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Success profile: Jack Davies

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Jack Davies, 60, of Georgetown, is the founder of America On Line International and was in charge of the company as it grew to more than 4 million subscribers and $1 billion in revenues before he retired in 2000.

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By Avis Thomas-Lester
Monday, May 10, 2010

Jack Davies attributes his success partly to being willing to take risks. After 10 years in a marketing management program at General Electric he was recruited by RCA to run its record division in Europe, though he knew nothing about music. Later, he was hired to be Citicorp's managing director in London, though he knew nothing about banking. In 1994, he decided he wanted to be an entrepreneur and joined America Online, then "a tiny little company in Northern Virginia that nobody knew about." He founded and served as president of AOL International, expanding the company to Canada, Latin America, Europe and Asia. Davies, 60, is a minority partner in Lincoln Holdings, owner of the Washington Wizards, Capitals and Mystics and the Verizon Center and serves on six boards of directors including Scholastic, a publisher of books for children and the See Forever Foundation's Maya Angelou Public Charter School in the District, which educates children who have failed in traditional school settings. As a member of Venture Philanthropy Partners, he has helped raise more than $70 million for organizations that benefit disadvantaged children and families. He has a grown son, Derrick, a budding music executive, and lives in Georgetown.

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Why he's successful: Because of the work ethic instilled by his late parents. "They were both products of the Depression -- my mother's father lost everything and actually committed suicide. They went from living in a large house to her going to secretarial school. My father was a consummate self made man . . . It was always expected that I would work hard . . . and do my best."

Obstacles he overcame: "I have found that success is never linear and I've had more than my fair share of setbacks along the way. For instance, at Citibank, I basically restructured myself out of a job and found myself having to really do a hard assessment of 'What do I want to be? What do I want to do next?' When you are out of work . . . there is a real issue of urgency . . . I wasn't accustomed to dealing with failure or knocking on doors looking at what my next opportunity would be. So I would say overcoming adversity was the biggest challenge I faced and the most gratifying thing to overcome."

First job: "My first job was at age 13, when I was the assistant to the assistant wash manager of my dad's car dealership. I made the princely sum of 25 cents per hour . . . I was on my knees, scrubbing the bottom of cars, cleaning tires and picking up cigarette butts in the parking lot. It was hard work and it instilled in me early that that was what I needed to do . . . At age 16 I started selling cars. That was my first white collar job and by age 17 . . . I was the top salesman. I was very proud of that."

Best job: Working as founder and president of AOL International. "When I started the job in September 1994, there was myself, another executive and a secretary. Five years later, we went from zero customers outside the United States to a billion in revenues and 4 million customers."

Worst job: "Probably the first job . . . The most successful salary negotiation I ever had was after my first day. A friend of mine worked for his father's car dealership and he was getting $1 an hour. I went home and told my dad, 'Dad, this is hard work.' So he gave me a raise [from 25 cents] to 50 cents."

Smartest move: Being willing to take risks, like moving to Europe and going into the music business for RCA. "It would have been easier to stay in my comfort zone. The risk of going to Citibank. But the smartest move obviously was the risk of going to AOL, this small company. Nobody had ever heard of it. I was being paid considerably less money than I had at my previous job. I had to move my family to a new area, so there was a lot of risks associated with it . . . But it was the best move I ever made . . . It was really a personal sense of satisfaction because we felt we were building something that...was going to change the world and it is truly one of the biggest success stories ever in this region."

Biggest regret: "I'd like to believe I was always there for my son. I'm very proud of him. But I certainly didn't take enough time to give back to my community. The time that I had I was either working or with my family. And that's one of the reasons why I have a sense of urgency and commitment over the last few years, now that I've got the time and the resources . . . to make up for the fact that that I didn't really spend as much time or expend as much effort to help the community."

What inspires him: Making a difference. "I have been involved in helping create VPP starting in 2000 . . . Since that time we have raised over $70 million and supported a dozen organizations serving over 40,000 low income kids and families in the region. What we do is we provide scarce growth capital to high performing nonprofits to help them grow and serve kids and families."

What's next: "My next challenge is to help VPP complete fundraising for this next round. We've got commitments for $38 million. Our goal is $50 million so there's still a ways to go. I'm really excited about my board work. I'm particularly excited about our opportunities with the Washington Capitals and I hope we are successful with our effort to take over the portion of the Washington Wizards and the Verizon Center that we don't own now."

Advice to the aspiring: "Build a solid foundation of education and experience . . . Work really hard and be willing to go the extra mile . . . Treat people with respect and dignity. Give back to the community if you can. Don't be so busy and so focused on success. If you think about the definition of success it goes way beyond money. It's happiness. It's about finding meaning in your life if you are just financially successful . . . you will be very lonely and very unhappy. I've been blessed that I've been able to have good friends, family, great opportunities to help people and I thank God every day for it."


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