Andrea Davis: Helping People, Businesses, and Communities become ‘Truly’ Resilient

Top 10 Most Inspiring CEOs in Business, 2022

The main goal of Andrea Davis is to “truly” help people become resilient. She accomplishes that goal every single day as the Founder, President, and CEO of The Resiliency Initiative, or TRI, a provider of bespoke, scalable crisis management solutions. Her engagements with clients infuse their businesses or communities with the confidence to handle any crisis situation that arises.

Success, for Andrea, means making a positive impact on the lives of others. She, however, did not think of success in that way early on in her career; then, she wasted a lot of time – and spent money (for example, attending law school and accruing student loans before taking a step back and really thinking about what she wanted her profession to be; ultimately deciding to leave law school during her second year) – measuring herself against other people’s expectations of her or what she thought other people would consider success. She, therefore, now believes that it is important for everyone to define what success means to them. “Invest time in determining what drives you,” Andrea says. “Define what matters most to you, then outline how you would like to achieve it.”

Andrea found her definition of success when she took a step back and really thought about what success looked like to her. It is also the moment that changed her mindset and direction. “Helping others and making a difference was important to me; making millions and fancy titles were not,” Andrea says. This realization brought a lot of clarity, which led to discovering a professional field that she is deeply passionate about today.

Andrea had never dreamed of running a business of her own. But, once she began doing the work that she was passionate about, she got the confidence to leave Corporate America and start her own small business. Andrea founded TRI in 2019. The company was born out of her passion to serve the whole community before, during, and after the emergency.

“I founded this Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) to provide emergency planning, training, exercise, crisis communications, and brand management to help businesses and communities around the globe become self-reliant,” says Andrea.

The Resiliency Initiative

TRI is actively trying to level the playing field for small businesses, rural and marginalized communities, and not-for-profit agencies. This sets it apart from other crisis management consulting companies.

The company specializes in developing risk assessments; hazard mitigation and continuity of operations plans; employee and executive training and exercises; and creating security and emergency operation centers. Its core operating philosophy focuses on diversity and inclusion. “We strongly believe that community resiliency can only be achieved if all voices are heard and participate in conversations about emergency preparedness,” Andrea points out.

TRI is committed to having a diverse advisory board and staff, which reflects in its inclusive hiring policies. It is also dedicated to supporting diversity and inclusion through philanthropic local community efforts.

Andrea’s team has over 200 cumulative years of crisis management, business continuity, and security experience. They are located in several different cities around the U.S., and according to Andrea, they stay competitive by being embedded in the communities they serve. It enables them to see firsthand the needs of their clients.

“With the expertise of a large consulting firm sans the overhead, we can also offer first-rate services and products for a good price,” says Andrea. As TRI branches out internationally, it is set to hire local talent to continue to build its knowledge base.

Never Let Challenges Define You

Over the years, Andrea has encountered multiple challenges and setbacks, but despite that, her true spirit has remained dent-free. She feels it is “important to not be defined by a challenge or a setback” and, most importantly, to “not allow others’ shortcomings to impact you.”

Andrea was eight months pregnant when she graduated from high school. Some thought her decision was brave, while others felt she was an abomination. “They let me know their feelings by throwing things at me and calling me horrible names,” Andrea says. “That was a tough experience no person should have to go through.”

She was very young and had to stand up for herself. Now, when she looks back at that period of time, Andrea says that tough times taught her an invaluable lesson. “It set in motion my drive to become an advocate for others, especially those who are marginalized or do not have a voice,” she adds. The harsh graduation experience also taught Andrea the value of compassion, which is a fundamental principle in her professional field of crisis management.

“I know I just gave a very dramatic example. But, if you can look at a challenge, someone’s bad behavior, or even a crisis, as an opportunity to think about a problem differently, you will be amazed at what you learn,” Andrea says. “You will see how strong you are, you will know immediately what is important and worth fighting for, and you will also know what is not worth wasting your time on.”

Today, the one word that best describes Andrea’s leadership style is: “compassionate.” It is because she leverages past experiences, both negative and positive, to understand the actions and needs of others.

The Highlight of a Long Career

Andrea stepped onto the field of crisis management in 1999. She worked part-time for a San Francisco-based small non-profit, which focused on developing Y2K continuity of operations plans for other non-profits throughout the City. “I had no idea that job was going to be the start of a career of a lifetime for me,” says Andrea.

After that, she went on to hold leadership roles in NGOs, such as The American Red Cross and Save the Children US, the U.S. Federal Government organizations, FEMA and The Federal Reserve, and in Fortune 500 Companies like Walmart and Disney. “With each role, I was given the opportunity to lead global initiatives focused on the importance of making risk-informed determinations and engaging all members of the community in the decision-making process,” Andrea says.

For her, a career highlight was when she was with FEMA’s Louisiana Hurricane Katrina Recovery Office. There, she oversaw all media, intergovernmental and congressional activities for one of the U.S.’s largest disaster recovery efforts, with a total recovery portfolio of over $25 billion. She also played a key role in restoring the brand image of FEMA. Andrea and her team created an innovative outreach campaign to regain the public’s trust.

“Our grassroots approach was credited with transforming the public’s perception of FEMA; culminating with over 300 groundbreaking/ribbon cutting ceremonies, and the media coining a new acronym- ‘TGFF: Thank God for FEMA’,” Andrea says.

Teaching the Trade of Crisis Management

Andrea has observed a constant theme throughout her 20-plus-year career in crisis management, no matter what sector she has worked in. Dedicated staff and invested resources in crisis planning help mitigate the impact of disruption on businesses and communities, she points out. Unfortunately, rural and marginalized communities and small businesses typically don’t have the means to make these types of investments and are usually hit the hardest when a disaster strikes. “This was particularly glaring during the height of the COVID-19 crisis,” Andrea says. At the time, many small businesses and non-profits had to shut their doors, some permanently, because they didn’t have the plans or tools in place to keep their operations going.

“With each client, TRI is actively teaching people the trade of crisis management,” Andrea says. Clients may have hired the company to update a plan, but she wants to leave them with the skills by training their staff. It will enable them to do the work in-house and use the funds somewhere else when the plan needs to be updated.

“It’s my goal to use my skills to be a force multiplier for others,” Andrea says. “TRI is working on a project right now that I hope will do just that.” It is working with a non-profit in India, The Resilient Foundation, which teaches emergency preparedness to school-age children attending high-flooding risk schools in rural villages throughout India.

TRI is sponsoring the emergency preparedness program at five schools, with the hopes that the children will take what they learned home to their families, following that, the company will work with the schools on hazard mitigation and the facility’s emergency plan.

No Two Days Are the Same

The consulting industry is very dynamic and competitive regardless of what industry one consults in. So, Andrea spends the majority of her time cultivating relationships and fostering TRI’s brand. “Being active in my professional networks, both on social media and in person, keeps me top of mind when someone is looking for help with their crisis management planning,” she says.

Andrea, however, does not have a typical workday. Every day is different from the next, and this is what she loves the most about being the CEO of TRI. In May, she spent two weeks in Bali, Indonesia, for the United Nation’s annual Disaster Risk Reduction Conference, where she got the opportunity to plan one of the cohorts, focused on bridging the silos between public and private sector disaster recovery. In July, she met several federal small business representatives, and in September, Andrea spoke to insurance professionals on how they can help their clients decrease their risk. “It is not a stretch that in one day, I will be a guest on a podcast, speaking at a conference, presenting work product to a client, and hosting a staff development meeting,” she says.

Andrea is very passionate about her work, and that shows in her everyday engagements and interactions, but there is a downside to that as well-The lines between work and personal time can get blurred.  “Balance between my personal and professional life has never been my strong suit,” Andrea says. “I’m so passionate about my work, I can sometimes let time get away from me.”

When she started TRI, Andrea really wanted to work on work-life balance and thrive in that. But she still struggles to maintain it. She, however, does not expect her team to follow her example. “I have never wanted my style or way of working to be perceived as an expectation for the team,” Andrea says. She has developed corporate values focused on broad concepts as opposed to outlining specific ways of working. They are:

  • We Put our Clients First
  • We Treat All with Respect
  • We Act with Integrity
  • We Foster Open & Transparent Communication
  • We Strive for Excellence

For Andrea, it is important to have a corporate culture where her team feels not only inspired but also supported. She accomplishes this by fostering flexibility. As her team members are based in different locations and time zones, they are allowed to set their own hours. Andrea also actively engages her team and encourages feedback.

“I don’t believe it is good enough to say I have an ‘open door policy’; walking into the CEO’s office can be intimidating, but if I initiate contact on a regular basis, I not only make the team comfortable, I’m also showcasing how to put our corporate values into action,” Andrea says.

Future Goals

Andrea has a five-year strategic framework that she is working on. Her main goal is to slowly grow the company and go where they see the greatest need.

For the next year, Andrea and her team are focusing on three strategic pillars: continued foundation building, for example, seeking ISO 9001 certification; business development specifically in the security and insurance industry space; continued community philanthropic investments.

Personally, Andrea wants to keep investing in her team. “I want to make sure they have everything they need to grow and stay inspired working with my company,” she says.

Message to Aspiring Leaders

In her message to aspiring leaders, Andrea says that they should not wait until they have a title that says they are in a leadership role; her advice is “lead where you are at.”

“Give back when you can by mentoring those around you,” she adds. “If you see a role that you believe you would be good at, don’t tell yourself you aren’t qualified for it, go for it!”