Textbook case CEO has winning formula

By Tom Kirvan

Dolan Media Newswires
 
In management jargon, the governance model at the Howard & Howard law firm in Royal Oak is framed within the context of a “strong CEO,” embodied in this instance by Mark Davis.
 
But Davis, who has headed the firm since 2004 and recently was appointed to another 5-year term as president and CEO, says the term is a bit of a misnomer.
 
“The term ‘strong CEO’ implies the use of an autocratic style, one in which the views and opinions of others are not necessarily given full weight and proper consideration,” Davis said. “Here, it operates differently. We value input and ideas from throughout the firm, and emphasize efficiency so that we can better serve our clients. In many respects, operating under a more centralized and focused form of management allows our attorneys to do what they do best.”
 
Such is the daily goal for Davis, who has shepherded the growth of the firm over the past decade, doubling its size to more than 120 attorneys, spread across five offices in Michigan, Illinois, and Nevada. 
 
Based at the firm’s headquarters on 4th Street in downtown Royal Oak, Davis regularly travels to its offices in Ann Arbor, Las Vegas, Peoria, and Chicago, where Howard & Howard is in the process of expanding its presence.
 
The trips help Davis take the “pulse of the firm,” which since its founding in 1869 has catered to the legal needs of a business clientele.
 
Its trademark phrase is “law for business,” a message that is underscored in all of the firm’s promotional materials.
 
“Some of our areas of concentration include the banking and the financial services field, the energy and utility industries, gaming, and automotive,” Davis indicated. “We have a practice that is national and international in scope, and includes Fortune 500 clients as well as companies with annual revenues in the $10 million to $500 million range. We have developed a niche practice that accents our strengths.”
 
And those, Davis said, come within its legal ranks, including many of the attorneys he personally recruited from some of the top Michigan and Midwest law schools. 
 
Attracting top talent to the firm is just part of his job, which Davis is particularly well suited for given his business background and a stint as an accounting teacher.
 
A 1980 graduate of Waterford Mott High School, Davis earned an accounting degree from Michigan State University. Following graduation from MSU, Davis enrolled at Cooley Law School in Lansing, obtaining his juris doctor degree in 1987, using it as a springboard to a job with E.F. Hutton.
 
After two years with the brokerage firm, Davis decided to head back to law school, attending night classes at Wayne State University in pursuit of a master’s degree in tax law. 
 
All the while, Davis was working full time at the Michigan Corporation and Securities Bureau, handling security fraud investigative work for the state agency.
 
In 1991, shortly before obtaining his master’s from Wayne State, Davis interviewed for a job with Howard & Howard. 
 
He viewed it as nothing more than “practice” for interviews with several of the larger firms in Metro Detroit until fate intervened.
 
“During the interview it became apparent that the firm was very entrepreneurial and operated under a business model,” Davis related. “It was the kind of culture I was seeking, a place where I could learn and grow professionally. I knew then and there that it would be a great fit.”
 
Initially, he was based in the firm’s Kalamazoo office, working on securities matters as well as mergers and acquisitions. He then moved to the firm’s Bloomfield Hills office, assisting a legal colleague with real estate work involving Chrysler Corp.
 
In the spring of 2004, Davis had built such a reputation at the firm that he was named president and CEO, helping “smooth the waters” after an unsettled time in the hierarchy of Howard & Howard.
 
“There were some difficult decisions that needed to be made to put the firm back on the right footing and to improve morale,” Davis said, noting that closing an office in Lansing was among the first moves he made to “refocus energies and reallocate resources.”
 
His management style is centered on “efficiency,” a quality where “strategic decisions are considered and rendered in days, rather than weeks or months.”
 
An offshoot of the streamlined decision-making process, according to Davis, is “far less internal politics,” enabling attorneys to “focus on great client work and positive outcomes.”
 
Davis met his wife, Susan, at the firm. They have two children, Maggie, 16, and Tommy, 14. Both of their children are competitive swimmers and are showing an interest in golf.
 
The sport also is among Davis’s favorite leisure time pursuits, a fact underscored by his single-digit handicap at Oakland Hills Country Club, one of the premier courses in the nation.
 
“I can have my moments,” Davis said of his golf game. “But I’m generally quickly reminded why I chose the law as a career.”
 

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