These are the stories of two entrepreneurs. One, Charles J. Davis II (aka: “Chuck”), is a 21-year old University of South Florida Junior (USF) and part-time airline employee (full disclosure: He’s also our nephew) who is just now beginning to make his mark in the world. The other, William F., Poe, Sr., is a 75-year young insurance broker and former Tampa Mayor, who is determined to rebuild his once-successful property/casualty (p/c) agency, W.F. Poe Insurance Co., which went belly up in the wake of Florida’s devastating 2004/2005 hurricane seasons.
Hide and Watch
On the one hand, Bill Poe, as we’ll see, is a classic entrepreneur. That is, someone who picks up and dusts off after calamity, and heads back into the fray. On the other hand, we’ll also learn why Chuck Davis, though not technically an entrepreneur, has had the right instincts from the get-go, conducting himself as a heads-up winner, taking the hard knocks life hands him and going about his business with the entrepreneurial spirit the term embodies. They’re both going places: anyone doubting that should, as the saying goes: “Hide and watch!”
Let’s start with Chuck Davis. A credit to his parent’s, this young man grew up in Maryland, the son of a retired Air Force Chief Master Sergeant (my esteemed brother-in-law) who went on to other gainful employment making good use of his leadership and management skills and valuable security clearances, and Tanya (“Timmy”) Davis a well-known professional artist whose paintings are sold (along with their talented daughter, Jennifer’s, work) at The Torpedo Factory in Alexandria, VA. Young Chuck made his first dollar at age 4. The family lived behind tennis courts, and after the tennis players left for the day, "Chucky," as he was then known, would go out and find lost balls, collecting a laundry basket full in just a few weeks. He parlayed that into a lemonade stand/tennis ball sale. His Mom can’t recall the exact amount, but thinks he pulled in $5 or $10. From ages 7 to 11: he tried his hand at dog walking, pet sitting, as well as collecting lost golf balls from a nearby golf course and reselling them. By 11 to 15 he’d turned bartering labor for bowling games and free lunches into a regular gig at which he spent 15 hours per week every summer. He gave that up at 16 to sling French fries at a local fast-food joint.
After living at home and attending junior college, Chuck transferred as a junior to Tampa’s USF in December 2007, living in an on-campus dorm with three roommates, and completing his first semester in June. He immediately began looking for summer work, cheerfully recounting his dreadful experiences with pure-commission, high-pressure sales gigs that had him going door-to-door pushing wildly over-priced merchandize his “prospects” neither wanted nor could afford. He soured on this quickly, the last straw being when his “manager” relieved herself in a customer’s side yard before ringing the door bell! This would have been inappropriate for either sex under those circumstances, but for a woman to do that in front of a young man reveals this individual’s lack of class. It would have been just as inappropriate for a male manager to do that in the presence of a female business associate. Indeed, it could have gotten the chap arrested!
Chuck gave a couple of other “unlimitedopportunities” like that one a try before following up with the airline that eventually hired him. Bingo! He was soon dispatched to the carrier’s Milwaukee Training Center for a two-week introductory course that qualified him to work the airport counter, checking tickets, and seeing passengers got on the right flights to the right places at the appropriate times. His can-do approach made him class leader, and before returning to Florida, he came to the attention of airline management higher up the food chain. He’s been back and forth to Wisconsin several times, attending other classes, gaining additional knowledge and skills, and by asking the right people the right questions, has positioned himself for additional training and greater responsibility on each trip. Moreover, he’s accomplished all this with good cheer and deference to his seniors and managers, yet without a trace of patronization.
So, now do you see what I mean about him?
As for Bill Poe…Though I’ve never met the man, I knew he’d been Tampa’s mayor and of his career as high-risk p/c insurance agent with one of the nation’s largest insurance companies. I had no idea he’d been bankrupted by those hideous hurricanes earlier this decade. The first I learned of Bill Poe’s misfortune was opening the Tampa Tribune Business & Money section this past Sunday (8 June) and spotting the headline: “Reflections on an Insurance Casualty,” a two-page article by Tribune staff writer, Russell Ray. Much of the following is drawn from that article, with passages quoted where appropriate.
Born in Tampa, Bill Poe attended area schools and was president of his high school’s student body, president of the key club and treasurer of the senior class. After high school Poe attended Duke University and, later, the University of Florida where he received a B.A. in Business Administration. In 1956, following Air Force service, he returned to Tampa where he established the W.F. Poe Insurance Company. Becoming involved in civic activities and, later, local politics, Poe won the 1974 mayoral election.
After eight hurricanes hit Florida in 2004 and 2005, notably Hurricane Wilma, which tore through South Florida in October, 2005, Poe’s three insurers, Atlantic Preferred, Southern Family and Florida Preferred, ran out of cash. Damage from thousands of uncompensated claims: The largest insurance failure in Florida history.
So instead of getting squared away to enjoy retirement, Poe, who started out at as an insurance agent at 23, is knuckling down and rebuilding his Tampa-based company, rechristened Poe Financial Group, from the ground up. “It’s been difficult, but I’m not crying,” Ray reports the flinty Poe saying, “The people of Tampa have been wonderful.”
A large part of Poe’s original business plan had been made up of high-risk policies, while remaining in compliance with the Florida’s solvency statutes. But as Ray indicates, the state Office of Insurance regulation has written that Poe’s companies were “charging adequate rates for their exposure.” A key point: but not sufficient to overcome the tidal wave of claims following in the wake of those killer storms. Moreover, in 1992 when Hurricane Andrew hit Florida, 12 insurers went under after paying $12 billion in claims, so Poe’s unhappy predicament is not that unusual. These days, a year into his recovery, Poe has eschewed the high-stakes risk-management business, focusing instead primarily on selling insurance.
Bottom Line: I wouldn’t bet against either old Bill Poe or young Chuck Davis.
Bill Willard is a freelance writer living in Clearwater, FL
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