Lending a hand
It was at a meeting of the GLBT Chamber of Commerce last February when Jeremy Davis single-handedly raised about $4,000 for Nashville Pride in all of about 30 seconds. He had come to the meeting to tout the the Human Rights Campaign's Equality Dinner, an annual fundraiser which he was helping coordinate for one of the nation's most high profile advocacy groups.
But, in an impromtu auction of sorts, Davis cut into his own 10 minutes of talk time in order solicit donations for a different group. Then, he matched the donation out of his own pocket.
That's when I decided I had met my first, honest-to-goodness philanthrepreneur.
"I don’t think there is any feeling quite like volunteering or giving back in whatever way that you are able with what ever resources you have available," Davis said. "It just feels right."
Since moving to Nashville 12 years ago, Davis has had his hand in a long list of philanthropic endeavors and opened his own mortgage firm, Brand Mortgage Group, earlier this year. Now, about four months into running his own business, he has somehow staved off prematurely graying sprigs of hair and worry lines around the eyes. In fact, he appears to be as jovial and collected as ever. But how?
How does a person find time to serve on the Board of Governors and the National Major Donor committee for the Human Rights Campaign, assist in lobbying for the Tennessee Equality Project and successfully open a new business in the worst economic climate of our lifetime without caving under the stress? For Davis, it just comes naturally.
"I have to admit that I never really feel that time is a real challenge. That is probably why I am always late," Davis said.
He surrounds himself with smart, reliable people and has learned to choose his battles carefully - he calls it 'delegating.' It is likely a task learned (or perhaps karmically transferred) during his many years of volunteer work in the Nashville community.
His first local volunteer effort was with the American Heart Association's Heart Walk, a cause dear to him after losing his father to heart disease when he was 15.
He went on to volunteer with St Jude Children’s Hospital, has served on the committee and as a presenting sponsor of Nashville Pride, and has been a member of the board of the Tennessee Equality Project since 2005 where he assists with fundraising and lobbying efforts. Most recently, Davis blocked off a portion of his schedule to devote to the Human Rights Campaign and has singed on to co-chair the group's annual dinner once again next year.
"The truth is, so many dedicated people work to make events like the HRC Dinner a success and the same is true of having a successful business," Davis said. "It’s never all on one person’s shoulders. However, for the times that I do feel stressed, that’s where the cocktails, patio and friends come in very handy."
Davis does more in a week than most people accomplish between February and October and still finds time to enjoy an evening with his best friends. Friends whom he describes as dedicated, passionate and selfless. Friends who prove that you are who you hang with. In Davis's circle, that's a compliment any day of the week.
Davis and partner of nearly 5 years, Matt Dillman, clear their heads at their home outside the city among an open sky and trees that tower overhead. It's an ideal respite from their busy, type-A schedules, Davis said, and late-night vampire flicks are a favorite way for him to unwind after managing his firm all day.
Davis' new business venture, Brand Mortgage Group, was born of necessity. Davis previously served as the senior vice president and retail executive at JP Morgan Chase. During the downturned economy, Chase and many other banks stopped lending in states where they had no retail banking presence, in turn eliminating their freestanding mortgage branches including the one where Davis worked.
"The timing was kind of forced upon myself and the team as a whole," Davis said. "We were in a situation where we had to decide what we wanted to do as a team and with I had to decide what to do with my own career."
Davis and his team decided to stick together and use their pooled resources to weather the recession. Low interest rates sparked a refinance surge around the same time and allowed Brand Mortgage to quickly get out of debt, Davis said.
"This is first time I’ve had the opportunity to actually start and run something that was independent of a large corporate structure," Davis said. " There is some satisfaction to having anonymity and control and being vested in a firm that you are building and growing. I think everybody at some level realizes that you work hard and you make money for self, but you also make money the company you work for. The hard work put into building and making it successful is coming directly back to you."
The idea of reaping what one sows is a common theme in Davis' endeavors, meaning that he rarely has to choose between business and pleasure.
"I believe that it all comes back around," Davis said. "I believe that what you put in to the world is what you get out of the world, and honestly, it’s really rewarding."