Fall 2022 | Impact Newsletter

In This Edition:

A Legacy of Life-changing Opportunities: IFB’s David Horton

Ensuring that IFB’s mission continues touching lives for years to come – Erik Cobham

Stories of David Horton’s Character and Service

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A Legacy of Life-changing Opportunities: IFB’s David Horton

Photo of David Horton - A Legacy of Life-Changing Opportunities: IFB's David Horton

David Horton’s favorite part about his work as President and CEO of IFB Solutions is spending time at the organization’s three manufacturing facilities. In fact, the lively leader has struck up many friendships throughout the years both with employees and those receiving care through IFB’s low vision centers.

Whether he’s chatting with workers on the manufacturing floor, helping with setup at a benefit event or strategizing the company’s next big move, Horton and his hands-on approach to leadership have played an integral role at IFB for the last 21 years.

Late last year, Horton announced his plans to retire at the end of 2022 — in a sense ending an era at IFB, where Horton has held the leading role since 2008.

“It’s amazing how one day, you’re graduating high school, and suddenly you turn around and you’re 60 years old. Time really flies,” Horton said. “And I still have a lot of things I want to do in my life.

“But IFB is in my blood,” he continued. “And even though I may not be here every day, I’m going to show up as much as I can to support this great mission and do what I can to help. We’ve been around as an organization for 85 years, and I want to lay the groundwork to continue this amazing mission well beyond my retirement.”

“I think probably one of my biggest accomplishments is that, when I walk out on that plant floor [in Winston-Salem], I see 300 people who are my friends.”

First joining the IFB team on Aug. 6, 2001, Horton oversaw the company’s finances as its controller. Upon taking his first tour of the Winston-Salem facility, “I was taken aback when I stepped out onto that floor,” he said. “I saw people who were blind doing a magnitude of operations — all sorts of things that required incredible precision and skill — and I was just blown away.

“Now, 21 years later, I know there’s nothing a person who is blind can’t do,” he continued. “That’s one thing that really resonates with me now, when I look back on all my years here: with a bit of courage, hope and adaptive technology, there’s nothing you can’t do.”

When Horton joined IFB, the organization employed fewer than 100 people who are blind. Organization’s leadership at the time had a wealth of ideas for how to grow the business, so they worked closely with former executive chairman Dan Boucher to hire Horton. He helped streamline the manufacturing process to improve cash flow — setting the organization up for future expansion.

“I really didn’t have an inkling that I was going to be the president one day,” he explained. “But I really developed a passion for the people we serve here, and I saw the way IFB was changing lives for people who are blind or visually impaired.”

A generous philanthropic supporter of IFB programs, David often quotes his emeritus board member and now friend John Googe who once told him that if one has means to help somebody and doesn’t do it, they are failing.

When Boucher retired in 2007, Horton stepped up to the role with the full support and confidence of the former director, the board, and his team. In the years that followed, Horton more than doubled IFB’s sales — from $80 million to $200 million annually — and, more importantly, he was able to grow the company’s employment to nearly 1,000 positions, with the majority held by people who are blind or visually impaired.

Unwaveringly humble about all he’s helped accomplish, Horton explained: “You know, I may not be the smartest person in the world, but I do work hard. And I’m proud of that. I have a sense of urgency, and I deliver people what I tell them I’m going to — or I communicate to them why I can’t. I have a lot of respect for folks, and it’s my philosophy that there’s got to be an answer to everything.”

“Sometimes it may seem like two plus two equals five,” he continued, “but if you’re willing to really dig in, it’s often not as complicated as you first thought. That was my approach when I came in as CEO: we were going to figure things out. And then we started winning.”

Collage of photos with Horton
Left: An avid runner, David was a regular participant of the A Brighter Path Race.
Middle: Last year, David and his team colored their hair to raise funds for S.E.E.
Right: David with a S.E.E. student. He shaved his hair to support a fundraiser for S.E.E. kids.

When asked about favorite memories throughout his years at IFB, Horton began telling story after story of employees who had overcome what seemed like insurmountable obstacles — employees with whom he’d developed great friendships and cared about deeply. As he spoke of former employees who have since passed away, his voice grew quiet with emotion. And, recalling the time his staff attempted to train him, blindfolded, on sewing machinery, he laughed and said: “I was so afraid I was going to sew my fingers together and be on YouTube.”

In just over two decades, “I went from knowing only one person who was blind to now knowing hundreds or thousands of people here and across the country,” he continued. “And I think probably one of my biggest accomplishments is that, when I walk out on that plant floor [in Winston-Salem], I see 300 people who are my friends. When I hear folks tell me that they’re going to miss me, I know that, even though we’re a business, we’re a business with a heart.”

The entire Horton family poses on the front steps.

After suffering a stroke in November 2020, Horton accelerated his decision to retire — though he explained his employees have been a great source of inspiration in the last two years especially, “fueling his fire” by showing him what’s possible in spite of health challenges. Ultimately, though, he hopes to start a new chapter by spending more time with his grandchildren, working on his farm and being more involved in his church, where he is an ordained minister.

“IFB has been life-changing for me, and it’s been life-changing for my family,” he explained. “My kids always knew that, around the Horton household, there’s no such thing as ‘I can’t do it.’ ‘Can’t’ isn’t a word that’s in our vocabulary. And while it’s been incredibly fulfilling to know we’ve touched so many lives with our work, everyone that’s come through our doors has touched my life in just as many ways.”


Ensuring that IFB’s mission continues touching lives for years to come – Erik Cobham

Photo of David Horton and Erik Cobham; text reading Erik Cobham: Ensuring that IFB's Mission continues to touching lives for years to come. Pictured Left to Right: Erik Cobham, LtCol USMC (Ret.), Vice President DOD Avon Protection. David Horton, President and CEO, IFB Solutions

There are not many CEOs who always put their people first, but that’s the kind of leader IFB Solutions found in David Horton.

There’s never been any question in my mind that David’s drive comes from a place of compassion. Every year when our annual golf tournament rolls around, David’s not the CEO who sits back, holding a drink. He’s out there working the event just as hard as everybody else, thanking donors and sponsors and supporting staff with whatever they need. And while that should be the case with every CEO, it’s not. David truly is unique.

For 21 years, he’s been committed to the success of the organization, ensuring that IFB’s mission continues touching lives for years to come — and his love for the IFB family resonates throughout the entire organization. He sets the tone, and his impact on the company’s culture is evident all the way down to the newest employee.

As the incoming board chair, I understand David’s passion. You can’t leave IFB without feeling inspired, without being a little emotional. But, during his tenure, David’s steady hand, confidence, commitment and vision of growth has allowed the organization to touch the lives of so many more people — something that few other leaders of major organizations have done so consistently well — and that’s truly something to celebrate.

When David retires at the end of this year, he will be sorely missed, and he leaves some big shoes to fill. But I’m confident that he’s pointed us in the right direction. Congratulations, David, on building an amazing legacy here at IFB. I wish you a wonderful retirement, and I hope you have the satisfaction of knowing that you did it right.

Erik E. Cobham, LtCol USMC (Ret.),
Vice President, DOD, Avon Protection is the incoming Board Chair for IFB Solutions.


Stories of David Horton’s Character and Service

Kevin Lynch

“In the past 10 years, IFB Solutions has received NIB’s top award 12 times for growing employment for people who are blind, thanks to David’s leadership, energy, and dedication. On behalf of NIB, we thank David for his years of service and commitment to the mission — he will be greatly missed.”

Kevin Lynch, President and CEO, National Industries for the Blind (NIB)


Pat Smith

“When the Arkansas Lighthouse for the Blind (ALB) was in the process of due diligence prior to merging with Industries for the Blind (IFB) in Winston-Salem, it became apparent that no amount of data could replace the need to TRUST in the leadership of IFB. David Horton and Dan Boucher were wonderful and conveyed that level of trust needed. The Arkansas facility is now a thriving plant, thanks to David’s leadership. He has proven worthy of our trust!”

Patricia [Pat] Smith, Ed.D., ALB Board Chair in 2014, IFB Solutions Little Rock Advisory Council Member


Randy Buckner

“David has worked tirelessly to expand all areas of our mission from training and employment to the programs and services that we provide to the community. His leadership has helped us grow our business to record sales and kept us as the number one employer of people who are blind in the nation. We will miss David’s leadership and his heart for people.”

Randy Buckner, VP of Operations Support, IFB Solutions


Grant Weathers

“These couple of stories have been told by Mr. Horton many times, but they are a great testimony to his own leadership. He has always been a strong advocate for growing Community Low Vision Services in NC and beyond. We were seeing a Focus on Literacy students for low vision exams at Mills River Elementary School with the Mobile Vision Center. After showing a student how to use a CCTV for reading and even seeing her own writing, I was talking to her parent who shared what their daughter wrote independently. Her paper said: ‘I am smart. I can learn.’

Last year, we saw a 16-year-old Focus on Literacy student who had recently been diagnosed with an eye condition that made it difficult for him to read print. We were able to find him a device that allowed him to read print at arm’s length. His mother later said he was crying on the way home, because he would be able to read music and play ragtime on his piano.”

Grant Weathers, Low Vision Services and Outreach Coordinator, Community Low Vision Center at IFB Solutions, Asheville Location.


Dan Kelly

“David has always worked to collaborate with other organizations that have a mission of building life changing opportunities for people who are blind. He’s never been interested in just ensuring IFB’s success, but has been passionate about the success of people who are blind across the nation. His recent leadership with the North Carolina Job Alliance will pay dividends for years to come. New jobs will be created for people who are blind working in nonprofits across North Carolina on contracts with the state government.”

Dan Kelly, Executive VP of Strategy and Programs, IFB Solutions


Anastasia Powell

“For the past 17 years, I observed the drive, determination, and loyalty David Horton has for IFB Solutions. I am grateful to work for a company that has a president who is a compassionate leader and does not mind getting in the trenches with his team.”

Anastasia Powell, Corporate Culture and Internal Communications Manager, IFB Solutions


Eric Bruce

“When I first met David Horton, I introduced myself as the “chief troublemaker” in the Paper department because of my endless curiosity about what’s going on. I was comfortable enough about his leadership to encourage my nephew to apply for a job in Winston. He was hired and loves his job. With all that said, David still needs some practice on ‘Calling the Hogs.'”

Eric Bruce, Machine Operator, IFB Solutions Little Rock Facility


Larry Colbourne

“I had the pleasure to work alongside David for over six years until 2007. He has always been passionate about his role, no matter what that role has entailed. After a long absence I visited with David recently and toured the facilities, let there be no doubt, his leadership and love for IFB’s people can be seen in the fabric of the great organization that it is. I remember when David took over for Dan Boucher there were people that wondered how anyone could follow in his footsteps, well they need not wonder anymore, from what I saw IFB was left in great hands, and I can only hope his successor can answer the call like he did.”

Larry Colbourne, President, Mebane Charitable Foundation; IFB Solutions Employee, 2001-2007


Alanna Richardson

“Due to my blindness and lack of family assistance, I wasn’t personally able to meet the requirements of participating in my home’s construction though Habitat for Humanity. I will forever remember how, without hesitation, Mr. Horton put down his CEO hat, rolled up his sleeves, and volunteered with Habitat to construct the walls of my home. Every day I walk through my home I am reminded of his generous effort towards making my dream of home ownership come true.”

Alanna Richardson, Packager, Staples Department, IFB Solutions Winston-Salem Facility


Graphic - image of James Slater coming soon

“After years of work in construction field and then losing my vision to glaucoma, I relocated from Charlotte to Winston-Salem five years ago to work at IFB. I faced challenges getting acclimated to the city. I met David Horton during one of my walks on the manufacturing floor to get to know employees. We immediately recognized our strong faith was something we had in common, and a great friendship developed. In conversation, I shared that I was searching for a welcoming church and furniture for my new home, David jumped in and began helping me by donating furniture, inviting me to church, and transporting me to and from church until church transportation was organized. I now enjoy my furniture and love my new church home! I am so grateful to know such a kind person who does not mind looking out for people who are blind in and out of the workplace.”

James Slater, Machine Operator, IFB Solutions Winston-Salem Facility


Ron Clements

“David is the real deal! Since the merger, our employee retirement program has improved and we have gained additional benefits, including more PTO time than we’ve ever had. David definitely has a vision for increasing blind employment opportunities and awareness in our community.”

Ron Clements, Production Assistant, Paper Department, IFB Solutions Little Rock Facility


Sherree DeWitt

“Under David’s leadership, we have added two new production lines in Little Rock – IWOL and EWOL – which has created a 70% growth in blind employment and a 59% growth overall”

Sherree DeWitt, Human Resources Manager, IFB Solutions Little Rock Facility


Diana Soto

“Mr. Horton is an open, authentic, and humble person who leads and listens to his team. His innate talent for making others feel like they matter captivated me when I had an opportunity to spend time with him at an NIB conference. It was clear that IFB’s performance is the reflection of his dedication and love for his work. I wish Mr. Horton the greatest success in retirement.”

Diana Soto, Sewing Machine Operator, ACS (Army Combat Shirt) Department, IFB Solutions Winston-Salem Facility


Toni Frasier

“David Horton has a passion for Low Vision Services. At IFB Little Rock, we have been a part of changing many lives through CLVC. Thank you, David Horton, for being the catalyst for change in empowering people who are blind or visually impaired in Arkansas as well as North Carolina! You Rock!”

Toni Fraser, Low Vision Associate, Little Rock Community Low Vision Center


Pedro Rojas

“In May 2007, I had just recently moved from the Dominican Republic and was searching for an opportunity to work in manufacturing in Winston-Salem, NC. After exhausting all possibilities of finding a job and losing hope, I received a call from David Horton that changed the direction of my life forever. 17 years later, now serving as Director of Engineering and Manufacturing, I have had the pleasure of seeing IFB Solutions grow exponentially guided by David Horton’s leadership.”

Pedro Rojas, Director of Engineering and Manufacturing, IFB Solutions


Heather Hoffman

“As the 2016 Employee of the Year, I had the opportunity to meet and get to know David. His leadership during the COVID Pandemic was inspiring and appreciated. David and his team kept Arkansas afloat during the Arkansas Lighthouse for the Blind merger. Without the merger, we most likely wouldn’t have a job.”

Heather Hoffman, IFB Solutions Little Rock Facility