Driver, David E. 1955—
David E. Driver 1955—
Book publisher, social activist, investor
Thriving in spite of childhood poverty, David Driver’s career successes have ranged from institutional investing in the booming 1980s to book publishing in the 1990s. In all these ventures, he has committed himself to giving something back to his community by engaging in various forms of social activism. These activities include working with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America and various speaking engagements.
As a child, David Driver’s small stature did not lend itself to athletic activities, therefore, he was “a real bookworm type,” he told the Chicago Tribune. This did not preclude such high ambitions, however, as becoming a race car driver. With his grandfather’s admonition that he instead become a professional, such as a doctor or an attorney, Driver set his sights on the latter--not in the least because he could not stand the sight of blood. But, growing up on public assistance in an inner-city neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side did not pave an easy path to a legal career. “I always had high aspirations, though I never really doubted that I was going to make it at something,” he stated in an interview with Contemporary Black Biography (CBB).
This confidence, along with excellent grades, garnered Driver admission to Lindblom High School, an elite public trade school. It was there that Driver first became aware of his family’s poverty. “At Lindblom you had a lot of kids from middle-class black families. My clothes were not as nice looking [as those of the other kids], and so I became very fashion conscious for awhile,!” he stated fondly in an interview with CBB. Though Driver and his siblings were raised by their single mother and were the first generation to attend college, it has always been an unstated assumption that they would seek a higher education despite the family’s shaky financial situation. Determined to earn degrees, Driver and his siblings managed to find grants and loans that enabled them to attend college.
At Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois, Driver confronted his immersion in an almost all-white student body by running successfully for sophomore class president, becoming the first black to do so. He also joined groups, such as the Black Student Union and a black fraternity, Phi Beta Sigma, both of which involved him in volunteer
Bom David E. Driver, October 17, 1955, in Chicago, IL; son of Edward (a postman) and Esther (a homemaker; maiden name, Williams) Driver. Educaion: Bradley University, B.A., 1976; University of Chicago Business School, M.B.A., 1984.
Arthur Young & Company, staff accountant, 1976-78; International Hospital Supply Corporation, finance manager, 1978-80; Merrill Lynch Capital Markets, account executive, 1980-82, vice president, 1982-88. The Noble Press, Inc., founder and president, 1988–. Author, 1989–.
Member: Black Literary Society (founder); Society of Illinois Book Publishers (secretary); National Association of Black Book Publishers (founding member).
Addresses: Office–The Noble Press, Inc., 213 W. Institute Place, Suite 508, Chicago, IL 60610; phone: (312) 642-1168.
work that was to play a significant role in his life and career. Among the projects Driver was associated with--or initiated--were an inner-city literacy tutoring program and numerous food drives. Having decided to become a business attorney, Driver followed the advice of a counselor who suggested that he change his major from political science to accounting.
In 1976, upon receiving his BA from Bradley, and a CPA license from the State of Illinois, Driver accepted a position as a staff accountant at Arthur Young & Company. He worked there for two years, until a client contact led him to a job at the International Hospital Supply Corporation.
As a finance manager from 1978 to 1980, Driver dealt with foreign currency markets, where companies buy and sell money from other countries in order to protect their foreign investments from exchange rate fluctuations.
With this experience in foreign currencies, Driver landed a job at Merrill Lynch Capital Markets in 1980, where he served as an account executive until becoming vice president in 1982. He became a pioneer in the emerging field of stock and bond futures, wherein an investor speculates on what the price of these securities will be at a specified date in the future. Because it was such a new field, Driver spent nearly two years trying to convince clients of the value of such investments--difficult in an industry that worked primarily on commission, but Driver’s supervisors had faith in his judgment. When it turned out that these new kinds of investments were extremely lucrative, he was, for some time, Chicago’s only institutional futures broker, or “the only one in town playing the game,” as he put it in an interview with CBB. Driver parlayed this advantage into huge profits for Merrill Lynch--and himself--as well--while the competition scurried to catch up. Meanwhile he received his MBA in economics from the prestigious University of Chicago Business School in 1984.
By 1988, Driver told Publisher’s Weekly, “It was time to take the money and run.” In fact, he had been plotting his departure from the world of corporate finance since about 1985. As Driver told CBB, he found the brokering to be “self-serving and lacking in social significance,” a drawback he was finding increasingly unacceptable as corporate demands on his time and energy left less room for his varied volunteer efforts. These activities included working with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, coaching a basketball team of homeless children, and speaking to black MBAs as the head of a United Way recruitment committee.
A longstanding interest in writing prompted Driver to take a number of creative writing classes at the University of Chicago, and this, coupled with his community activism, gave him the idea to start his own publishing company, one that would focus on books with social or environmental significance. Driver hoped that certain business tools he had acquired, including the use of demographic surveys and databases, would help overcome the marketing obstacles such titles traditionally face.
In 1988, Driver founded The Noble Press and its first title was his own, The Good Heart Book: A Guild to Volunteering. This book detailed the issues surrounding a number of social ills, ranging from illiteracy to inner-city poverty, and it provided a step-by-step approach to becoming an effective volunteer. He started the company with an initial outlay of $250,000. Able to live off the interest on investments he had made during his previous career, Driver received no salary, but hired a small staff and initially ran the operation out of his apartment.
By 1991, Noble Press had a full-time staff of five working in the refurbished loft of a former bicycle factory, and a number of its titles had received critical notice. The Parents’ Guide to Innovative Education, by Ann W. Dodd, for example, received a Child magazine award in 1992. However, the company struggled financially as it released titles true to its social mission but lacking sufficient sales, including Eco-Warriors, A Just And Lasting Peace, and books tackling the issues of homelessness and child abuse. Driver concluded that such titles were perhaps better suited to college presses and decided to take a more market-driven approach by shifting Noble’s focus to general interest titles for the black community-at-large, including fiction and even romance novels.
The Noble Press’ breakthrough book, Volunteer Slavery: My Authentic Negro Experience, had significant popular appeal and a social message, as well. The book gave an irreverent and unforgiving account of black author Janet Nelson’s four years as a liberal activist struggling to make her voice heard as a writer for the Washington Post Magazine. It also explored the meaning of black identity in the United States. Released in the spring of 1993, Volunteer Slavery sold more than 40,000 hardcover copies before Noble sold it to Penguin for a paperback release that became a national best-seller. It also won an American Book Award in 1994. “It’s changed our lives around here a lot,” Driver told the Chicago Tribune. “We were always well-thought-of in our little literary circle as a progressive, high-quality publishing company, but this book has risen us to new levels.” Other publications, such as Black and Single by Larry E. Davis, sold equally as well for Noble.
These and other successes proved the wisdom of diversifying the company’s catalog and targeting a black audience. Noble turned its first profit in 1993, as annual sales reached nearly one million dollars, and its distribution outlets increased to 6,000. Unwilling to let the opportunities of new technology pass by Noble Press, Driver began exploring avenues for Internet applications, which included placing the firm’s catalog on-line. He also founded the Black Literary Society, a book club that places its reading list of Noble Press and other black-oriented books on the Internet. In 1995, Driver explored the possibility of a CD-ROM that would document a traveling museum exhibit featuring black architects.
Unsatisfied with simply publishing significant and entertaining books and helping to manifest the potential of a once underestimated and under-served black reading public, Driver continues the volunteer work that has always been his marker of personal success. He founded and runs a program called Young Chicago Authors that provides Saturday morning workshops for aspiring high school-age writers. Driver invites accomplished writers and others well-versed in the trade to speak to the students and help them hone their skills.
The Good Heart Book: A Guide to Volunteering, The Noble Press, 1989.
Defending the Left: An Individual’s Guide to Fight ing for Social Justice, Individual Rights and the Environment, The Noble Press, 1992.
American Banker, December 6, 19990, p. 10.
Booklist, December 1, 1992, p. 637.
Chicago Tribune, July 25, 1993, section 7, p. 3; April 11, 1990, section 2C, p. 1.
Essence, November, 1993, p. 44.
Los Angeles Sentinel, April 19, 1990, p. A8.
Publishers Weekly, March 15, 1991, p. 28; March 15, 1993, p. 22; May 2, 1994, p. 57.
Time, October 10, 1994, p. 70.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from a CBB interview with Driver, April 20, 1995.
—John F. Packel, II