HIGH YIELDS: Firm's CEO promotes charitable culture

No matter how you stack it, count it, or spend it, $3 million is still a lot of money, even in these days of mega-million-dollar state lotteries.

And if you still dont believe it, just ask one of the growing list of recipients who have received cash awards from the Royal Oak-based law firm of Howard & Howard. The firm is celebrating its 25th year of giving back to the community through the Community Reinvestment Fund.

We make our living in these communities, and were blessed with a good education, the ability to have a good career, and we have a good income, said Mark Davis, president and CEO of Howard & Howard. And I think its incumbent on us to give back to the community, and particularly to those who are not as fortunate as us, but who have the skills, and the ability, to be successful.

Davis, 49, said the act of giving goes all the way back to the firms founder, William Howard, one of several brothers from a Kalamazoo farming family. Davis said one of the brothers lost an arm in an accident, and their father knew he would not be able to help with the business, so he thought it would be a worthy idea if his son went to law school instead.

But the family could not afford it, so the community pitched in and raised money for him to attend law school. William Howard also followed that path to launch his own law career, and started the firm in 1869.

And it was that community involvement and giving that allowed the firm to get started in the first place, and its always been a part of Howard & Howard ever since, Davis said. William G. Howard built this firm with a culture of giving.

Davis said his own involvement with the firm began almost by accident.

He was born in Royal Oak, and in junior high school, decided he wanted to be an attorney. Davis said he also had a long-standing fascination with Wall Street and the markets after buying his first share of stock in General Motors while he was in grade school.

I wanted to get into corporate transactions and security law, and the ability to raise money and the influence that had for businesses to grow and prosper, he said.

After receiving an accounting degree in 1984 from Michigan State University, Davis attended Cooley Law School, graduating in 1987.

The stock market was going gangbusters then, said Davis, who took a job with E.F. Hutton as a broker for about two years. I used my legal background and sold mostly to pension plans.

But he soon realized that was not his dream job.

I kind of got sidetracked by money for a little bit, and decided to go back to practice law.

Davis applied to Wayne State University to pursue his masters degree in corporate tax law, and attended school at night while working days with the Michigan Corporation and Securities Bureau in the Enforcement Division, handling security fraud investigative work. Shortly before graduating in 1991, Davis decided he would interview with Howard & Howard when the firm sent an attorney to the campus.

I put my resume in the Howard & Howard folder, but it was just going to be a practice interview, he said. I thought Id later end up in one of the other large firms in town.

But during the interview, Davis learned the firm was very entrepreneurial and was managed like a business.

And I just knew thats where I belonged, he said. I walked out of the interview and said, Thats my home, thats where I need to be.

Davis was hired, and has been there ever since. He started out as an associate attorney in the Kalamazoo office, performing securities law work, and then moved to the firms former Bloomfield Hills office, working on mergers and acquisitions. Davis also began helping another attorney with real estate work for Chrysler Corp. But in 2003, the firm transitioned from one managing partner to another, and it didnt go very well, Davis said. After some dissension and turmoil in the firm, that man resigned,
and Davis said he threw my hat in the ring and was chosen to head the firm.

As president and CEO, Davis oversees all five Howard & Howard offices Royal Oak and Ann Arbor, two in Illinois, and one in Las Vegas. In all, there are about
120 attorneys and a total staff of 240.

Its fun, Davis said. I love our people, a group he described as very collegial and filled with a team atmosphere. Our motto is, we work hard, and we play hard.

He concentrates his time now on growing the firm, meeting with new and existing clients, and recruiting new attorneys.

I like helping our clients succeed, Davis said. I get to meet a lot of interesting people and hear a lot of different ideas, and its fun.

The firm is a full-service, national and international practice that provides specialized services to business and business owners.

Its a bit ironic that Howard & Howard is located in Royal Oak, where Davis was born, but he said that came about after closing offices in Bloomfield Hills and Detroit and looking for a centrally located hub for the firm.

This was the best place for us, he said. Its nice to have downtown area, to walk out and have lunch. There are a lot of nice options here, and Im hopeful it will help us in recruiting young lawyers.

Davis now lives in Birmingham with his wife, Susan, whom he met at the firm, and their children, Maggie, 14, and Tommy, 12. He is an avid golfer and skier, and the family loves to travel.

Davis is proud of the contributions made through the Community Reinvestment Fund, a charitable trust launched in 1986 as H2CRF. He said its totally funded by employee contributions, and nearly all of Howard & Howards attorneys and staff donate a portion of their annual salaries to it.

Its not required, but its such a part of our culture that everyones glad to do it, Davis said. I think it speaks to the type of people we look for, and the type of personality that fits in well here, lawyers and staff who want to give back.

The fund, managed by a Kalamazoo area community foundation, makes distributions twice each year from a list of charities recommended by employees. Davis said much of the giving is centered around disadvantaged children, and for educational programs.

Its nice when we can make a difference in someones life, he said.

In past years, contributions also have been made to the United Way, scholarship programs, recreational and cultural activities, and other needs.

The firm continues to grow, and as we grow, we hope our charitable giving will grow as well, and continue to make a difference in our communities, Davis said.

By Paul Janczewski

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