His days playing football were over along with his service as an officer in the U.S. Army. The latter ended abruptly for Dave Walters after he ruptured his Achilles tendon moving a fellow soldier out of harm’s way, ironic for a guy who parachuted out of hundreds of C-130s without incident in the years prior.
The Hampton native with a college degree and a few years of management experience under his belt was ready to tackle something new when he spoke to the owner of a small Newport News company, Lee Personnel.
“Are you interested in becoming a recruiter?” he was asked.
Not really, Dave thought. Yet realizing in that role, he might be able to have a leg up on the jobs that came across his desk, he responded in the affirmative.
Thirty-six years later, Dave is an Executive Search Consultant in what has evolved into The Lee Group and Lee Group Search, premier staffing and executive search firms committed to aligning talent to grow businesses nationwide and change lives.
“I got hired, and it didn’t exactly work out like I planned,” Dave says with a chuckle. “Getting into this business is one of the best decisions I ever made. I came here on a whim to find my best job and I found my best job!”
Dave accepts he’s an old school guy — he offers the word “dinosaur” in describing his ways of approaching new clients. When it comes to recruiting, he’s certainly familiar with the latest software and video conferencing tools and he will text from his smartphone.
“I have not figured out how to interpret emojis, however,” he says. “I’m not a techie.”
Dave prefers a paper calendar to a digital one, the kind that occupies plenty of real estate on a desk because of its big blocks for each day, ample room to log his appointments. Dave also isn’t that type to engage with prospective candidates and clients for a few minutes on the fly.
When a caller says he’s got two minutes to chat, Dave will use that time to set up a better time for the two to connect. He dives deep with a thoroughness that informs his ability to put the right candidate in the right seat, a win-win for employee and employer.
“I always tell a candidate that we need us to establish a capability of talking to each other,” Dave says. “We will email stuff, but as far as my learning about you and what’s important to you and your family, you’re going to have to talk to me. For one thing, I’ve learned the ability to hear the things that people don’t say.”
Make the time to chat with Dave and it’s an easy conversation, not an inquisition. Sports is a good icebreaker for the admitted sports-a-holic. The NBA playoffs have kept him up late, though his Golden State Warriors’ losing in the Western Conference semifinals was a crusher for a Steph Curry fan who has followed the game’s best shooter since he played at Davidson. Dave’s first love remains football, dating back to his playing days that started in the city’s youth leagues and continued in college. Dave received scholarship offers from Notre Dame and William and Mary, both of which wanted the running back to play on their freshmen teams.
“I was a little cocky and thought I had more than most freshmen,” he says.
Dave declined and looked toward Historically Black Colleges and Universities that didn’t have the same requirement. He also wanted his parents in the stands on game days, so, when Hampton University offered him a full ride, he took it. It was a program full of young faces that was often on the wrong end of lopsided results, including an 85-2 thrashing at the hands of Virginia State.
“We did lead 2-0,” he likes to remind Walter Lovett, the Virginia State coach at the time who became Hampton’s coach the year Dave graduated.
Dave wouldn’t trade the relationships he built playing for the Pirates. He even earned a professional tryout with the Kansas City Chiefs.
“Unfortunately, I dropped too many punts and got cut,” he says. “But I would not forget the experience.”
Dave’s most rewarding football memories stem from 28 years of coaching boys ages 11-13 for the Aberdeen Athletic Association, the same place he got his first taste of the game at 8 years old.
During his first year as a youth coach, he won a championship “with this skinny legged kid named Allen Iverson as my quarterback,” he recalls, referring to the 11-time NBA All-Star and 2000-01 MVP.
“I coached so long that I coached players who had kids and I coached their kids, also,” says Dave, whose teams won nine championships. “The real driving factor was that I started there. Any promise or positive things I got out of the sport started there. I was really committed to going back and trying to make a difference in young people’s lives.”
Watching his former players succeed beyond the field was its own gift.
“I’ve had guys who came back to coach with me,” he says. “I’m impressed with them getting their engineering degrees, opening businesses, going into the military.”
When the pandemic sidelined his coaching career, Dave grew comfortable with having a more flexible schedule — more time to spend with his wife, Debra, and their pack of grandchildren. He’s especially smitten with his 2-year-old great granddaughter, Loni, who he refers to as “the little human.”
“She’s got me wrapped around her finger,” he says.
He’s an avid sports viewer, favoring the Jacksonville Jaguars and Philadelphia Eagles along with the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays in addition to golf and the Warriors.
“I’ll even watch curling,” says Dave, also an avid angler with a passion for luxury cars. He will occasionally tool around in his black high performance SUV outfitted with a HEMI engine.
You might say things worked out pretty well for Dave, though one opportunity he decided not to pursue would have led to an entirely different script. Having just graduated from Hampton, Gold Bars pinned to him designating his officer status, Dave set out for Fort Hood in Texas with one overnight stay in Atlanta. He stopped at a service station, disappointed to learn he had nine more hours until he reached the military base in Fort Cavazos. He spotted a booth soliciting funds to buy into a startup business, and Dave happened to have some money in his pocket.
Dave listened to the spiel and walked away, muttering, “I’m not going to fall for this.”
Turns out that company was Texas Instruments, one of the world’s most valuable companies worth more than $154 billion in 2023.
“I could have purchased some early stock dirt cheap,” he says, laughing about it today. “You could say it was a missed opportunity.”
There haven’t been many for Dave Walters, who likes to say you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.