Davey to partner with university

Rachel Abbey

Guests at the Bowman Breakfast applaud Kent State President Carol Cartwright for her 15-year presidency at Kent State. The Bowman Breakfast highlighted regional development and was held in the Kent American Legion Hall yesterday morning. SAMANTHA RAINWAT

Credit: Carl Schierhorn

While about 200 people drank coffee and ate eggs and pancakes, R. Douglas Cowan shared his company’s secret for success.

“At Davey, employees are the number one priority,” he said. “Customers are number two. Shareholders are number three.”

Cowan, chairman and chief executive officer of the Davey Tree Expert Company, spoke at yesterday’s Bowman Breakfast, at the Kent American Legion Hall.

The breakfast is held once a semester to give university and community members a chance to share stories of success from one another’s point of view, said Daniel Smith, executive director of Kent Area Chamber of Commerce.

“Kent State is a big part of this community,” Cowan said. “The city and the university are so intertwined.”

Cowan mentioned an upcoming partnership between the university and the company, which he said he hopes will be announced in the next two to three months. The partnership will allow Davey Tree employees to earn a year of college credit for the education they receive on the job.

Higher education needs to do more with private industry to educate the population and to keep the area economically competitive, Cowan said, rather than just educating people who attend college in a traditional way.

Davey Tree is a national tree and lawn care company, covering 40 states and five Canadian provinces, Cowan said. The company works for residential and commercial properties, and offers a consulting service to others in the horticultural industry.

Employees bought the company in 1979 from the Davey family, he said.

Many employee-owned companies fail, Cowan said, but Davey Tree continues to grow. The company earned $432 million in revenue last year, compared to $52 million in 1979 when employees first bought it. If someone bought $100 worth of shares in 1979, they would have about $8,000 worth now.

Davey Tree relies on its plan of success, taking care of its employees first and its shareholders later – the opposite of many employers, Cowan said.

“If you take care of the employees in your company, they will take care of the customers, and the customers will take care of the shareholders,” he said.

Cowan is one of Kent State’s most prominent alumni, President Carol Cartwright said. He has been involved with the university as director of the Kent State Foundation and as chair during the formation of its first major campaign. He was appointed to the Board of Trustees in 1999 and is now the chair. He’s also involved with other boards in the community and with area organizations, such as the Portage County United Way.

Contact administration reporter Rachel Abbey at [email protected].