The Orlando Regional Chamber, in its more than 100-year history, has been the birth place of many of the organizations and initiatives that have shaped Central Florida. Its reputation and influence, not only with its members, but with chamber, civic, political and business leaders across the region, make its director a crucial player in the area’s future. A great chamber executive is part cheerleader, part convener, part politician, part recruiter and, of course, a leader and administrator. All of these qualities seem to flow from John Davis, the recently appointed executive vice president of the Orlando Regional Chamber, like one of Florida’s fresh water springs.
Davis grew up in Pahokee located in western Palm Beach County, where he was a standout in the classroom and on the football field. He attended Florida State University, where he was coached and mentored by one of the sport’s premier coaches, Bobby Bowden.
On the Journey To Orlando and Back
After graduating from FSU, I explored my professional football options, then returned to Tallahassee and was part of a successful secretary of state campaign. I worked for a season with the division of elections, but it wasn’t the right fit for me, so a friend introduced me to Horizon Medical Products out of Atlanta. Working for that company brought me to Orlando in 1997.
After more than eight years, it was time to move on to the next phase of my life. The money was good, but it wasn’t where I wanted to spend my career. Terrell Buckley, a good friend of mine and I decided to launch a new company called Pro Style Training. That was my introduction into the world of entrepreneurialism. I learned a lot, but it was one of those cases where I wish I knew then what I know now.
I came back to Orlando and reentered politics by working on Charlie Crist’s gubernatorial campaign. After that I spend two years with the Republican Party and was fortunate enough to become the highest ranking African American in the history of the party in Florida.
The question for me is always, “What’s next?” I became a political consultant, then worked for the Department of Children and Families. It was one of the most rewarding and challenging experiences of my life. While exploring a move back into the political arena, which I have always enjoyed, I found out about the position at the African American Chamber of Commerce and applied.
Chamber Culture and Chamber Change
They had a pretty extensive search for the position of president, and I was fortunate enough to be selected in January 2014. The Chamber has been in Orlando since 1945, and it was ready to move in a different direction. Being a change agent and involved in transition is something that is in my DNA.
They needed an injection of something different, and I came to the table with a plan. I had been in the private sector with two startups, plus I had a background in the public sector as well. I like to say, “If it’s not on paper, it didn’t happen.” I wanted to help create a turnkey organization with long-term sustainability, beyond any particular individual.
Seeing a situation or problem and coming up with solutions is something that for me comes natural. We’re all blessed with talents; for me it is analyzing and finding creative solutions. We also assembled a great team. We wanted to build upon the three M’s — money, man-power and membership — in the Chamber, and I think we were successful.
The merger of the Central Florida Partnership and the EDC was historic. As I listened to Tim Giuliani speak about his vision for this unified organization, along with his perspective on the Chamber and what it could be, the opportunity seemed very intriguing.
Tim has a chamber background, so he understands the challenges and has viable formulas for success. The essential elements of the Chamber, in the midst of these broad initiatives that build the region, is to strengthen the local business community. We strive to be the premier advocate and resource to help businesses succeed, creating a value proposition that deals with them at a tactical level.
Also, Tim has brought the chambers from around the region together to collaborate on issues that impact the business community and come up with solutions collectively. Much like the Orlando Economic Partnership, by the chambers having a unified voice and focus it brings substantial results. He has worked to create an atmosphere of teamwork, innovation, collaboration and inclusion within our organization and with other organizations. That’s leadership.
Coach Bowden taught me to follow my faith and be a good man…and if I did that, football would follow. My faith has always been a big part of my life and has helped shape and define who I am today. I also believe it is my responsibility to do my very best, and if I do, then results will follow. I think the results we will see at the Orlando Regional Chamber and the Partnership, as a whole, will be transformational.