Industry mourns passing of WFCA CEO Chris Davis

Home Inside FCNews Industry mourns passing of WFCA CEO Chris Davis

by Matthew Spieler

Anaheim, Calif.—For nearly 18 years, he was more than just the leader of the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA), he was a leader of the industry, promoting the professionalism of its people and beauty of its products to every media avenue possible and along the way, selfishly giving of himself to help those in need. On Feb. 22, D. Christopher Davis unexpectedly passed away from lung cancer, less than three weeks after turning 64.

Davis was the first and only person to have been in charge of WFCA since it came into being Jan. 1, 1995. He was actually hired in August 1994 in anticipation of leading the new organization that would result from the merger of the Western Floor Covering Association and American Floorcovering Association (AFA), a merger he was also charged with facilitating. On top of that, Davis was brought in to run the trade show started by Western six years earlier, a market on the verge of exploding into the largest the industry has ever seen as well as becoming one of the top shows in all the U.S.—Surfaces.

Davis had already forged himself a highly successful career after graduating with honors from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1970 and being named Sigma Delta Chi’s Out-standing Graduate in Journalism.

But for all his previous successes over a 25-year period, they paled in comparison to what Davis was able to achieve in the flooring industry. He was what many would classify a true champion, a person who worked tirelessly on behalf of all segments and levels of the industry with one simple goal: To make each bigger and better.

Under his leadership, the industry in general became more recognized, more respected and more profitable. What makes Davis’ achievements even more notable is many of his deeds were done under the radar, out of the spotlight and with no fanfare. And, perhaps taking a cue from his days as a journalist, he was unbiased in his efforts and the people with whom he collaborated. So long as the goal was something that pushed the industry forward in a positive way he was for it and lent his support in any way possible.

That could be seen from the way Davis grabbed the reins of the WFCA, overseeing every aspect of the growing organization and turning it into the “unbiased voice” of the industry. From legislative, educational and business initiatives, he implemented programs designed to better the industry by bettering its people.

A big key that allowed Davis to make WFCA a model association was Surfaces. When he came on board, the trade show was already more than just a successful concept, it was a cash cow for the association, allowing it to do things never before possible—such as offering trade scholarships to people wanting to better their skills, even if the class was not offered by the organization.

But Davis was a person who always looked at the big picture, never content with growing or helping just one particular component. He dreamed big and turned his dreams into reality. During his interview, Davis said his intention was “to take Surfaces to the next level.” He not only accomplished what he set out to do—turning Surfaces into one of the top 50 trade shows in the U.S. noted Tradeshow Week—many would say he exceeded it “40 million” times over when he facilitated Surfaces’ sale in 2000 to the tune of more than $40 million, plus allowing WFCA to retain sponsorship rights to the show for a minimum of 25 years.

The situation to run Surfaces and lead the WFCA presented itself as a perfect fit for Davis as he had a very successful track record running the convention and visitors bureaus for places such as Long Beach and Oakland, Calif., and Corpus Christi, Texas, and coordinating and supervising major national events, including the 1984 Democratic National Convention, Super Bowl XIX (1985), the 1972, 1973 and 1975 World Series, the 1974 NBA Championship, the 1987 baseball All-Star Game and the 1992 American Bowling Congress.

“My previous career had a combination of very high visibility, coupled with a high degree of  responsibility, but virtually zero authority in a highly political atmosphere,” Davis told FCNews in 2009 when the WFCA celebrated the 50th anniversary of its predecessor, Western. “I [wanted] something that allowed me to take all the pluses in my previous career without the minuses that came with it.”

He also wanted to be at the ground floor of something and spearhead its growth into something better for everyone involved. “Western was not a new association but when I was hired, it was on track to merge with the AFA into something much bigger. The challenge of putting that together was part of the appeal of the job, as was building Surfaces into something [special].”

Initially, things seemed rather easy but, as Davis would later say, maneuvering through WFCA’s early boards required all his skills. With the merger of Western and AFA, the new WFCA board consisted of at least 70 individuals the first few years. “Merging the directors of the two associations was interesting because their respective institutional cultures were vastly different,” he recalled. Luckily for both the boards and the industry, Davis was one of those rare individuals who was adept in the art of listening more than talking and only speaking after having thoroughly thought out what he was going to say.

These, along with his ability to grasp complicated situations and reach out to all people in a manner that was non-threatening allowed him to keep the board focused on the vision for both WFCA and Surfaces.

While having a multitude of bosses was a little challenging, it was nothing compared to the complications that suddenly sprung from Surfaces. Shortly after the 1995 show, the industry’s largest manufacturers decided to not exhibit. Though he called it a “low point,” Davis was determined to follow through on his pledge. “I was [going] to build the show back up,” he recounted in 2009. “That was challenging, but in the long run, the steps we took dramatically improved it.”

As the head of WFCA, Davis used the association’s wealth and influence to foster relationships throughout the industry and beyond. He understood from the get go this is a people business and if the industry was to ever reach its full potential, every single person on the ladder needed to be spoken for and taken care of.

He was always willing to reach out and let someone know they were doing a good job or had done something well, and always encouraged people to push themselves to greater heights in order to fully reap the rewards that come with greatness. And he did this no matter a person’s position in life—from the CEO of a Fortune 500 company to the janitor at an installation workroom. To Davis, they are both special people with unique talents and abilities and he wanted everyone to see that in themselves and to use their gifts to succeed.

Though he headed an association for retailers, Davis understood it took other segments, specifically installers, to make his members successful. As such, he championed the cause of having professionally trained, certified installers, going so far as to help the International Certified Floorcovering Installers Association (CFI) with more than money, but time. For Davis was never one to shy away from helping and giving of himself.

That is why he went beyond WFCA, chairing and participating in numerous industry initiatives and organizations, such as the Floor Covering Business-to-Business Association (fcB2B), the Flooring Industry Issues Council, Clean Trust (formerly IICRC), WFCA Services—a for-profit, independent subsidiary of WFCA—the national carpet installation standard currently in development and so on.

Perhaps Davis’ greatest love, though, was the Floor Covering Industry Foundation (FCIF), the charitable organization dedicated to assisting industry personnel who experience catastrophic illnesses or severe disabilities. Davis served as president and CEO, calling FCIF “one of the most noble causes out there.” Davis donated WFCA’s resources to running the non-profit promising its founders —industry icons such as Walter Guinan and Al Wahnon—he would make the Foundation reach its “utmost potential.”

As with everything else he touched, Davis turned FCIF into a guiding light. In the 20 years prior, FCIF donated $1.5 million to assist those who needed it most. Under Davis, that amount is now close to $5 million.

Though he never made, designed, distributed, sold or installed flooring, Davis will be remembered as one of the industry’s nobles. He fought for and succeeded in raising the standards by which flooring is viewed. And in doing so, he leaves behind a legacy that many individuals will benefit from for generations.

D. Christopher Davis was born Feb. 2, 1948. After graduating from Berkley with a degree in journalism he worked for ABC News and as an independent commercial photographer. He left ABC News to become communications director of the Oakland, Calif., Chamber of Commerce and then president and CEO of the convention and visitors bureaus of Oakland (1981 to 1987); Corpus Christi, Texas (1987 and 1988), and Long Beach, Calif. (1988 to 1993), before starting his flooring career.

Davis is survived by his daughter, Jessica (Alan) Gates; stepdaughter, Amber (Victor) Padilla; grandchildren, Parker and Paige Gates, and Logan and Victor Padilla; sister, Alix Davis Hay, and brother Richard (Cathy).

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made directly to FCIF, 211 E. Howell Avenue, Anaheim, CA 92806; 714.634.0302; info@fcif.org, or the American Cancer Society, P.O. Box 22718 Oklahoma City, Okla.

 

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