Great Living Cincinnatians
David C. Phillips
Businessman, social entrepreneur
Awarded in 2011
Phillips, who grew up on an Ohio farm and graduated from the University of Dayton, built an immensely successful business career with Arthur Anderson over the course of 32 years. As one of the first employees of the Cincinnati office, he quickly identified opportunities among privately-held firms and made Arthur Anderson the “entrepreneur’s accounting firm.” Ultimately, he rose to managing partner of the local office.
He always encouraged his employees to become involved in the community and lead by example. As chairman of the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce in 1983, he oversaw the launch of the Blue Chip Campaign and led a delegation to Japan to discuss opportunities with auto parts suppliers. Today, hundreds of Japanese companies are clustered along I-75.
In 1984, Mayor Charlie Luken asked Phillips to form a commission to scrutinize city operations. The report resulted in the city saving nearly $900,000 annually. The next year, John Smale, himself a Great Living Cincinnatian, asked Phillips to assist with a commission focused on addressing the city’s infrastructure needs, including the identification of funding sources to implement the plan. During the same period, Phillips also served and led multiple boards, including the effort that transformed the community’s beloved, but empty, Union Terminal into the Cincinnati Museum Center.
Promotions took Phillips out of Cincinnati in 1988. Six years later, at age 56, he “retired” from Arthur Anderson and returned to Cincinnati to become the first leader of Downtown Cincinnati, Inc. (DCI). For the next five years, Phillips headed DCI—for $1 per year—shaping it into an instrument to revitalize the downtown.
At the same time, Phillips and wife Liane began their greatest collaboration, the creation of Cincinnati Works. Unlike other job training programs, Cincinnati Works is designed to help people living in poverty develop not only the skills and attitudes to get a decent paying job with health benefits, but to retain that job and achieve self-sufficiency.
“Our industry believes we are in the job placement business, when we believe we are in the elimination-of-poverty business,” Phillips observed.
Liane tells the story of Cincinnati Works through her recent book, Why Don’t They Just Get a Job? And in 2009 the success of Cincinnati Works was recognized by the National Manhattan Institute with a Social Entrepreneur Award. Today, the Phillips are working to spread the Cincinnati Works model to other cities.
Robert Kohlhepp, the chairman of Cintas Corporation, summed up the quality that sets Phillips apart as a great citizen and a Great Living Cincinnatian.
“There are many bright people who can assess situations and determine what needs to be done. There are far fewer individuals who then roll up their sleeves and actually get it done. Dave Phillips is one such individual.”