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Former associate Jim Milligan says David Hicks and Computer Power deployed "cloud computing" technology in the 1970s, 40 years before it came into common usage. He also says CPI's data base and mortgage servicing system is "by any estimate, the longes...
Jax Daily Record Monday, Mar. 30, 201512:00 PM EST

First Coast Success: David Hicks built company while helping build his community

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David Hicks is a Massachusetts native who came to Jacksonville when he married his wife, Ann Curry, who is a native of the city.

Once here, the Harvard MBA graduate went to work. And work he did.

He joined legendary mortgage banker Stockton, Whatley, Davin & Co. and then became a partner in the C&S Services affiliate. That was in 1967.

Hicks, 79, incorporated it two years later as Computer Power Inc., creating a mortgage software and services giant that he sold 25 years later to Alltel Corp.

It processed $1.3 trillion in mortgages, accounting for 43 percent of all U.S. mortgages at the time.

The firm was sold in 1992 to Alltel and Hicks retired in 1995.

RELATED STORY: Community leaders talk about Hicks' impact. 

Alltel later was sold to Fidelity National Financial, which moved its headquarters from California to the site along Riverside Avenue where Hicks developed Computer Power.

After he retired, Hicks chaired other successful startups, including Alliance Mortgage Co., which became EverBank. His son-in-law, Rob Clements, is the chairman of EverBank.

Hicks also is credited for his work in public housing, including the Jacksonville Housing Authority and HabiJax. At the University of North Florida, he and his wife sponsor the Hicks Endowed Scholarships for students from public housing and HabiJax.

In 1997, the couple established the Gray Study Abroad Scholarship in honor of Father Neil Gray, an adjunct faculty member who inspired students to reflect on their purpose in life. Ann Curry earned a degree in liberal studies in 1995.

When you look back on what you’ve built, Computer Power, and that it led to thousands of employees brought to town by Fidelity National and its affiliates, what do you think?

I think it’s worked out very well and the software has had real longevity in that the same software which was designed and written in 1966 still runs today, which is an unusual feature of that software. We know of no other design that has worked and held up the way that this particular software has.

It was a new field back when you started. How did you come up with the idea of creating a software company?

A couple of us were working with Stockton, Whatley, Davin and we hit on an idea that a computer package would be a great opportunity for us. So we split from the company and set upon the work of creating the software and that has worked out extremely well for everyone connected.

You sold it to Alltel. Did you envision such success when you started the company?

No, because the reason we sold it to Alltel is that our partner, Merrill Lynch, wanted cash out of our company by selling it. So they approached us and essentially said we want to sell the company and the software. That’s the last time I’ll let anyone own a piece of a company. We had no choice.

After you sold to Alltel, what did you do next? You remained very active and you still do.

I don’t want to burst your bubble, but I really haven’t done a tremendous amount since then. Mostly philanthropic endeavors, with HabiJax being the most significant.

Talk about how you chaired the Jacksonville Housing Authority and how you restructured it to make it much more serviceable to the clients.

Well, at the time, when Ed Austin was mayor, he said that his biggest problem was the running of the housing authority and he requested me to take a look at it and see if I would be willing to try and bail it out.

The institution was essentially failing at the time we took it over. We completely changed the board and then got in the business of changing the way the institution operated and since, it became very successful. The institution started by having a failing mark from the federal government and by the time we finished, we had an A+ for our operation. That went very well.

You developed management strategies at Computer Power.

One of the things that has been a standby idea, back to Computer Power, is that when somebody was asked to do a job and they were successful in landing that job, our philosophy was to assign that job to the person and let them run with it. Don’t be looking around over their shoulders, just let them go and you’ll end up, in most cases, with something which will work out.

Way back at the beginning, when we had 10 employees, we devised a profit-sharing plan where the employees got 25 percent of the profits of Computer Power. This was a revelation to people within the industry and on the outside, but the Computer Power profit-sharing plan turned out to be an extremely successful approach to doing business.

And then one other thing that we did that seemed to work out pretty well, when we hired new people, we hired them from within the industry. This helped a lot with turnover and just the satisfaction of the employees of having a good job with CPI.

It sounds like you really advocated for putting the right people in place and letting them do their jobs and not micromanaging.

I would say that’s exactly right.

Should more companies do it that way?

Depends on how your employees stack up. I would say yes, because that really is a matter of developing a group that can make decisions and run the show, and not everybody has that.

When you were growing up, what did you want to be?

I grew up in Massachusetts and based on that I made the decision early on when I was in graduate school that I did not wish to stay in the Northeast for my career. My wife was from Jacksonville and she wanted to get back here, so there was no reason for me not to, so I drove us, moved to Jacksonville and started careers.

When you came back to Jacksonville, what were your plans? What was your first endeavor?

Initially, I wanted to get with a company that was small. I had worked for a couple of larger companies in the past in the Northeast and I didn’t want to get involved with that size situation again. So SWD was a good prospect and they took me in. We had a company with about 300 people and we went from there, but my intention was to spin off from SWD and create our own company, which essentially we did.

You’ve been in Jacksonville for 55 years. How has it changed?

When I moved here, Jacksonville had 300,000 people. Today, Jacksonville has something like 1 million. The city I grew up in has roughly 300,000 people and had 300,000 at the time we moved out of it. Not much growth there and you really wouldn’t want to live there.

Jacksonville has really grown in terms of the banking industry and the diversity of jobs and it has developed geographically. Do you think Jacksonville has good growth prospects?

I do. I think that there’s plenty of appeal to what we have here in Jacksonville. I think it’s a great place to live, great place to bring up a family, and I can’t see that changing appreciably.

One of Jacksonville’s focuses now is to develop the Downtown waterfront both on the Southbank and on the Northbank. Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan has unveiled his preliminary visions of what he would like for the Shipyards and Peter Rummell has talked about what he wants to do on the Southbank at the JEA site. Do you think Jacksonville is ready for such big developments?

Obviously, they put together a business plan for these two projects. They’ve got it all down in writing what they’re trying to do and how they’re trying to finance it. My feeling is they’re the ones that are doing the legwork on these two properties and it’s a great thing for Jacksonville to get them.

You’ve done a lot of legwork in your career as well. You and Ann are notable philanthropists in Jacksonville and you’ve supported a lot of causes. How do you choose which causes you want to support?

Primarily what we give to is education and low-income housing. Those two stand out as our major nonprofit efforts.

At UNF we have 30 students in that program today, where there is room and board, tuition, computers and the idea is that these kids will get through UNF without incurring debt to carry them on to the future.

I would say that the scholarship program has been very successful. We have 110 graduates and that’s 110 low-income kids from the housing authority and HabiJax. Those are the two criteria that you must succeed and fulfill.

You have three children. How many grandchildren do you have?

We have 10.

Do you spend a lot of time with the children and grandchildren?

Sure. It’s great.

What sort of advice do you give to them?

Live your own life.

And that’s what you did.

That’s correct.

***

First Coast Success: David Hicks

The Daily Record interviewed Hicks for “First Coast Success,” a regular segment on the award-winning 89.9 FM flagship First Coast Connect program, hosted by Melissa Ross. These are edited excerpts from the interview.

The interview is scheduled for broadcast this morning and will replay at 8 p.m. on the WJCT Arts Channel or at wjctondemand.org.

***

About David Hicks

Native

Worcester, Mass. Father in the manufacturing industry; second of five boys

Education

Bachelor’s degree in economics, Amherst College; MBA, Harvard University, 1960.

Family

Wife, Jacksonville native Ann Curry Hicks; three children, David Jr. and wife, Margaret, Jacksonville; Deborah Quazzo and husband, Stephen, Chicago; Poppy Clements, and husband, Rob, EverBank Financial Corp. chairman and CEO, Jacksonville.

Career highlights

Stockton, Whatley, Davin & Co. mortgage banking company in Jacksonville, joined in 1960, became partner at SWD affiliate C&S Services in 1967 then incorporated it as Computer Power Inc. in 1969. CPI was sold in 1992 to Alltel Corp. and he retired as president and director in 1995.

Civic contributions

Chaired the Jacksonville Housing Authority for seven years after retiring from CPI; connected the authority with HabiJax, which he also chaired. Also served on board leadership at The Smithsonian Natural History Museum, The Deette Holden Cummer Museum Foundation, the UNF Foundation, Jacksonville Community Council Inc., the Jacksonville Symphony; and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Northeast Florida.

Startup veteran

Chaired several startup enterprises, including Alliance Mortgage Co., now EverBank; Enterprise National Bank; and his son’s UK-based self-storage business, which was sold.

University of North Florida

David and Ann Hicks sponsor the merit-based Father Neil Gray Endowed Scholarships in honor of Ann Hicks’ religious studies professor, Father Neil Gray, and the needs-based Hicks Endowed Scholarships for students who live in HabiJax homes or other low-income housing programs.

Also, the Ann and David Hicks Hall houses One Stop Student Services; The Visitor’s Center for new and prospective students; the cashier’s office; enrollment services; administration and finance; and information technology services.

Leadership style

“Generally my whole program is hiring good people and letting them do their job without interference. They have to produce while they’re doing it,” Hicks said.

[email protected]

@MathisKb

(904) 356-2466

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