Right on the Money

Don Davis went from the music business into banking, and now he’s investing time in his family
Photograph by Cybelle Codish

Banking mogul Don Davis marches to his own beat. Chairman of First Independence Bank, Michigan’s only African-American owned and operated commercial bank, Davis first made his mark in the music industry in the 1960s and ’70s at Motown, then as an independent music producer and, later, as a Stax records executive.

In addition to his bold professional detour two decades ago, Davis made another unconventional move by marrying for the first time five years ago, at age 65. He and his wife, Kiko, have two small children, Skye Adonna, who turns 3 this month, and Donald Jr., 1.

On March 28, Davis will be honored at a star-studded party at the MGM Grand Detroit. The event — Don Davis, The 70th Composition: The Man, The Music, The Mogul: A Tribute — will benefit the Lawrence P. Doss Scholarship Foundation.

We visited Davis at his Irving Tobocman-designed West Bloomfield Township home. Dressed in a crisp white shirt and black trousers, he chatted while sipping hot green tea with ginger.

You do things in an unconventional manner. Where did that come from?

Not caring about other people’s opinions unnecessarily. You have to focus on your agenda.

When did you first realize you were an independent thinker?

My brother always tells the story of when I was 3 or 4 years old and I was making a lot of noise in church. The minister came over and said, “If I give you this quarter, will you be quiet?” I looked at him and said, “No, I won’t be quiet, because my daddy gives me all the money I need.”

Going from the entertainment business to banking is a huge jump.

I knew my time in entertainment was limited. I could play any instrument I picked up. I always knew I would remain in music for as long as I was useful. There became a market for new records, a market of youth. I felt it wasn’t something I could do and be excellent. What I was looking for was a way I could be excellent and creative in commerce. My brother and I were looking for businesses to get into. The bank happened to be an opportunity that presented itself.

Do you miss the music?

Quite frankly, it’s not an industry that you miss. You don’t get into music at 4 o’clock and turn it off at 10. It’s with you at all times. So you just stay away from it.

How has becoming a family man changed your life?

I came from a closely knit family. My mother and my father were always there with me, my brother, and my sister. In my younger life, my 30s and 40s, I always felt a void in my life that needed to be filled with family. Now that void is perfectly filled.

Was it a conscious decision to wait to get married?

When I met my wife, it was love at first sight, and it’s only gotten better since then.
As a bank chairman, you might know some things about the economy that most of us don’t. What are your thoughts?
Over the next year, we will see much of the same. On a more positive note, the new Obama administration’s government stimulus plan can do much to mitigate many of the negative effects by restoring favorable TARP [Troubled Asset Relief Program] conditions, along with the overall economic stimulus package. The automotive industry has learned some hard economic lessons and is ready to come back more competitively and leaner. I am optimistic they will restore lost jobs and consumer confidence. We should continue to support [the local auto industry] as we develop other kinds of industries, businesses that can diversify our workforce and improve our economy.

Michigan has already hit bottom and is now climbing its way back to recovery.

Will there be a turnaround anytime soon?

Depends on what you mean by soon. Six months? No. A year?  No. A year and a half? Maybe.