The name Davenport & Company is well-known in the world of investment and financial planning. Headquartered in Richmond, the company was founded at the height of the Civil War and has 18 branch offices throughout North Carolina, Maryland and Virginia, including one in Farmville.
But, as far as anyone in Farmville is concerned, the real name behind Davenport & Company LLC is Watson.
Hunter Watson opened the Farmville branch of the company in downtown Farmville 25 years ago this month, and his two sons, Brad and Cannon, joined their father within a few years. Today the Watson family, backed up by the resources and reputation of the parent company, manages more than $300 million in assets for their clients. The firm, which also includes longtime staff members Janett Southall and Constance Neilsen, focuses mainly on individual investors, but there is also a sprinkling of endowments, foundations and corporate accounts on the roster.
Financial acumen is, of course, a big part of what has made the Farmville office of Davenport & Company successful, but just as important is how the Watsons think about their clients.
“We invest our clients’ money the same way we invest our own retirement funds,” said Brad, senior vice president of investments who became branch manager in 2005. “The percentage ownership in each asset may be different at times, but we still own the same investments. That really puts us on the same side of the table as our clients. We feel what they feel in good markets and in bad markets.”
He sums up the company’s philosophy in one sentence: “We provide a competitive investment return with a comfortable amount of risk at a reasonable cost.”
The Watsons’ relationship with Davenport, the oldest continuously operating investment firm in Virginia, began in 1990, when Hunter opened the Farmville branch. However, Hunter’s experience in financial advising reaches back to 1982, when he signed on as a broker with E.F. Hutton. Prior to that, Hunter was in the insurance business, first with W.A. Watson & Sons and then Hubbard Insurance Agency.
That experience, combined with discipline and sound investment strategies, has allowed the Watsons and their clients to make the most of up markets and to endure severe downturns, including the recession of 2008-09.
For example, Cannon has had elderly clients who, after many years, now receive quarterly dividends that exceed their initial investment in a security. “I consider that a great success,” he said.
The Watsons do have their favorite stories of good investment calls, but to them what really counts is their clients’ overall financial well-being over the long haul.
“We have found that boring is really successful,” Brad says with a laugh. “When it’s exciting, that’s generally not a good thing.”
Which is not to say that the work itself is boring, especially the research involved in determining whether or not to recommend an investment to a client.
“I am not particularly a creature of habit,” said Cannon, first vice president of investments, whose life experience includes playing football at the University of North Carolina and, for a short time after graduating from college, traveling in Europe and performing as a street musician.
Surprisingly, working as a financial adviser can provide similar variety, he said.
“In this line of work, we study a wide range of companies as potential investment opportunities. And when our clients ask us about certain types of investments and for our recommendations, we learn about them personally—their careers, their interests, their investment history. It’s always varied and different.”
One thing that is a constant for the Watsons is their commitment to downtown Farmville. Their offices, located at the corner of Main and High streets, are in a historic building that they purchased and renovated in 2006.
“I have a passion for helping downtown,” said Hunter, first vice president of investments. “It’s no accident that we’re in downtown. I can walk down the street and have lunch. I can walk over to the county courthouse or the to the town office. I find shopping centers to be kind of bland.”
Cannon, whose college studies touched on urban planning, also recognizes the importance of a strong downtown. “We think the downtown needs to stay vibrant,” he said. “My dad always talks about the fact that small towns either get better or worse. They don’t stay the same, and we want Farmville to get better.”
So what’s ahead for the Farmville branch of Davenport & Company and the Watson family business?
When it comes to the next generation of Watsons joining the company, it’s a little too soon to tell. Brad has two children, Claire, 14, and Thomas, 17; and Cannon also has two, Sophie, 12, and Ethan, 14.
“I think it would be nice if the next generation gets involved,” said Brad, “but I encourage my kids to follow their own passions. Should that path lead them back to Farmville, well, that would be fantastic.