This year’s inductee into the ALA Hall of Fame was retiring Kichler CEO Tony Davidson.
For those who know Tony Davidson as the 17-year President & CEO of Kichler, not to mention when he joined the firm as a regional sales manager in 1986, it might be hard to envision him as a second grader, shining shoes at the Greyhound Bus Station in St. Louis. Having lost his mother early in his childhood, Davidson grew up working hard – whether it was cleaning stables or busing tables – to help out. At age 19, after a stint in the Army, Davidson moved to Chicago and met the love of his life (Gail) while working in a department store. They soon married and Davidson worked various sales jobs ranging from Dr. Scholls footwear to a junior salesman at an electrical supply house.
Lighting seemed to be a good fit for Davidson, as he received the Regional Manager of the Year Award twice while working at Progress Lighting before a fateful meeting in 1986 with Sam Minoff, who was the head of Kichler. The rest, as they say, is history.
“This is one of the highlights of my career,” Davidson said, upon ascending the stage. “I have something to say to the 111 new members at ALA and that’s about the business we’re in and what the future holds for us. Yes, we need to address the challenges that are going on, but much more important is how we can work more closely together. Time is of the essence. We have to work together as a goal. Don’t sit on the sidelines, get in the game. Business is a team sport and we need to play as a team.”
Davidson praised the ALA as a business partner, facilitator, and advocate for the residential lighting community. “I’d like to share with you some of the things that I’ve learned,” he said, referring to a tough time in Kichler’s history. “If we were going to be successful and go beyond the market, what we needed to do was truly understand the customer. Back then, retailers were changing, too. We adjusted our priorities and had to earn back your confidence and your business.”
There is always one empty chair in the Kichler conference room, Davidson revealed. “It is reserved for our customers’ point of view. We are an imperfect company and that chair is a visual reminder to keep our customers’ point of view in mind. Our customers don’t always have to agree with our decisions, but they have to know about them. That chair has been my business mentor for the past 17 years.”
In closing, Davidson expressed his “love and appreciation to Gail, my sons, and God for the blessings in my life — and all of our customers and sales reps for allowing me to be a part of your world.”