by Amy Martinez
Updated 11 months ago
Jaret Davis was helping a friend move out of her house in an affluent Miami neighborhood about 20 years ago. Davis, who’s black, 6-foot- 8 and built like a linebacker, wore shorts and a T-shirt with a Far Side cartoon pictured on the front. He worked in broad daylight at a leisurely pace.
Over the course of several hours, neighbors called the police three times, suspicious that Davis was stealing furniture. Fortunately, the same police officer responded to each call and sympathized with Davis.
The encounters ended amicably, with no handcuffs, but Davis made his feelings known to the neighborhood. “I actually started waving and saying, ‘I don’t know who’s calling, but please stop!’”
Davis, now co-managing shareholder of the Miami office of Greenberg Traurig — one of the largest law firms in the U.S. — tells that story to make a point about the pervasiveness of racial stereotyping and prejudice.
As an attorney, Davis practices corporate and securities law, specializing in mergers and acquisitions, capital-market transactions and large financings. His clients include information technology and life sciences companies, angel investors and venture capital firms. He is a co-founder of eMerge Americas, an annual global technology conference in Miami Beach, and a former chairman of the Beacon Council, Miami-Dade County’s economic development organization. He currently chairs the board at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami.
And yet, Davis says, in the eyes of many strangers, he’s still just a “large black man,” whose mere presence in an elevator, for example, can provoke fear.
“Yes, I am co-managing shareholder of one of the largest law offices in the state of Florida and I have negotiated billions of dollars’ worth of corporate deals, but when I enter that elevator, I am still someone to be dreaded by many,” he wrote last summer in an op-ed published in the Miami Herald. “As any large black man will tell you, over the decades I have developed, in part out of courtesy and in part out of survival, several techniques to reduce the fear and put others at ease. Distance, demeanor and even diction — we all have tricks we can share.”
Davis, who was writing in response to the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police in May 2020, went on to call for more empathy and awareness of racial and social injustice, adding, “we owe to one another a sense of ownership of each other’s pain and plight.”
Davis, 46, grew up in Kendall, the older of two children. His dad, who’s from Alabama, was a manufacturing sales rep in the electronics industry, and his mom, a Louisiana native, was a teacher and social worker. Davis originally wanted to become a Catholic priest, but by college, he’d changed his mind, studying economics and computer science at the University of Miami.
“On one end, there’s the Elon Musk side of his brain that has an engineer’s passion and insight into how everything works,” says Florida International University Vice President of Engagement Saif Ishoof, a friend of Davis. “And then, at the same time, there’s the side of his brain that could very well live in long, well-written Supreme Court arguments and briefs.”
Davis got his law degree from UM and joined Greenberg Traurig in its Miami office in 1999. His ability to write computer code and understand technology positioned him well for the dot-com boom, he told Ishoof during a recent Zoom speaker series hosted by FIU.
“The firm was getting a ton of business, and they needed someone who could speak with the CEOs and CIOs, etc. I said, ‘Look, I don’t understand this law thing. I just got out of law school. But that (computer lingo), I can talk all day long.’ I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time, and I just sort of ran with it.”
Davis has since been involved in some of the largest technology deals in South Florida history. In 2011, he advised Manny Medina on the $1.4-billion sale of his Terremark data services company to Verizon and later helped Medina form a $3-billion joint venture with BC Partners to create Miami-based data center operator Cyxtera Technologies. He also represented Boca Raton-based Metropolitan Health Network in its $850-million sale to Humana and advised medical device company Exactech on its $737-million sale to private equity firm TPG Capital.
Meanwhile, Davis assumed a leadership role within the firm, serving as the Miami office’s co-hiring shareholder from 2007 to 2010. At 35, he became one of two heads of the office. Along with Yosbel Ibarra, the other co-managing shareholder, he oversees about 170 attorneys and 200 business staff members in Miami. Together, they embody the firm’s focus on diversity — Ibarra, a Cuban immigrant, is openly gay.
“We have nearly everything covered between the two of us,” Davis laughs. “And a good chunk of our department chairs are women. One way or another, there’s no way to feel isolated here.” About 50% of the office’s partners and 80% of its associates are women, minorities or LGBTQ, he says.
Last year, in the wake of protests over Floyd’s death, Davis joined with other prominent black attorneys in South Florida, including Al Dotson of Bilzin Sumberg, Kelly-Ann Cartwright of Holland & Knight and Detra Shaw-Wilder of Kozyak Tropin, to reach out and offer mentoring to young black attorneys of all firms.
“This is us trying to stem a brain drain from South Florida,” Davis says. “What I don’t want to happen is if you’re a young, promising black associate, and because you’re feeling isolated at your particular firm, you go to Atlanta, D.C. or another city.”
He says he began speaking out more publicly about racism last year largely because he wanted to dispel any notion that Floyd’s murder, while uniquely cruel, was a one-off event and not part of a broader problem.
“The George Floyd murder affected me personally, and some of the comments I heard in the immediate aftermath affected me the most,” he says. “It became readily apparent that many thought the scenario was an anomaly or that it only happened to certain African-Americans. It was important to me for people to realize that to some extent we all experience this.”
He notes that he’s been working with Coral Gables Police Chief Ed Hudak to review the department’s use-of-force policies. While he describes himself as left-of-center politically, he criticizes absolutism on either the right or the left, referring again to his physical presence.
“You go to certain universities, and they’ll say, ‘everyone should treat Jaret the exact same way they treat a 4-foot male,’ blah-blah-blah. I say, let’s be serious now. I mean, I’m a huge guy. I appreciate the fact that if someone gets in an elevator with me alone, there’s going to be some concern,” he says. “I’m not asking for a lack of realism. What I’m asking for is that it not result in me dying.”
Greenberg Traurig shareholder Daniella Silberstein chairs a new task force on corporate relocations for the firm’s Miami office. Silberstein, a Harvard- and Columbia-educated lawyer, specializes in mergers and acquisitions, corporate governance and securities offerings, among other things. The task force, made up of lawyers from different practice areas, aims to help clients move their businesses to South Florida — a service it believes is increasingly in demand as the region attracts more finance executives, venture capitalists and technology entrepreneurs.
Read more in Florida Trend's July issue.
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