When I was brainstorming blog topics to start off the new year, and new decade, at the very top of my list was an interview with our company President, Tripp Davis.
If you work or partner with us, chances are you have talked to or met Tripp at some point. He has been third generation Owner and President of LD Davis for nearly two decades, and is an active member of a number of industry organizations. He is not only our "fearless leader", but he is a key leader in the industry.
Thankfully Tripp was on board with me picking his brain on many topics including: our company strengths, challenges, and where LD Davis will headed over the next ten years.
What do you feel is the biggest strength of our company right now?
I know it may sound a bit cliché but our culture. “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” These words are often attributed to Peter Drucker, and I intend to agree.
The argument goes something like this: “Strategy is on paper whereas culture determines how things get done. Anyone can come up with a fancy strategy, but it’s much harder to build a winning culture. Moreover, a brilliant strategy without a great culture is ‘all hat and no cattle,’ while a company with a winning culture can succeed even if its strategy is mediocre. Plus, it’s much easier to change strategy than culture.”
Therefore, we spend time and effort on our culture. We developed, created and use daily, the Davis Approach. These are the 28 Fundamentals we use to manage our company culture. We have weekly “insights”, reminders and quizzes to make sure the culture stays strong. The team of people who are the “drivers” of LD Davis are aligned with our Vision, Mission and Culture, which has been and will continue to be a winning combination.
What have been the biggest challenges you’ve had to overcome in the last decade?
Like many companies finding new opportunities has been the biggest challenge. We have been very tied to the hard-bound book and directory industries. It is not a secret that getting information that has time sensitivity: encyclopedias, law books, textbooks, telephone directories etc. have gone to electronic format. These were huge volume customers that no longer exist.
Finding new business to replace them has been our biggest challenge. We have been able to replace some, but not all. We are smaller in over-all dollar sales, and we have “rightsized” the company to continue to thrive financially. We are moving into other specialty categories that are tangential to the customer base that already knows and values the products and services we can provide.
What goal do you have for the company as we enter the next decade?
The goal is to add other lines of business under the LD Davis umbrella. We started distributing stay tape to rigid box manufactures. There was only one manufacturer left in the USA and the industry was not thrilled with their products or services. We found a great partner with a superior product offering and we are now capturing significant market share.
We have also entered the used equipment market. With expertise we have gained from a new employee hire in 2019, we are able to match sellers with buyers of equipment. We know there are other niche opportunities for Davis, and we continue to investigate. Our goal is to add a few new ones to our product line in 2020.
What have you learned in the last year that will inform LD Davis in the next year?
I am not sure there was any one thing but more of the same, which is to be nimble, adaptable and take advantage of opportunities as they come. The one great thing about being our size is we can make decisions and move new initiatives through concept to product offering to the marketplace very quickly. We are a motorboat and NOT the Titanic.
With the ever-growing awareness and business focus on reducing plastics there has been a big push to get rid of plastic straws. We saw this as an opportunity for Davis to make food-contact grade adhesives for making paper straws. It started out small but as we learned more about the adhesives requirements and used social media to let people know what we are doing the opportunities are starting to materialize. Look for the problems or pain from industries and customers. There is always an opportunity to provide the solution and gain new business.
Where do the great ideas come from in your organization?
From everywhere and everyone.
Our sales team is visiting customers weekly and good ideas come from them. We have a great social media and inside sales team and they are generating ideas. Our executive team meets monthly for idea-generating sessions. I like to read. I encourage the entire organization to do the same. I send articles and buy books and distribute so we can all get smarter by reading.
As an organization gets larger there can be a tendency for the “institution” to dampen the “inspiration.” How do you keep this from happening?
Any company that has had massive growth in revenue and people usually has to content with challenges: connected-ness, new rules, more rules and just the increased size and speed of everyday business will push many employees to their limits. However, having a strong culture and making sure the entire organization, especially as you grow, is aware of how it relates to all facets of working together we help to reduce becoming a chaotic and or stale institution.
For example, we have Fundamental #17 “Speak Straight”: Speak honestly in a way that helps to make progress. Say what you mean, and be willing to ask questions, share ideas, or raise issues that my cause conflict when it’s necessary for team success. No matter how much we grow as long as we can rely on and relate to our culture that emphasizes qualities like compassion and determination, we will be able to limited institutional-ism.
What do you want for the employees of LD Davis?
I like this quote from Richard Branson (Founder of the Virgin Group in the 1970's, which controls more than 400 companies in various fields) “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don't want to.” I want all our employees to be better off having worked at LD Davis. I want them to have learned some hard skills, soft skills and leave because of a “better” opportunity. I would never want to hold someone back. We are a small company with sales less than $20 million per year. For some employees there is no place to advance. So, when they look back at their time at Davis, I want them to be able to say, “What a great place to work!”
What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess?
Resilience. Life is hard. Life is messy. Life is complex. As I said earlier, you can have a terrific strategy and something you never thought of like: swine flu, tariffs, unrest in another country etc. can completely derail your strategy. Therefore, you must be prepared to start over, adapt, be innovative and show some grit or you are out of business. One of the greatest gifts or lessons a parent can teach a child is how to be resilient. As the great boxer Mike Tyson famously once said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.”
When it comes to the company, what are you most proud of?
Longevity. We have been in business since 1926. The company was started by my fraternal grandfather, my dad took over from him in 1977 and I took over from my father in 2000. 94 years is a long time. The average length of time in business for all companies in the USA is 50 years. Only 13% of all businesses make it to the third generation and we are 20 years into it. We will absolutely be here for our 100th anniversary in 2026.
My wife and I have two kids and so the fourth generation exists but too early to tell their interest level; however, I am not going anywhere any time soon so there is time to figure out the next generation. We would not still be here if we did not produce excellent products the customers want in a timely and courteous manner. Over the three generations we have had to reinvent the business on more than one occasion and will more than likely do it again to make it into the next generation. Adapt or die.
What upcoming initiatives do you find particularly exciting?
I have touched on some of these already. The stay tape business should double in sales this year. There will be more opportunities for us to work with companies that want to use environmentally friendly adhesive solutions, whether it is paper straws to reduce plastics, paper sleeves to reduce plastic in wrapping cards or packaged, or to reduce plastics in manufacturing folding cartons.
Our used equipment business will continue to grow in 2020. We are also looking at a few OEM rigid box and ancillary equipment manufactures that want professional sales representation in North America.
We will have a new high-speed blender in our Monroe, NC manufacturing facility. This will provide more uniformed, faster and the ability to blend smaller mesh size products. We are in the exploratory phase of solutions to automate the final packaging of our protein adhesives. As my father used to say, “Taking the WORK out of WORK!” There are a few more we are working on but I don’t want to spoil the surprise.
Thank you so much to Tripp for his time and candidness! There is much to look forward to as our company enter this next decade!
Comment below and let us know what your biggest opportunities are as you begin the new year!