Jeff Davis went to college planning to be an architect and now is a financial leader at the world's largest retailer. His journey and the knowledge he gained along the way are helping him mentor a new generation of executives.
Financial Executives International board member Jeff Davis is executive vice president and Chief Financial Officer for Wal-Mart Stores US, and is responsible for investor relations, capital markets, treasury operations, risk management, and mergers & acquisitions. He serves on the boards of directors of Massmart Holdings and the Washington Regional Hospital Foundation, as well as the board of visitors for the University of Pittsburgh Joseph M. Katz Graduate School. Jeff is also a member of the National Association of Black Accountants and also serves on its advisory board.
Jeff earned a bachelor of science in accounting from Pennsylvania State University and an executive MBA from the University of Pittsburgh Joseph M. Katz Graduate School.
FINANCIAL EXECUTIVE: What was your experience in college? You studied accounting, but was that your career goal?
JEFF DAVIS: I definitely fell into it. When I was growing up I used to watch the Brady Bunch. Mike Brady was an architect, and I thought, "Wow! That was kind of neat," I loved the house. That whole American dream type of thing, When I originally went to school, it was to be an architect. I was accepted to Pennsylvania State University's (Penn State) architecture program at the College of Arts and Architecture. During college I was very balanced between doing very well in the arts and sciences. Architecture was the one area that would allow me to explore both.
But I did end up switching out of architecture after about four semesters. It was interesting if I switched into the Smeal College of Business inside Penn State, most of my architecture credits transferred over and I could still finish in four years. Then I just doubled down and selected accounting with a minor in finance.
FE: What prompted the change?
DAVIS: To be honest, it was my next-door dorm neighbor. I lived in the dorms my entire time I was in Penn State and my next door neighbor's father was a regional partner with, at that time, one of the "Big Eight" accounting firms. If I remember correctly, he was with Deloitte, Haskins & Sells.
I remember having conversations with him from time to time when he was up visiting his son about the fact that accounting and finance was the lifeblood of any business, and that I could not go wrong with a solid foundation in that particular area. So, for me, as I was thinking about what I might do after leaving the architecture discipline, I said, "Well...