Who: Susan Davis, 60

Her specialty: Drawing elite individuals into business-leadership and investor networks

How many she's started so far: 20

How many she still runs: None. She spins them off because construction, not administration, is her strength. "I lose my babies," she says.

Among her progeny: She helped found the Committee of 200, comprising the top women in business in America, and Investors' Circle, a group of social venture capitalists who have given $80 million to 120 companies and venture funds to date.

Roots: In the late 1960s, Davis tried to raise $2 million to start a business. "I spent two years traveling around the country to venture-capital firms," she recalls, "and basically they just said, 'We want to help you, so we're going to save you time: we don't finance women." That led Davis to cofound a network of Chicago's female leaders, in fields ranging from business to the arts, in 1970.

"I believe that the way you find joy is to take risks around your values," says former banker Susan Davis.

Pledge of allegiance: For nearly a decade, Davis held an executive position at a bank, where she built two investor networks. Approaching the age of 50, she took a sabbatical in Hawaii and decided to devote herself to network work full-time. "I'd been in the mainstream, and my heart is in socially responsible business," she says. "I wanted to figure out how I could be closer to my heart."

The result: In 1990, Davis founded Capital Missions Co., in Elkhorn, Wis., to incubate investor networks that seek a "triple bottom line" -- that is, social and environmental dividends as well as financial returns.

School ties: Davis draws from anthropology, which she studied at Harvard in the mid 1960s, to organize her networks. Her favorite concept is "the strength of weak ties," which holds that people model their behavior on high-stature people whom they may barely know but who travel in the same circles.

Applying the idea: Davis's networks give these movers and shakers "the gift of peers," she says. Once they join one of her networks, Davis can extol the virtues of socially responsible business to them.


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Published on: Sep 1, 2002