Kevin Davis

There is no such thing as a problem, only opportunities.


Kevin Davis is the Founder and Chairman of First Workings, an organization whose mission is to help underserved and underrepresented NYC high school students acquire social capital. They accomplish this through arranging two-week paid internships in the summer between their junior and senior years. Originally from London, Mr. Davis graduated from the University of Kent at Canterbury, (UK) with a Bachelor of Arts in Politics and Government and was awarded an MA in International Relations from NYU in 2011. Mr. Davis ran one of the world’s largest listed derivatives brokerages, Man Financial, and retiring after a quarter of a century in London’s City and New York City’s Wall Street. Mr. Davis is an adjunct professor at NYU’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

Where did the idea for First Workings come from?

The idea originated from the UK, where my oldest friend had created a nonprofit called “Access” which arranged internships for high school students, predominantly in London. We were inspired by Access but created First Workings to run differently. First, we created an application process that teased out potential interns’ skills and commitment. (Access did not really have any entry requirements). Second, we insisted that all internships needed to be “aspirational” in nature, in the sense that they had to involve jobs or industries which were ordinarily out of our students’ reach. We do not accept internship positions that involve just photocopying, coffee runs, or anything that does not prepare these students for their future careers. Our Internship Partners span the industries of finance, business, medicine, engineering, law, architecture, technology, non-profit, fashion, media, film, and real estate. Third, we prepare our students so that they are as well-equipped as possible to be successful in their internships. This involves at least two training sessions to develop interpersonal skills, discuss social media behavior, and work on resume building. In some cases, we also provide Excel training. This preparation makes sure they have the right clothes if the internship provider has a dress requirement – typically at investment banks, accountancy practices, and law firms – so we take the students shopping. Additionally, we support our students throughout the period of their internship, providing a helpline for them, their parents and their employers. Finally, we work hard to provide an enduring source of “social capital” by developing an alumni network, which former interns can draw upon through college and beyond.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

In addition to my work at First Workings, I also teach part-time at NYU and manage a family investment office. My most important role at First Workings is coming up with high quality internships. This year, we will have sourced over 50 paid internship positions for our students. I like to do business over lunch or dinner, so most of these internships were secured over a meal!

How do you bring ideas to life?

I like to brainstorm ideas for First Workings with our Executive Director, Chloe Mullarkey. Between the two of us, we try to implement our collective vision into concrete action. We achieve this the old-fashioned way – by sheer hard work.

What’s one trend that excites you?

I am excited by the way in which technology is disrupting every aspect of our business and social lives. Even job interviews are being automated, which means our students will need to be trained to cope with that. Through our internships, they are learning how to thrive in a company amidst digital disruption.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I always try to think about how I would behave if I were on the opposite side of a table or negotiation. What are the key drivers that determine how a counterpart will make the decision I am hoping they’ll make?

What advice would you give your younger self?

There is no such thing as a problem, only opportunities.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

The American Revolution / War of Independence was basically Brits against Brits.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Never be afraid to ask questions. There are no dumb questions, only dumb answers.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

My golden rule as a business leader is to make sure that I always gave myself opportunities to have opportunities. This means trying different ways to achieve an end-result, confident that least one path will be the right one.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

I had a few! I overcame setbacks and failures by dusting myself off and starting again.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Hmmmm. Not sure I can answer this one!

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

Any money First Workings pays to our Executive Director, Chloe Mullarkey. She is amongst the best recruitments I have ever made. Investing in your employees is one of the smartest moves you can make.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?

Any cloud-based data-sharing software that enables business to be conducted “on the go”, regardless of where one is physically located.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Iacocca” – An Autobiography

What is your favorite quote?

Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.

Key learnings:

  • By the time you realize that a manager is not effective, their staff has reached that conclusion long before you have.
  • Treat everyone as you would wish to be treated. It is a myth that one needs to be ruthless with people to succeed.
  • There is no substitute for hard work. The harder you work, the luckier you get.
  • Make sure you have a fulfilling and active personal life, because it makes you a more interesting and connected person.
  • Never take yourself too seriously or be afraid to admit you are wrong.


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