Walker’s Legacy Profiles recognize unique women of color in business who embody the legacy of Madam C.J. Walker, the first female self-made millionaire. In this installment, meet Chanel Christoff Davis, CEO of Davis Davis & Harmon LLC.
According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, only 33 percent of new businesses survive the first 10 years. Chanel Christoff Davis, CEO and Founding Partner of Davis Davis & Harmon LLC, discusses what has led to her 17 years of success in a field that is generally very male-dominated. She discusses how she was able to build alliances and networks that have served her well over the years. Last but not least, she attributes her faith in God to being the pivotal source of her triumph.
1. Tell us a little about your background and your current line of work.
I’m a native New Orleanian, born and raised. I attended the University of New Orleans where I obtained a double degree in Accounting and Business Management. Upon graduating from college, I moved to Dallas Texas where I began my career in public accounting. I left public accounting as a senior auditor and then joined Verizon’s internal audit team and rose to a team lead in that organization. I traveled extensively as young professional and had a great career, but entrepreneurship was always tugging at me.
“I like to call myself a serial entrepreneur. I have been starting businesses since I was nine years old.”
I have always loved the energy and excitement involved in building something from an idea. At a very young age, I left corporate America and decided to bet on my knowledge, talent, and ingenuity to start a sales tax consulting practice with my husband, Terrell Davis (founding partner and COO of Davis Davis & Harmon LLC). I’m the CEO and founding partner of Davis Davis & Harmon LLC, the largest woman and minority-owned tax advisory practice in the United States.
2. What made you pursue this line of business?
Entrepreneurship has always been my passion; therefore, my eyes were open for opportunities. When my husband was approached by a colleague of his to join in on a contract bid to provide sales tax consulting services to the state of Texas, we decided to submit a proposal for a contract on our own. We won our bid, and the rest is history. We both quit our jobs, started our consulting practice, and we have never looked back. We have since divested from government contract work, and we now help Fortune 100 corporations manage their sales tax matters in all 50 states.
3. How long did it take you to find your niche in the marketplace?
Very early on in our tax practice, we decided to focus our attention on mid to large size businesses who did not have a large internal sales and use tax team. We realized there was a large void in the marketplace for highly specialized sales tax knowledge and expertise. That early pivot has proven to be very crucial to our success.
Our expertise is very specialized and, well, “niche.” There aren’t many tax advisory firms in the country that specialize in sales and use tax. In fact, I can count the significant players in our industry on one hand. So, I guess you can say our niche found us. When networking, I’m usually the only sales tax expert in the room. We are very fortunate that way.
4. I can imagine that tax laws are constantly evolving. How do you keep up to date with all of the information that you disseminate to your clientele?
Sales use tax is our singular focus; therefore, we are immersed in our industry’s changes and current pronouncements. Our client work also keeps us up to date. When a client asks us to represent them in a matter before a state, it’s our job to get up to speed quickly. Because we have been practicing sales tax for over 20 years, our accumulation of knowledge allows us to stay nimble. We are always cognizant of putting our clients in the best light, and we work hard to stay ahead of changes.
5. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, only 33 percent of businesses survive the first 10 years. What do you think has contributed to your 17 years of success so far?
First and foremost, I relied heavily on my faith in God. When times were tough, I knew God would not abandon me. Also, we had a strong vision for the type of business we wanted to build. We kept that vision top of mind when presented with business opportunities. If the project or opportunity did not fit the vision, then we declined. While it’s not easy to decline work when you are building, I believe that being focused on our goals has allowed us to build a sustainable business. Persistence and perseverance also helped a great deal.
6. Are there any women of color that paved the way for you to get where you are professionally? If so, who are they and how did you cross paths with them?
My field is very male-dominated; therefore, I didn’t have access to many women of color to look up to in my industry. Fortunately, there are ways for women of color to navigate industries that are not diverse, and I have been blessed with great advisors throughout my career. One of my strengths in business has been building alliances and seeking the advice of various people that have crossed my path. Having competent advisors is crucial to success in business.
7. What advice do you have for young women who want to build a lasting business?
The top 5 things needed to build a lasting business are:
- Keep your spirituality intact. Spend time daily with God.
- Always value and prioritize sleep. I’ve never sacrificed a good night’s sleep. I work my best and make the best decisions when I am rested, clear and focused.
- Write out a concise vision and mission for your organization. If a job, project, or opportunity does not further your vision or mission, respectfully decline.
- Hire experts to help you realize your vision. As soon as you are financially able, hire out areas that are not your strength, so that you can focus on your gift and talent.
- Surround yourself with positive people. You will need them!
8. Where can the audience reach you to learn more information?
Our social media handle @salestaxhelp on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter
Our website: www.ddhtax.com