Kurt Davis

Navigating the Unknown

Investment Banker Kurt Davis ’09 Delivers Deals Around the World
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here are worse places to be locked down during the pandemic than Dubai, the freewheeling city in the United Arab Emirates that Kurt Davis ’09 likens to “Los Angeles and Las Vegas with more luxury.”

Davis, an investment banker with Houlihan Lokey, has been based in Dubai since 2017 and has mostly found himself there since COVID-19 began restricting travel last year. 

As life begins to move toward normal, Davis hopes to get back on the road again. He travels — a lot — across Europe, the Middle East and Africa, with an occasional excursion to Asia thrown in. Recalling the weeks before the government-imposed lockdown, Davis said he traveled on business to Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Oman, South Africa and Great Britain — and possibly stopped in Lesotho. (Who forgets a visit to Lesotho?) In all, Davis estimated that he has been to about 120 countries.

To call him a lifelong learner would be an understatement. Davis announced his intention at age 5 to go to law school (and his intention to be president). After earning his undergraduate degree at UVA in 2006, he went straight to law school, where he was executive editor of the Virginia Tax Review, senior financial editor of the Virginia Law & Business Review, and a columnist for the Virginia Law Weekly. He took time during his third year to cram in a quick course on French private and public law at the Université Panthéon Assas in Paris (which proved helpful while later living in Tunisia and for covering francophone Africa). He currently writes a blog “for my own entertainment” called “The Musings of a Political Junkie and Closet Economist.” 

Following law school, Davis joined New York-based Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom just as the Great Recession struck. He participated in Skadden’s deferral program and joined SPE Capital Partners, based out of the firm’s Tunisia office. “This recession has thrown me a curveball, but this could be a unique learning opportunity,” he recalled thinking. 

Davis never returned to the practice of law but instead earned an MBA from the University of Chicago and has worked in private equity and investment banking ever since. Along the way, he learned French and Portuguese and lived in some “fun” yet different places, including Addis Ababa, Dubai, Houston, Maputo and New York. 

At Houlihan Lokey, one of Davis’ areas of focus is what his firm calls “special situations.” He explained them using this analogy: “There are a lot of vanilla deals that many banks can do. On the other side, there are these complex ‘hairy’ situations where there are companies people struggle to fund. Maybe investors don’t like the structure, or they don’t like the jurisdiction. We come in, open the refrigerator and say, ‘You have 10 ingredients here, what can we make out of this?’ We then put something together that the client can take out to the restaurant table to sell, and someone is willing to pay for it. We like those situations.”

Davis brought it all back to lessons he learned in Charlottesville. “The thing you learn in law school is how to navigate the unknown, right? Take information, digest it, understand it and make a decision.” 

He and his wife dedicate their philanthropy, which includes serving on boards, to education and other causes that create economic opportunity.

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Mary M. Wood
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