In the CertusBank executive suite at Riverplace, there’s a place for everything. The office is for hard numbers and hard conversations, says co-CEO Walter Davis, while the lounge is for deeper discussions without distractions. The spaces are divided by a kitchenette where Davis might grab a breakfast of granola and tea prepared in a traditional Japanese cast-iron teapot, fuel for whatever the day will bring.
In banking, there’s no telling what that might be.
Davis says every day brings something new to consider. It is a tough business that’s unlikely to get easier, but that’s part of what makes it worthwhile.
“Banking is fun for me because it’s a challenge every day. And for me, we have the opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives in a very tangible way. I can look up and down the street [and see] a bank made a difference. Every building or business you see, somebody financed it.”
Davis began his career in Greenville before working for Wachovia in Charlotte for several years. He has received much attention and praise as part of the team behind the three-year-old CertusBank, yet says the endeavor was the biggest professional and personal risk of his life. It has also been a tremendous opportunity to affect numerous communities, including his own hometown.
The J.L. Mann graduate had always planned to return to Greenville; he just didn’t think it would be in the middle of his career. He says doing his work around people he’s known his entire life is a lot more satisfying.
“People see you succeed and see your mistakes. Having a great base of support at home makes all the difference in the world.”
He doesn’t claim to be the smartest guy in the room and does not doubt that there are people out there who work just as hard as he does, but he credits his tenacity as the character trait that sets him apart.
“There are very few people willing to endure the pain I am willing to endure when things don’t go exactly like you want them to go,” he says.
Davis believes everyone is put on Earth for a purpose, and his is to make Greenville a better place. Bullish about Greenville’s economy and society, he wants to make sure the growing opportunities are available to everyone. He feels the same things that will move Greenville forward are those things that have in the past, a group of committed people wanting to create a community where everyone has the opportunity to grow and succeed. At the same time, broadening the group is an essential part of Greenville’s continued development, he says.
“I think having a diverse business community is extremely important as Greenville continues to grow and get attention,” he said. “That’s something that we should pay attention to because I’m a firm believer that a rising tide should lift all boats. That’s often used, but I believe that.”
Banking conversations need to be broader, too. For instance, Davis says Greenville Technical College’s part in creating a skilled workforce is an important part of that progress that he’d like to see discussed more often among banking colleagues whose industry benefits from that kind of economic development activity.
And he says there are countless individuals who’ve quietly contributed to Greenville’s evolution. They are people like his grandfather, a multifaceted entrepreneur whose businesses met community needs from food to final resting place.
“My grandfather was the greatest man I’ve ever known in my entire life – and I know a lot of people – but he’s never on the front page of the newspaper. But to the people around him who recognized who he was and what he did, it was extremely important.”
The less prestigious recognitions people like his grandfather might get at church or other organizations are important, Davis says, because it takes many, many people to move the community forward.
What is something most people would be surprised to learn about you?
I really am probably more driven than anybody really understands. I’m driven [to a level] off the charts to give back to society.
Having conversations with my daughters as they continue to develop. My wife and I come at things from different perspectives, so “daddy time” is something I look forward to.
If you could have a different career, what would it be?
Real estate development. I love seeing stuff come out of the ground, building things and watching things happen. The other is some type of professional coach, whether that be NFL or NBA or whatever. I love motivating people and strategizing.
What is your leadership style?
It varies depending on the situation. I prefer to be inspiring but can always change when situations dictate that the inspirational piece takes a back seat to being more demanding.
How do you celebrate success?
I don’t celebrate a lot. That’s one of the things I truly need to work on because the challenges are numerous and when successes are there you need to celebrate them. I’ve always just thought, “Okay, that’s what was supposed to happen, so let’s keep moving on.”
What would you have done differently in launching a bank if you could start over?
Probably thinking through a little bit more some of the advice I was given. Anytime you’re in a business like this you depend on people, so just making sure you have all the right key people giving you all the right advice.
What is your worst habit?
Probably my Sunday afternoon nap. I just always believed sleeping was somewhat of a waste of time. I don’t nap during the day but that Sunday afternoon nap after church and brunch, it’s just been with me for as far back as I can remember.
What is your favorite word?
“Determination,” because it sparks individuals who have a purpose in life to continue. True determination motivates you more than anything else.
What do you still have yet to learn about your industry?
Once you think you know it all, it’s time to do something else. I pray that I never get to that point. In banking, the rules and nuances change every day. I don’t know what there is out there yet to learn, but I know that tomorrow I’ll learn something new.