Todd Davis, BBA ’86; Jordan Davis, BBA ’17: Two generations of real estate standouts
Business runs in the family for father-son duo Todd Davis, BBA ’86, and Jordan Davis, BBA ’17.
Todd is a pre-eminent expert on brownfield redevelopment, the practice of assessing and rehabilitating old industrial properties that may be contaminated with hazardous substances or other pollutants. He is the founder and CEO of the Cleveland-based development and consulting firm Hemisphere Brownfield Group LLC and wrote the American Bar Association’s brownfield redevelopment treatise. He is also a lecturer on real estate entrepreneurship.
Jordan is an emerging force in the real estate industry. In just under two years with The Related Group in Miami, he’s helped his team secure seven new deals representing nearly $1 billion of new business. He also serves on the Board for the University of Michigan Alumni Club of Miami-Fort Lauderdale and returns to campus each year for the Michigan Real Estate Convention.
The seed of Todd and Jordan’s success was planted in their hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. At the dinner table as a boy, Todd soaked up stories about his own father’s experience as an entrepreneur in the city. His dad started a car leasing business before the practice was common. He taught Todd the power of identifying new opportunities, carving out a niche, and building relationships.
Todd always knew he wanted to be like his dad and go into business. So, when it was time for him to choose a college, the University of Michigan was a no-brainer.
“To be candid, (the Ross School of Business) was the only place I looked at. It was the only place I wanted to go,” he said. “My parents gave me the parameter, you can go an hour away on a flight from where you live. So, I was focused on Michigan because it was a top-tier business school.”
Todd studied finance and securities at Ross and went on to earn a Juris Doctor degree from The George Washington University Law School. He believed the combined degrees would empower him to understand anything he might encounter in the business world.
It was a prophetic decision that influenced his career, as well as his son’s.
Blazing a path
After graduation, Todd went to work at a large corporate law firm in Cleveland. All new hires rotated through practicing different areas of law. During his environmental law rotation, Todd was assigned to a big cleanup case in Detroit. Federal legislation around brownfield redevelopment had not yet been enacted, creating a tangle of challenges for real estate developers.
“Most of the people who were environmental lawyers (then) were chemists, biologists, with very heavy science backgrounds, the inverse of my experience — hard-core business school, understanding how different things are put together from a business perspective,” he said. “That gave me a very unique niche and perspective. I attribute that to the work I did at Michigan.”
After the Detroit cleanup case, another client sought Todd’s unique perspective. He wanted to purchase a piece of contaminated land that was in foreclosure and hired Todd to help him navigate the complex legal process.
“I saw an opportunity, a niche in the marketplace,” Todd said. “This could be a very compelling business opportunity if I combined my skills as an environmental lawyer with my business background and a business approach. That’s what created the approach to acquire and redevelop contaminated property for my own business and do consulting in connection with that. There weren’t companies doing this at the time.”
To differentiate himself — as he had learned to do from his father and his Michigan Ross education — Todd became a trailblazer in this emerging niche. He founded the Cleveland-based brownfield redevelopment firm Hemisphere and wrote Brownfields: A Comprehensive Guide to Redeveloping Contaminated Property for the American Bar Association.
“I think that that lesson of differentiating yourself is critical no matter what business, what industry you choose to focus on,” Todd said. “Going into banking isn’t enough."
“The only other thing I would say is it’s probably good to start practicing yoga early because you’ll have a lot of stress,” he said with a chuckle. “You better deal with it upfront.”
It’s advice Todd’s son Jordan took to heart.
Like father, like son
Jordan Davis grew up visiting real estate sites with his dad, hearing the music of negotiation as capitalists and environmentalists mixed it up. A people person at heart, Jordan was hooked on real estate from the start.
“I have always wanted to follow in my dad’s footsteps in the sense that I genuinely love what he does,” Jordan said. “The funniest thing is that he never pressured me to be interested in real estate. It just happened organically.”
As a teen, Jordan devoured real estate books and learned about industry legends like Stephen M. Ross, Jeff T. Blau, and Samuel Zell. During his sophomore year of high school, Todd took Jordan to a game at the University of Michigan and they explored the Michigan Ross campus.
“I was so enamored and said, ‘Oh my gosh, my dream is to go here. I will do whatever it takes to get in,’” Jordan said.
When he applied, Ross offered a preferred admissions program that only accepted a sliver of students right out of high school. Jordan was accepted to U-M but waitlisted for Ross. Undeterred, he set about building relationships and distinguishing himself, as he’d learned to do from his dad.
He established a campus-wide Michigan Yoga Club to help new students connect. He breathed life into the Michigan Real Estate Club by engaging a diverse range of undergrad and graduate students, as well as alumni. By the end of his freshman year, Jordan had been accepted into Ross.
He earned a teaching assistantship with Peter Allen, an adjunct lecturer of real estate, and subsequently, the pair collaborated to put on the Real Estate Club’s 30th Annual Michigan Real Estate Convention. The event drew alumni from across the country and featured keynote speakers Ross and Blau. A chance meeting with Ross alum David Heller at the conference led Jordan to his first job out of school as a development associate at The NRP Group in San Antonio, Texas. He soon moved to the firm’s office in Austin, Texas, where he revived the then-defunct Ross Alumni Group.
“If you had told me as a freshman that I would graduate and move to Texas, I would have said you are nuts, I’m going to be in New York,” Jordan said. “But like my dad was alluding to, I have focused on trying to differentiate myself, and following my gut instinct was the best decision I ever made. David provided me with a tremendous opportunity to learn under his best leaders in what is now one of the country’s most attractive markets. I am very thankful for his leap of faith.”
After developing a skill set of identifying new business opportunities and understanding how to add great value for a team, no matter where that was, Jordan took a new position in June 2020 with The Related Group in Miami. He joined the firm as a financial analyst, but his second week on the job, Jordan helped put together a winning proposal for an important redevelopment. His team was so impressed, they asked him to spearhead new development opportunities. Today, he works as an acquisitions and development associate focused on affordable and workforce housing. In just under two years with Related Group, he’s helped his team secure seven new deals representing nearly $1 billion.
Jordan also continues to nurture the connections he made at U-M. He serves on the Board for the University of Michigan Michigan Alumni Club of Miami-Fort Lauderdale and returns to campus each year for the Michigan Real Estate Convention.
“I owe so much to the people who took me under their wings during my time on campus, including Peter Allen, Lynn Wooten, Cindy Radecki, and Anthony Mosellie. They instilled in me the value of giving back to our community,” Jordan said.
Attending Ross is just another way Todd and Jordan have differentiated themselves.
“Everyone else in my family went to Ohio State, which is exactly why I wanted to go to Michigan,” Todd joked.
“For my dad and I, given that we’re from Cleveland and our family went to Ohio State, the game (has become a tradition),” Jordan said. “Typically we are sitting on the couch every November watching together in Cleveland. Although, we were together in Miami this year and they won. So, maybe we need to change that location more often.”
“That’s actually a good idea,” Todd laughed. “We’re doing our best to keep the tradition alive.”