I used to be angry with her for not taking herself and me out of the situation, but she had her reasons and she always told me to be stronger than she was able to be, to go out and be my own person and do great things in this world. She reinforced in me the lessons she didn’t learn, but I could. All of those things and more make me who I am today.
When not serving as the Board Chair of Global Women 4 Wellbeing (GW4W), Kim Davis acts as the Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer for NFP, an insurance broker and consulting firm that specializes in corporate benefits, property & casualty and individual life solutions. Simply put, she oversees and implements programs and practices that keep NFP employees well, which in turn improves the quality of the work of the organization and the delivery experience for its clients.
With nearly 4,000 employees in more than 150 offices (both international and domestic), NFP proves no easy task. But Kim, who has worked for the last 25+ years in human resources, thrives in her role as she creates an “engaging and supportive work environment” to support the wellbeing of NFP’s employees. In essence, she builds active engagement into the company’s key strategy as afoundation for employee success and health. At NFP they call that a Peoplefirst, people-centric environment and it all starts there.
In addition to being a long tenured HR Executive, Kim also knows the entrepreneur world well. She founded her own HR consulting business to help maximize companies’ results and control their increasing healthcare costs, all while prioritizing the benefits, wellbeing, and engagement of their employees. That consulting firm was purchased by NFP in 2012 and shortly thereafter Kim took on the additional CHRO role for the internal employee base.
Many years before she became the successful businesswoman and entrepreneur she is today, Kim spent her formative years in Cape Coral, Florida. The distant youngest of four children, she succeeded as a middle and high school cheerleader, even coming in runner-up in a National Miss Pop Warner contest for her community work, worldview and cheerleading abilities. While on the squad, Kim relished in the camaraderie and excitement of group sports. To this day, watching professional football ranks as one of her main hobbies and she will proudly inform anyone that she usually “knows the majority of the coaches, players and success rates of many of the teams”.
In her childhood home, Kim’s father struggled with alcoholism. For a long time Kim blamed her mother for staying in the relationship that was untenable for her and her mother. After Kim left the home when she graduated high school, her mother finally left her father but only for a short time. Her parents reconciled and stayed together until Kim’s mother passed away in 2015. When she reflects on her father’s disease, Kim now can appreciate the positive influence her mother had on her life. “I used to be angry with her for not taking herself and me out of the situation,” Kim admitted, “but she had her reasons and she always told Kim to be stronger than she was able to be, to go out and be her own person and do great things in this world. She reinforced in me the lessons she didn’t learn, but I could. All of those things and more make me who I am today.”
Kim described her earliest female mentor, her cheerleading coach, as someone who “always made me think about who I was as a person underneath the cheerleader”. Her coach, Mary Jo Peterson, Kim explained, “showed me resilience and heart long before I really understood what those things would come to mean in my life”. At the same time that Mary Jo imparted this wisdom on Kim, she had already started her own nonprofit organization called ‘Hands for Giving.’ With financial backing from her mother, Kim would bake desserts, take them to the local supermarket, sell them, and give the proceeds to the local children’s home. She admits that even to this day, “I am a fantastic baker but not a very good cook!”
Kim holds many passions and interests close to her heart, though none closer than her “internal passion for bettering the lives of people”. While this passion has remained the same, her “external view” of how to make that bettering happen constantly evolves.
After high school, Kim married and had 2 children. When the children were just 5 and 3, Kim found herself to be a single mother and head of household. Kim knew that to give her children a good life she would need to be educated and have a career that would fulfill herself and give her children a good footing in their own lives. Working, raising children and going to college at night and on weekends made what is usually a 4 year journey for most young people become a ten year journey for Kim. In addition to the small amount of time Kim had to give to her college studies, she also dabbled in a few education areas before finding her true calling. Kim took classes and considered a career in computer programming and accounting. But after closer consideration of her skill set and goal of helping others, Kim shifted her career focus to her now passion of HR. Beginning “from the ground up” Kim delved into “each and every area of HR as a generalist incorporating what I was learning with how those connections were making company’s successful”. Behind each organization’s success, Kim noticed, were people. Since making this realization as to the integral importance of people to a company’s success, Kim has “been hooked ever since”.
After her mother and her coach Mary Jo laid the foundation for who Kim is today, many women since have helped her through critical decisions in her life. One woman who stands out was a leader of Kim’s and had worked her way up from Administrative Assistant to the Head of HR at a large travel company. Kim describes her as a “compassionate and sensible woman”. Her response to each and every one of Kim’s questions would be “what are you thinking the right answer is?” After Kim reflected on what she thought the answer would be, she would share her own experiences to compliment or counter Kim’s response. Kim still thinks of her as her wisest mentor, and tries to help others learn through trial and error of their own thoughts with a helping hand ready when needed.
At the end of the day, the only person who will take care of you is you.
In forging her path to her current leadership role, Kim worked to make decisions that prioritized her health. Though she would be the first to admit that she has never been her own best role model, she makes “relatively healthy decisions” most days, which, she admitted, helps. As she progressed in her career she learned to take better care of herself and her family. This self-care resulted in increased productivity and focus for her at work. “None of us have it all figured out,” Kim stated. “We all struggle individually in order to figure out our own personal balances.” She qualified that “Women with young children at home today have a very different balanceneed from me where I am in my career now”. Kim, in 2017, knows who her best self is. When she begins to stray from that, she looks inwardly, or takes queues and flat out statements of fact from her very special husband Doc, and makes the appropriate adjustments to get herself back on track. This is a constant process for her.
To other women, Kim would offer the following tidbits of advice:
- Know yourself and your own health and wellbeing limits so you can actively monitor them. Kim often sees people wait until they’re so sick and stressed that returning to that baseline is almost impossible. “Remember,” she advised, “at the end of the day, the only person who will take care of you is you. You may have responsibilities to your friends/spouse/significant other/family/workplace, but you must be in touch with yourself and your needs. No one else will prioritize you. And, if your health falls to the wayside, all that you care for will fall to the wayside as well.
- Personally: Be resilient. Everyone has setbacks in life and their own personal challenges. You must know that you’re strong and smart and can get up, brush yourself off to try again and do better.
- Generally: Build your networks widely and then deepen them. Find that balance of an expansive professional network that you sustain overtime. Everyone has something to teach you. Find mentors and bosses who will pave the way for your success and be honest in their feedback and critique of what your strengths and weaknesses are. “We should all be happy to share what we’ve learned to help the next generation of women leader’s succeed!”
When asked why she chose to serve as the GW4W board chair, Kim effused, “I cannot begin to tell you the admiration and respect I have for the founders (personally and professionally). To see strong, smart women out there and offering up their whole selves to make a difference, there’s nothing better. For my whole life I have tried to make peoples’ lives at work better. I want to bring forth a better workplace for women, which aligns perfectly with the mission of GW4W.
-Interview and story written by Sarah Taylor