“We never win any awards when I go,” laughed John Davies, with a good-natured twinkle in his eye. “If I send someone else we win, but not if I’m there.”
He must send his staff to a lot of award dinners.
Davies Public Affairs, his Santa Barbara-based national public relations company, has won hundreds of awards for its work, including recent honors from the Public Relations Society of America for its community relations work on behalf of Texas-based power producer GenOn Energy and public affairs work for Arizona’s Rosemont Copper.
But it is the awards for creating a great work environment — the firm was recently awarded PR News’ “Top Places to Work in PR” and has been given The Holmes Report’s Top Agency to Work For award for eight consecutive years (2004-2011) — that Davies holds even dearer.
“The greatest tool we have is we have to have really good people,” said Davies, chatting on a rare quiet day in his office at El Paseo. “That is our biggest priority and that is my constant deal — the care and feeding of our staff, making sure they are happy.
“We are better at growing our own staff than hiring them,” admitted Davies, who founded the company in 1982 and now has around 50 employees.
His first project back then was to help Santa Barbara County school board member Jack O’Connell get elected to the Assembly. (O’Connell, a Democrat, went on to serve 12 years in the Assembly and eight years in the state Senate before winning election to two terms as California’s superintendent of public instruction.)
Davies has since worked on many political campaigns (locally for Brooks Firestone and Dan Secord) but in recent years, the company focus has shifted toward the biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, real estate, energy and mining industries.
His personal energies have also shifted considerably. Married at age 40 to his wife, Nina, Davies is now a devoted father to Jack (18, a freshman at Gordon College in Wenham, Mass.), Carys (16, a student at Providence Hall in Santa Barbara) and Morgan (14, a student at Oaks Christian School in Westlake Village).
“I travel a lot (about 250,000 miles a year) and I have my family and I don’t play golf,” he said. “I don’t have a minute that isn’t busy.
“I don’t like to be away. After two days I’m really, really lonely and I want to be with my kids. Having my son going to college reminds me of how short it is. Being an older dad, I think I knew watching my friends, because my friends were at this point when our kids were really young, and I could see them being tortured.
“It was probably one of my hardest days dropping my son off at college. I was so happy with the college he chose, so happy with where he was, but oh gosh ...”
For the past seven years the close-knit Davies family has joined with a handful of other local families to support Acres of Love, a home for AIDS orphans in Johannesburg, South Africa. With more than $2 million invested-to-date, including the purchase of three houses, the group provides the operational costs to raise eight children — Davies’ kids call them their “brothers and sisters in Africa” — in a loving, healthy environment, with the best possible education.
Education is important to Davies, who has been a board member of the Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara since 1984, was board president at El Montecito School for more than 10 years and was appointed as a trustee of the Santa Barbara County Board of Education. He’s also been an active volunteer and board member for Computers for Families, Santa Barbara Partners in Education, the UCSB Athletic Director’s Roundtable, the UCSB Economic Forecast Project and Santa Barbara Middle School. He just stepped down after a third term as chairman of the Westmont College Foundation Board, and is in charge of the annual Westmont President’s Breakfast, which is set for March 1 and will feature retired Gen. Colin Powell as the keynote speaker.
If he weren’t busy enough, Davies is also involved with the Santa Barbara Region Chamber of Commerce, Unity Shoppe, Adventures in Caring Foundation, served as a deacon and elder at El Montecito Presbyterian Church and recently became an elder at Calvary Chapel Santa Barbara.
“It has been really moving and interesting,” Davies said of his new role at Calvary Chapel. “Sometimes when you take leadership it’s about what you’re doing when you’re helping. This is more what happens to you while you’re doing it. ... This is more of a gift than it is a duty. I get more in return.”
Setting a philanthropic example for his children, a few years ago Davies challenged his then 15-year-old son, Jack, to look beyond the comforts of his Santa Barbara life and do something for others. With some behind-the-scenes guidance from their parents, Jack, along with fellow teens Spencer Dusebout and Scott Schurmer, founded Hands 4 Others (h4o), now a national youth movement to provide clean water around the world.
“The whole deal is healthy Third-World water, but mostly it’s raising up a generation that understands that they have the ability to do this,” he said. “It’s been really fun. I mean, sometimes there’s a bumpy road, but that’s part of the learning process. With most nonprofits, you’d get frustrated.
“With this, it’s the joy that they’re learning,” said Davies, who cites as one of his proudest moments watching Jack speak to nearly 1,000 villagers as he dedicated the first H4O water system in a remote area of Kenya.
In that case, at least, John Davies was present for the win after all.