Florence A. Davis, The Starr Foundation

TITLE: President

FUNDING AREAS: Education, medicine, health, human needs, public policy, culture, and environment

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IP TAKE: Davis has an extensive background in legal compliance in the financial industry. At The Starr Foundation, she ensures the legitimacy and effectiveness of the foundation's generosity. Although Starr's grantmaking is not all that transparent, most awards are given to colleges and universities for scholarships.

PROFILE: Back in 1992, Florence A. Davis was name in Crain's New York Business magazine's "40 Under Forty" list. At the time, she was making sure that bankers, brokers, and traders followed the rules as the director of compliance at Morgan Stanley & Co. Today, the lawyer and financial expert serves as president of The Starr Foundation, one of the largest private foundations in the country.

Although Davis dabbled in theater in her youth, she quickly moved on to more practical pursuits and attended Wellesley College and New York University Law School. She began working at the firm of Sullivan & Cromwell in the 1980s and joined Morgan Stanley a few years later. In the book Fallen Giant: The Amazing Story of Hank Greenberg and the History of AIG, author Ron Shelp points out that The Starr Foundation's worth is all in AIG stock. Davis was general counsel of AIG Insurance Company until Greenberg moved her over to the role of The Starr Foundation president.

Davis assumed the role in 1999, when she took over for the retiring Ta Chun Hsu. Her predecessor had served as president of the foundation for 30 years after being an AIG claims and underwriting employee as well. Today, Davis helps the foundation staff focus on grantmaking in medicine, education, human needs, public policy, culture, and the environment. She leads a small foundation staff that consists of only two program assistants, an administrative assistant, and a bookkeeper. The foundation is adamant about not accepting unsolicited grant proposals and doesn't exactly make itself very accessible for grantseekers.

Traditionally, most Starr grants have gone toward educational causes. "Mr. Starr's passion was providing scholarships for students who otherwise might not have a chance to pursue further education," Davis said after her foundation awarded a $200,000 grant to Marymount Manhattan College. Starr typically provides scholarship funds to 80 to 100 colleges, universities, and secondary schools each year.

After making a $20 million grant to New York Law School, Davis explained why the grant was made in honor of longtime Starr Foundation chairman Hank Greenberg. "Hank wasn't born with a silver spoon in his mouth—he was able to attend college and then New York Law School because of scholarship support he received after service in the U.S. Army during World War II. As a successful leader in business and philanthropy, one of Hank's highest priorities is to help the next generations of students who could not otherwise afford higher education."

Since The Starr Foundation is tied so closely with the insurance giant AIG, the foundation's funds have been greatly affected by the company's stock. After AIG stock plunged in 2008, Starr drastically reduced its grantmaking and canceled many new initiatives. At that time, The Starr Foundation held about 15.5 million shares of AIG stock. "You will see smaller grants from us," Davis commented then. "We have to rethink some of our initiatives. This will postpone them if it doesn't derail them entirely." While the foundation was once worth around $4 billion in AIG stock, that's closer to $1.25 billion today.

Although Davis was once married to the law partner of Rudolph W. Giuliani, that marriage ended in divorce a while back. In 2009, at the age of 54, she married 71-year-old Anthony Gooch in Brewster, Massachusetts, officiated by a justice of the peace. Gooch, a retired law partner at Cleary, Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, met Davis at a 2004 rural reconstruction luncheon and fed her a line about needing career advice. In a New York Times article, she said, "I wasn't even sure that I wanted to date again. I was just about to turn 50 when I met him. It was so awkward to start that all over again at nearly 50."

In addition to her leadership role at Starr, Davis has served on the executive board of Nets for Life, which is a partnership working to fight malaria in Africa. Without a doubt, Davis's experience in legal compliance aids her leadership at The Starr Foundation, since both financial institutions and philanthropic foundations exist under close scrutiny. To learn more about Starr's grantmaking, check out the foundation's website.