas from a destructive force? That’s where Scut Farkus comes in. By tying bullying and gambling together, I’ve been helping audiences see that there’s another option. We’re reframing gambling in peoples’ minds.

1851: Now that you’re taking on the role of CEO, what’s next for ASM’s exchange?

Ward: This is a really exciting time because we’ve been learning from the market for the last three years. It’s gone from a market cap of $100 million to $800 million. People are willing to get into the market and use the investment tool—they want the opportunity to buy, trade and sell their favorite sports teams. They really enjoy the process. The entertainment value alone is high enough that it’s attracting a lot of attention. Now that we’ve been able to test the system and see what bugs there are, the next step is regulation. We want to build ASM up with the government because our goal is to have this be fully functional within all parameters of California, the SEC and the Fed. And as we’re doing that, this process becomes even more exciting because it becomes a real market.

This is something that’s never been done before in history. 15 years of work has gone into ASM to make it viable and the real deal. Now, we’re inches away from a heartbeat. I know it sounds silly, but think of it in the way that Uber was created—Uber is transforming the country with the rules and regulations its creating, and it’s changing the nation’s attitude toward car ownership. Of course, we’re dealing with an issue that’s more complex than getting a ride. But the way I see it, finances interact with everybody’s life. If we can adjust the way that people view gambling through financial education, ASM is going to be a game changer. The way we educate people about our concept is crucial. If you asked someone how they felt about dividends, you’re going to put your audience to sleep. But if you ask, “What’s your favorite sports team,” you’re going to get an enthusiastic answer. And people are going to want to buy a few shares and see where they go.

You either want to be Biff or Buffet. It sounds trite, but if you encapsulate it, you can recognize how much of an impact that has. We’re creating an entirely new way for people to interact with sports and money. Every time you gamble, it’s a sucker bet. The house always wins, even though the casinos are hacking our minds with the idea that we won when all the bells and whistles go off every time you pull the lever of a slot machine. But if you buy shares, whether it goes up or down, you still own your shares, which is what you paid for. You aren’t wasting money on a roll of the dice. We’re creating a positive financial and moral environment—no one is proud of having a gambling addiction, but investing in your favorite sports teams in real time opens the door to interacting with a living, breathing market.

1851: What’s the end goal for ASM?

Ward: In my mind, it looks like a gleaming paradise of happy people. But all jokes aside, once it’s regulated and up and running, it’s going to have a low ceiling.  When it starts, people will only be able to put in $2,500 per year. That protects customers, traders and the growth process of the market itself. We don’t want it to be manipulated. But there’s something else that’s exciting going on—it’s an open source system, just like what happened with Apple and the App Store. Originally, Apple was only going to have its own apps. But Steve Jobs convinced the company to open it up and allow everyone to build it, which created another economic level.

My dream is that ASM creates the West Coast Wall Street. I want people to have the opportunity to generate money, create new companies, bring a lot of cash into California and open up the door to more education surrounding sports finances. I want to take the cancer out of sports and money. When those go together, sports always loses. Somebody throws a game, somebody misses the bat, someone takes a dive in the ring. The integrity of sports is being sullied. And I’m not even a huge fan of a specific team myself—my father was a boxer, so for me, it was all about the Olympics. But there are so many sports fans out there—it brings people together regardless of color, race, religion or creed. It overcomes differences that are bigger than ourselves. That’s a major accomplishment, and I want to be a part of what makes it sacred. It’s going to create an alternative to Biff Tannen’s paradise. That’s the long view, and we’re very hopeful.

1851: What advice do you have for those looking to succeed in business? Are there any tips that have worked for you as you’ve balanced acting and your other interests?

Ward: Never be afraid to be stupid. Never be afraid to be wrong. I grew up as the son of a general contractor, and I constantly asked him questions and was having him explain things to him. He taught me that ego isn’t important, the solution is what’s important. If you’re all about your own ego, you’re going to be a horrible business person that eventually destroys your company. But if you’re listening, learning and aren’t afraid to be wrong, you can find out how to understand what is right. As for tips—read everything you can get your hands on. It’s the best way to learn.