For a man who sports a flamboyant Burl Ives beard and moustache that gives the impression that he sings Silver and Gold every Christmas, and for a man who focused on sales and marketing promotions as he worked his way up to vice president of sales and marketing at Dallas Avionics, and for the co-owner of up-and-coming record label, State Fair Records, Scott Davis has a surprising flair for understatement: “I have a one-line resume. I got out of high school and went directly to work here at Dallas Avionics.” When asked where he grew up, Davis, as if to emphasize a limited background, doesn’t answer Texas (That would be too big!), but instead he says, “I was born and raised at Dallas Avionics.” If this multitalented aviator, musician, and businessman only wrote his resume with one line, then Harper Lee only wrote one book: To Kill a Mockingbird. Of course, we discovered that the Monroeville, Alabama, author quietly penned Go Set a Watchman, and maybe a few more surprises that will surface posthumously.
Likewise, Davis surprises in a wide ranging hour-long interview with stark, yet humbly delivered opinions and advice. Leavening his conversation with a sense of self-deprecation, Davis is a serious thinker, who doesn’t take himself too seriously, “There’s a giant slathering of luck all over any successful endeavor, that and hard work and effort,” he says, “I’m a straight-up lucky guy.” He cautions that we shouldn’t make his profile seem too impressive as people he knows “and loves” in the industry will not recognize him. So we pull out our crisp Detective Joe Friday Dragnet notebook and start scribbling a few facts: Dallas Avionics was founded by Scott’s parents in 1973 as a wholesale distributor of general aviation electronics. Back then the company displayed their avionics for sale through catalogs that they paid their two young children, Scott and sister, 25 cents to produce. Davis is proud that one of his early catalogs recently received worldwide distribution at the cinema box office. In the movie Iron Man, Gwyneth Paltrow’s character is at a desk that gets broken up in a fight at (fictional aviation company) Stark Industries. “A fight takes place where the desk gets smashed,” Davis recalls. “and right in the middle of the shattered debris and broken glass is a Dallas Avionics catalog that I made back in the ‘70s. I can take that one full nerd-step forward. We used to joke that (non-fictional) Stark Aerospace was the ‘Iron Man’ of our industry. I recently reached out to them about this movie scene and quipped, ‘It looks like Iron Man is a customer of Dallas Avionics.’ I love my nerd colleagues here for spotting the scene; it was trippy.”
In the late 1980s Dallas Avionics pivoted into serving the rotorcraft market. Davis uncharacteristically says, ”I’ll take full credit for that move. I told my mom that I still thought there was money waiting for us on the table in the helicopter market and joked to my dad that the Apocalypse will be great for the rotorcraft markets. He replied, ‘By all means go to the helicopter show.’”
The senior Davis never got to see his company reap that apocalyptic windfall, but the rest of the family rose up to the challenge in his absence. “My dad sadly passed away in 1998 and I worked here with my mom, and my sister, and my daughter. I work with a lot of girls! They’re amazing and tough as nails; I’d want them in a street fight, but they are beautiful women and have hearts of gold. Mom still comes in at 70 and is very engaged. She’s president-emeritus, and smoothly runs operations and leads by example. My sister also is very smart. What’s left for me to do is straight stupid simple. I still consider myself a sales person at heart; although I’m not without accounting skills, but that’s not my forte.“
Davis sees his aviation business as much more than counting beans to make Dallas Avionics bottom line turn green. When asked what his passion is away from work, he answers,” It’s still aviation; I love to fly.” While he loves taking to the sky in his trusty Cessna 182 (a model he calls the Ford Explorer of aircraft), the affection goes well beyond a soaring bird’s-eye view. “I genuinely allowed myself to love the people in my industry; they’re the people I go to when I need advise and help and I hope I’m there for them when they need help. Everybody knows everybody. Everyone is interrelated. In some industries, you go to a trade show and you don’t see the same person twice. In our industry we know when someone changes jobs; who does good and who does bad.” Here’s a heads up: if Davis ever does ‘bad,’ there are some aviation buddies that may expect their phone to ring. “My daughter was in college and was light on cash with Christmas coming up. She asked me who she should keep on her Christmas gift list. I told her to go through her contacts and mark every person that would come to get her butt out of jail. She should get those people gifts. In that vein, I started going through my contacts. Every person that would come get me out of jail was in the aviation industry, not the recording industry. I love music, I own the studio where Willie Nelson recorded Red-Headed Stranger , but it’s people in aviation that are there for you.”
As one listens to Davis, one senses that he’s not just a people person, but also allows himself to wax nostalgic. He wants to build relationships with real fleshed out humans, not sterile, superficial digitized internet ‘friends.’ If Davis was fortunate enough to be at the mixing board recording a bygone song like Yesterday, he would reminisce for days a few decades ago. Paul McCartney sang melancholy about his mother’s premature passing when he was a boy “Why did she have to go? She wouldn’t say.” Davis firmly knows the answer for why he used to pilot to distant clients. “Before internet communication, I used to fly more often on business trips to call on customers. I miss those days of more frequently meeting with people in person; it was really a great time. Every airport was a local community where everybody knew one another. I don’t think it’s that same way today,” Davis says with a nostalgic tone.
One valued tradition from the past that Davis holds to in modern times is buying a beer in fellowship. He says the best career advice he was given, by his mentor Jerry Livezey who founded Hangar Six and Addison Avionics, was “This industry is built completely on personal relationships and there’s a lot of good will in a beer. It doesn’t have to be a literal beer; ‘beer’ is a metaphor for let’s take time for you to tell me about yourself.” It’s unlikely that Davis drinks deep into the night, considering the range of hours and jobs he keeps. “They vary greatly because I still travel on business. I typically get up around 4:30 to 5:00 to swim for exercise. Whatever direction work waits, I head in that direction. My music cuts into my sleep. It’s not unusual in a music-related project to look up and find that it’s 2:00 a.m. Last week I was driving a band around the East Coast being a tour manager. The week before, I was in Michigan talking to an antenna manufacturer. The week before that, I was actually at my desk doing what I’m supposed to do, ‘admining,’ whatever that is. Before that I was at a trade show. Let’s see what today holds! If the toilet’s stopped up, I’m Joe the Plumber; if the trash cans are full, I’m the janitor; when someone calls and asks if I’ve made my reservations for the Airborne Law Enforcement Association, I’m the trade show coordinator. I just do whatever.”
If all that seems a little chaotic, there’s no doubt that Davis intensely focuses on one thing—customer service. It’s a quality he most looks for when hiring and Davis recently offered a job to a rep who provided him exceptional service over the phone. “I want a motivated, totally customer-oriented person, someone who puts the customer first and looks after them. We are in business totally for our customers. If we don’t provide goods and services that are valuable to our customers and treat them properly, there will be no need for our business and we’ll all be looking for other work.”
One gets the strong sense Davis doesn’t want other work. Even asking him what challenges are looming for the avionics sector doesn’t deter his inclination for the rotorcraft industry, although he sees some unpredictable storms looming on his radar. However, like most pilots, he reads a radar that doesn’t flawlessly detect the future in perfect detail.
“I don’t know, it will be a combination of things; it’s never just one thing. On September 10, 2001 I thought my business had a whole rack of insurmountable problems. Then the next day, they grounded every aircraft in the U.S., and what I thought were big problems weren’t big at all; my industry had a whole bunch of new problems. The ones I had thought were insurmountable weren’t that big. I can deal with the problems that are out there now. Our industry can deal with those problems now. It’s the devil you don’t know that bites you in the butt. If anybody thinks they know for sure what the biggest problems facing our industry segment are, then they’re probably kidding themselves and others.”
So far, so good and fuzzy… and true. Then Davis decides to drop a ‘second-beer’ megaton truth bomb that contains thoughtful economic observations that Austrian libertarian economist Ludwig von Mises would have appreciated. “Shall we avoid the political Pandora’s box right now?” he starts. “I rely on the military industrial complex, so and I’m pretty sure the chaos is going to come out in force. I’m not going to fall into a political diatribe now, but I think Monica Lewinski should have won the Presidential Medal of Freedom because she served as a big distraction for the government. The federal government did nothing and we thrived. It was a wonderful, wonderful thing. If our government insists on ‘helping’ solve our problems (with costly regulations) they will make things worse incrementally. It’s like getting nibbled to death by a bunch of baby ducks. Profit margins erode and you have less and less with which to (meet more mandates). Incremental changes add up.”
…One line at a time.