Kirk Davis – CEO, GateHouse Media

After spending his first eight years working in publishing as a circulation and marketing executive, Kirk Davis served as publisher from 1990 to 1996 with dailies located in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and California. In 1996, Kirk was recruited by Fidelity Capital (now Devonshire Investors), a subsidiary of Fidelity Investments, to become president of their TAB newspaper group in the Boston area, which was part of Community Newspaper Company (CNC). He was later named president of CNC in 1998, as the company grew to 113 daily, weekly and specialty publications, along with its community websites serving eastern Massachusetts towns.

In 2004, Kirk was named CEO of Boston-based Enterprise NewsMedia (ENM), a multimedia company owned by Heritage Partners, Inc., a private equity firm in Boston, Massachusetts. While there, he developed a go-to-market community Web platform to serve southeastern Massachusetts towns under the domain Wicked Local.

GateHouse Media, based in Fairport, New York, acquired both Enterprise NewsMedia from Heritage Partners and Community Newspaper Company (CNC) from Herald Media in 2006 and named Kirk as CEO of GateHouse Media New England.

In January 2009, Kirk was promoted to president of GateHouse Media. GateHouse Media is one of the largest publishers of locally-based print and online media in the United States, as measured by its 78 daily publications, 261 weekly newspapers, 92 shoppers, six yellow page directories, and over 400 locally-focused websites and mobile sites. The company currently serves local audiences of more than 10 million per week across 21 states.

1. How do you define success?
Truly enjoying what you do and knowing that you are making a difference in people’s lives. Some of us have the privilege of managing others, which is a serious responsibility. Watching others grow and prosper is yet another way to define success. Managing family and work in tandem is gratifying, too—we need both working to be successful.

2. What is the key to success?
The key for me is knowing when “good enough” really is, and to be able to recognize that. That’s not to say that there isn’t always another goal worth setting, but if you or your staff feels there’s never really a “good enough,” then that’s a tough sell. Life happens in stages and so does success. One must be able to celebrate each stage—individually and with those who contributed and should share in it.

3. Did you always know you would be successful?
No. In fact, I grew up worrying that I might not be. That led to me a near insatiable drive to be successful, measured by promotions and hours worked, getting ahead at a young age—the wrong things. I was on a “treadmill” that was happy to sustain my running until I figured out what I was running to. Eventually, I had to figure that out.

4. When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
I certainly possess a competitive nature, but if I’m being totally honest, I want to lead. Most often, the adversity I face presents challenges for others as well. I have always sought to have as much leadership responsibility as possible because I will commit whatever it takes to work through it. I’ve always wanted the ball in my hands with only seconds left in the game.

5. What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
That leadership is leading while being led. People may not always want to lead, but they sure appreciate being able to contribute. A leader who can draw out those “inputs” will get to better decisions and have more support for them.

6. What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
Spending free time with my family. Then, if time permits, I squeeze in tennis, running, travel, reading, theater, and dreaming of the next big idea.

7. What makes a great leader?
A great leader thinks about where we are, yet has a realistic view of where we could be. A leader combines aspirational notions with a practical road-map to get there, and provides inspiration, education, and the right tools to achieve our potential.

8. What advice would you give to college students about entering the workforce?
Focus on balancing what you’ve learned with what you’ve yet to learn in doing your job. Most of the time it’s the “people-related” skills that trail education. I think you need to learn the truly powerful dynamics of emotional intelligence, along with being reasonably smart. Also, it’s not so much about “friends and likes” as it is about “connecting.”

This interview is an excerpt from Success: 30 Interviews with Entrepreneurs & Executives by Jason Navallo.

Who else should we interview? Nominate someone!

Interviews are conducted for research purposes by author Jason Navallo for his upcoming book, Underdog.

Check out the Books most recommended by successful entrepreneurs and executives!