Detroit Regional Chamber > Mackinac Policy Conference > A Conversation With Alicia Boler Davis

A Conversation With Alicia Boler Davis

May 29, 2024

Key Takeaways

  • Relationships and collaboration are keys to success in business.
  • The vibrancy downtown is making the city an attractive place for people to live and work.
  • Detroit’s successes are inspiring other parts of the country.


On Dreaming Big and Being a Role Model

Growing up in Detroit and Romulus, engineer and entrepreneur Alicia Boler Davis didn’t have any engineering role models in her life. Nevertheless, she found a runway to success in an industry where women, especially women of color, were underrepresented. Speaking to the 2024 Mackinac Policy Conference, Boler Davis credited her parents for giving her the confidence to dream big.

“Growing up, my parents told us that we could do anything, and we could be anything,” she said. “Even though I didn’t know any engineers, I didn’t think it was something I couldn’t do.”

Boler Davis said that while she wasn’t exposed to engineering specifically in her youth, but she loved math and science.

“I had a counselor say, “Oh Alicia, you are really good at math and science; you should be an engineer,” she said, and that led her on a pathway to get her education in the field. She encouraged young people to “at least have an openness to science, technology, and engineering” because of the amount of opportunity.

“At this point in my career, I want to be a role model,” she said. “When other people, especially little Black and brown girls, see you doing this, they believe they can do it. I want everyone to have an opportunity.”

Boler Davis also stressed that while she was in a field where Black women were unrepresented, she found that building relationships was a way to find success, even with people who maybe weren’t thrilled to work with her.

“I just say, ‘Girl, you are here at this table, you better show up,” she said. “You are here for a reason.”

She said listening to other people, not assuming she had all the answers, and finding consensus helped her build teamwork and overcome obstacles.

“I just believe in relationships. Relationships are important: collaborating, finding solutions,” she said. “There has to be something common you have with other people, at least one thing,” she said. “I truly believe we win together, and we lose together.”

On Detroit’s Growth and Opportunities

Having grown up in and around Detroit, Boler Davis is excited by the vibrancy she sees growing in her hometown. That is a key component to attracting talent and retaining young people, she said.

“There have to be growth opportunities for young people coming into the city. Of course, you need housing, but I think having a great city like Detroit attracts people,” she said. “The arts, the food, the music — young people want to be part of a city that’s great to be in. You have to have the jobs, but you have to have the environment that people want to be in.”

She said she was recently downtown for a function at the Shinola Hotel. “I was up there on the rooftop, and I saw that Gucci store. I was like, ‘What, there’s a Gucci store?’” she said, adding that those types of amenities are great assets to the city, “I think there has been a lot of progress that’s been made, but there needs to be more.”

Boler Davis also serves on the board at JPMorgan Chase, and she is proud of the impact the company has left on Detroit. “I was really intrigued by the work and investments that JP Morgan has made in the city of Detroit,” she said, adding that since 2013, the company has invested more than $200 million in the city’s economic recovery.

“At JP Morgan, we are really proud of the work that’s been done here. It takes business working with local and state government to get it done,” she said, adding that the successful work in Detroit is inspiring partnerships elsewhere. “We are also looking at what’s been done here and how it can be replicated in other cities.”

This session was sponsored by JPMorgan Chase & Co.