Q&A with Dave Phillips

Photo by Brian Ambs

LEAD Cincinnati sat down with Dave Phillips, co-founder of Cincinnati Works and former CEO of Downtown Cincinnati Inc., for a wide-ranging discussion about his prolific accomplishments in Cincinnati and beyond. Check out our profile of him, here


LEAD Cincinnati: What inspired you and Liane to create Cincinnati Works?

DAVE PHILLIPS: Poverty is a terrible disease. ... The issue of poverty really resonates with Liane and me. It’s terrible what poverty does to people.

The population living in poverty is the single most significant untapped labor force since women entered the labor force in the 1940s. Think about the amazing contribution that women have made to the labor force and our economy. It’s pretty phenomenal.

Society thinks of the population and poverty as a liability. If we would just think of this population as an asset ... Think of the different feeling that they would have about life. Think about the different feeling our society would have.


LC: How does this current stage in your professional evolution tie into your previous experience?

DP: At Arthur Andersen, the firm really encouraged us to be involved in our communities. And that focus has stayed with me ever since.

My first volunteer activity was with Community Chest (now United Way). I got involved with them early on in my career, and I’ve been involved with them ever since. Every single year since 1962. It’s all kind of just grown from there. Once I got into it, it was real. It was real for me.


LC: Looking back over your careers, do you have any “I wish I had known” instances?

DP: Oh sure! Definitely. ... Here we go: Be more tolerant of others. Be realistic. Remember that just because you can do something, that doesn’t mean that others can. Learn from others. Observe what their skills are, especially the ones that you don’t have.

I’ve learned to be more empathetic. My wife taught me that. It is a learned skill for me. But if you think about being a human being... how can you not be empathetic? How could you even be a human without empathy? 

“But really, my proudest moment, out of everything (after my relationship with Liane, our children and grandchildren, of course) is every time I look at the careers of the people I’ve worked with over the years. The positive impact that they’ve had — that they’re continuing to have — in their communities and in the world... That’s what it’s all about.”