Rick Davis wakes up looking for ways to be better. At what? Whatever he’s doing.
He says he’s driven by a passion to “make things happen,” finding the best course of action and then taking it. For 30 years, the action has been most visible in his work at Elliott Davis, the accounting firm where he’s spent his entire career. As he has moved up in the company, Davis says he calls on that passion when times change and call for tough decisions about direction or personnel so that goals keep getting met.
Being in his position isn’t easy. He says the biggest professional risk he’s ever taken was to accept his current position as managing shareholder for Elliott Davis.
“In so doing I had to walk away from a lot of things that I had proven that I could do in terms of taking care of clients and building a team to take care of those clients and developing new business. As I moved into a management role I walked away from all that to be more strategic and more visionary and help the entire firm move forward.”
He felt he was the right person for the position, but the early days were a whole new world.
“There were so many things that I thought I knew that I didn’t, and there were so many things that I thought would be easy that were not,” he says. That’s when some advice from his father decades earlier came rushing back to his mind: Surround yourself with people who can support you. He’s continued to take that approach in the role, relying on his team to inform his decisions as a leader.
Davis says his greatest achievement has come outside of the office, and it’s not even about his own success.
“In the world of accomplishments, being able to have children who’ve been able to move into what they want to do is at the top of that list,” he says.
When it comes to his own professional successes, Davis doesn’t linger over them for long. He admits that although his company recognizes people for their work, he doesn’t personally celebrate successes enough. That internal feeling of satisfaction is usually sufficient. Besides, looking backward is contrary to his nature. His coworkers probably see that.
“My guess is that others see me as someone who is driven, all about getting things done,” he says. At the same time, he hopes they would see a caring person who wants the best for others – “even if I’m kind of serious and not always the easiest to approach,” he says.
“I hope they really understand that deep down inside I am about helping everybody else do better and giving them the opportunity to do better, whatever that means in their world.”
If his compassionate side is not always obvious at work, it is apparent when his children are involved, says his wife, Katherine.
“He drops anything and everything when they need him,” she says. “He’s come home in the midst of a business trip when a child needed him.”
Stereotypes of accountants as antisocial number crunchers usually sitting alone at a desk don’t fit with the industry today. That might have been truer in the past, but now, “it’s a people business,” Davis says. People skills and understanding what makes others tick are a big part of the work he does.
But that outlook might have as much to do with his personality as with changing times.
“Rick is a marketing person trapped in a CPA body. He’s got a marketing mind,” Katherine says. A marketing professional herself, she says Davis is constantly thinking about how to market the company much more so than crunching numbers, and his thinking has even helped her with her own marketing business. She called him a “quick thinker” and a “visionary.”
Davis places a high value on sharing those talents with others, from family to young professionals to the many charitable boards on which he serves. He’s much more comfortable thinking about the future than the past, but he’s invested in making sure others get to that future with him.
I would have been a farmer. I grew up in an agricultural community and I had a great deal of respect for farmers and appreciated what they did. It was something I always kind of felt close to and never really came close to being that, but when I look back I think I would have liked to have been a farmer.
What’s the biggest water cooler topic in your industry right now?
Without a doubt the No. 1 concern is a significant battle for talent at all levels in the accounting industry. Training entry-level talent and retaining them, and giving them opportunities to be successful with careers. That is and will remain the most important issue.
How does your work impact the community?
It’s definitely one of our values to give back to our communities. We derive our livelihoods from our communities, not just to give money but to provide our time through leadership in organizations. We’ve got a lot of people who are good at a lot of things and we can put those skills to work in the community.
What makes you proud?
The one thing that makes me the most proud is when we have individuals go work at a food drive, or we have volunteers just show up for anything that helps Greenville get recognized, events like Fall for Greenville or a 5K run for charity. Those things that are broad based and really take a team to make things happen.
What is your role in your family?
I think my role is to be the person who stands back and sees the picture and knows where everybody is, because a family changes and evolves and grows up; every step of the way someone needs to be aware of what’s going on with all those parts. I try to make sure they’re all where they need to be and have what they need, that they’re heard and understood and can move forward with their best chance for success as well.
“Think,” because think leads you down a lot of paths, and if we all stop and think then we can accomplish so many things that, if we don’t stop and think, won’t happen.
To what one character trait can you attribute your success?
That would be my passion, and my drive. I like to make things happen. When I’ve determined that something is the right thing to do, then I like to just go do it.