A Tribute to Teamwork
Page 22 | Landmarks 2007
STORY: LAURA GUTSCHKE
PHOTO: ARTIE LIMMER
ETERINARY MEDICINE WAS Two friends invited Davidson to Texas Tech
in Dan Davidson’s (B.S., Horticul- after his discharge. Right away he liked the cam-
ture and Parks Management, 1959) pus, academic program and people of Lubbock.
future, until a tour of duty in Eu- “Texas Tech had one of the ﬁrst programs
rope during the Korean War kindled that focused on the practical use of horticulture
an admiration for the old European landscaped that was saddled with training in parks manage-
parks, roads, arbors and gardens. His new ca- ment,” said Davidson.
reer path centered on planned developments, FIRST PARKS PROJECT
ﬁrst as a parks planner and later in Austin’s city For a senior team project, Davidson was part
management. Davidson concluded his city man- of a team that presented a redesign plan for
agement career as Austin’s city manager. White Rock Lake Park to the Dallas Parks Board
Today, Davidson lives in Austin and is a part- in the Petroleum Building. Word of the project
ner in a land development company and co-own- reached San Antonio city manager Lynn An-
er of a wholesale tree business. His reputation as drews, who saw the project and hired Davidson
a successful, ethical businessman is balanced by as a city planner in 1959. While working for the
an equally noble regard for his volunteer work. city for more than two years, Davidson moon-
“He’s Mr. Wonderful. You would be hard lighted weekends, selling trees, shrubs and land-
pressed to ﬁnd anyone who didn’t think the best scaping supplies.
about Dan. He’s a family man, he has high mor-
als, he’s civic-minded, he’s hard-working,” said
Malcolm Cooper, senior vice president of RBC
SEE A NEED TO RETIRE
Dain Rauscher in Austin who has known David-
son for 33 years.
A few years past the traditional retirement age
of 65, Davidson doesn’t see a need to retire any
time soon, despite the gentle nudging of his wife ANY TIME SOON
of 52 years, Phyllis. When Andrews moved to St. Petersburg, Flor-
“I still work long hours, and she’d like me to re- ida, to be city manager, he hired Davidson as a
tire, but I’m not ready to do that yet,” said David- deputy city manager. The two moved to Austin in
son. “I don’t want to slow down just right now.” similar positions in 1969.
Such a sentiment is not surprising for a man “Every job I had with city management involved
who worked full-time while carrying a full load working closely with the parks department,” said
at Texas Tech to support himself, Phyllis, and the Davidson. “I’ve always admired and loved to plant
ﬁrst of their ﬁve children. things, even when growing up in Clayton.”
Davidson was raised in Clayton, New Mexico,
THE AUSTIN BOOM
and worked on the family’s two nearby ranches.
Davidson’s move to Austin came as technology
As a member of 4-H, he showed steers, heif-
companies IBM, Texas Instruments, Motorola,
ers and bulls. He attended one semester at the
Abbott Laboratories and others were expand-
University of New Mexico, where he met Phyl-
ing operations in the city. “Silicon Hills” became
lis, before volunteering for a two-year stint with
Austin’s nickname as commercial growth added
the U.S. Army. He was stationed in Germany for
to Austin’s skyline and population.
about a year.
“In the early 1970s, Austin was around 58th in • “We were able to improve the city’s ﬁnancial
population in the nation, but year after year, it ratings, which were already good, but we were
would be in the top 10 in the nation in terms of dol- able to make them better. If it was rated AA,
lar value of building permits issued,” said Davidson. we were able to bump it to AAA or from A to
When appointed city manager in 1972, David- AA, depending on the bond category”.
son’s goal was to bring together the ﬁnest em- “Dan loves Austin for all the right reasons,” said
ployees to manage Austin’s growth in a way that Matthews. “I know this sounds corny, but he
best served the public. literally is one of those people who made a
“As city manager I worked with unbelievable major difference in Austin.”
mayors and city council members who saw what A local newspaper described Davidson as a
was going on and allowed me to hire the very “pragmatic conservative,” which some politicians
best department managers,” said Davidson. viewed well and others did not, he said. But, the
In addition to working with elected ofﬁcials, caliber of Davidson’s skills are evident in three
Davidson and his staff collaborated with 46 awards from the International City Manager’s As-
sociation: in 1980 he received the L.P. Cooking-
ham Award for management development and
the Management Innovation Award for energy
conservation and environmental programs. The
next year, the group presented him the Carolyn
Keene Award for development of programs for
the handicapped. Each of these awards is pre-
sented to only one person a year.
“These awards would not have been pos-
sible without the excellent staff and department
heads, and the ﬁne mayors and council members
that I worked with,” Davidson said.
After 22 years in municipal management, Da-
vidson entered the private sector in 1981 as an
executive vice president for homebuilder Nash
Phillips/Copus, Inc. Five years later, he joined
Lufkin-based Lumbermen’s Investment Corp. as
senior vice president and president of its Temple
Inland Properties. Davidson remained in Austin
to oversee the company’s development of subdi-
visions and commercial property.
In 1991, Davidson joined current partner C.W.
public boards and committees that usually were
Hetherly as a vice president for Lampting Inc., a
TREE OF CHOICE comprised of three to 12 citizens.
real estate and investment ﬁrm whose develop-
The Cedar Elm is growing in popularity— “Dan’s a classic example of there’s no limit to
ments include subdivisions in the Austin-area
with landscape architects, nurserymen and what you can accomplish if you’re not concerned
cities of Austin, Cedar Park and Kyle. That same
homeowners. It’s also Davidson’s favorite with who gets the credit,” said Steve Matthews,
year, the two purchased the 24-acre Austin Tree
tree these days because of its hardiness and attorney and president of Steve T. Matthews Com-
Farm (now 50-acre).
ability to thrive in many different soils. pany in Austin. Matthews’ dad, who was a city
The farm had only about 2,500 trees, had not
“It stays shades of green throughout the manager of San Antonio and later executive direc-
been replanted in four years and was in general
growing season and then turns golden in tor of the Texas Municipal League, ﬁrst introduced
disrepair. The farm’s one advantage, however,
the fall. It grows 70 feet tall. It has uplift- him to Davidson, and today Matthews and David-
was its location along the Colorado River. The
ing branches, but it is also compact. It has son volunteer for many of the same groups.
rich soil along the riverbank is the ideal mix of
the kind of tree canopy artists like to paint. As Davidson talks about his accomplishments
clay and sandy loam for ﬁeld-grown trees that
It has very few insect or disease problems,” as city manager, he uses “we” and not “I” when
can be dug, balled and wrapped in burlap for de-
Davidson said. listing some highlights:
livery to nurseries, Davidson said.
“We started growing these trees about • “We got the city council to agree to a ﬁve-year
He initially devoted about 65 percent of his
four years after we bought the farm. I had plan” that outlined growth for city services,
time to managing the farm. For the ﬁrst two-and-
hardly known anything about it, but land- such as water lines, libraries, street develop-
one-half years, the farm saw no income as equip-
scape architects got to liking it after they ment and parks.
ment and irrigation systems were improved and
were looking for a replacement for certain • “We put together bond packages that
seedlings planted. Since then, former customers
Oak trees because of the Oak Wilt Disease.” voters approved.”
have been wooed back and new ones cultivated
Page 24 | Landmarks 2007
THERE’S NO LIMIT TO WHAT
YOU CAN ACCOMPLISH IF
YOU’RE NOT CONCERNED WITH
WHO GETS THE CREDIT
“We are really meeting a niche market. People
DAN DAVIDSON’S ADVICE FOR who have experience with ﬁeld-grown trees re-
TODAY’S STUDENTS ally like them. They know how to handle them,
• Work hard, both individually and as a and they come to prefer them,” said Davidson.
team player. “I value teamwork and hard COMMUNITY SERVICE
work. When I used to have a lot of employ- Davidson’s story is also one of devoted volunteer.
ees, I talked to them about that a lot,” Da- “The No. 1 thing Dan brings to any group is
vidson said. He also advises that students the willingness to work hard. Secondly, he also
think ahead to how their actions will af- has the ability to, politely and with consider-
fect an entire team of coworkers. ation, keep people on task without making them
• Learn to communicate. Take one course feel pressured,” said Cooper.
in public speaking and one course in tech- Davidson has held several ofﬁcers’ positions
nical writing, he suggests. “With today’s with the Rotary Club of Austin, including presi-
high-tech world and fast pace of informa- dent. He also is a past president of the Boy Scouts
tion, we tend to lose the personal touch in Capital Area Council, past director of the Austin
how we communicate with one another,” Area Chamber of Commerce and past president
Davidson said. of Mount Wesley Conference Center. Davidson is
• Be ethical. “Students need to understand a member of Northwest Hills United Methodist
the need for strong personal ethics and Church and chairman of its Building Committee.
how they can develop a standard on their While director of the Chamber of Commerce, Da-
own that everyone can admire. Students vidson helped launch the nonproﬁt Keep Austin
in the past did not hear much talk about Beautiful organization.
ethics, but there are now courses on it, “I think volunteering is a way to give back to
and I applaud that,” Davidson said. a community that has been home to me and my
• Participate in a civic club. “There’s lots to go family since 1969,” said Davidson. “And, I really
around, and young people can get a great do think people beneﬁt personally when they
deal in giving to an organization their help in their community.”
time, their ideas and their money,” said Davidson is a humble man who has condensed
Davidson. “And, they should support their his 47-year career to a one-page resume. And, his
college and their university.” community activities take up as much room on
that sheet as his job listings. He also speaks affec-
throughout the Southwest. Two land purchases tionately of his wife Phyllis and her support dur-
FACT FILE have expanded the farm to 50 acres, and be- ing the years.
• Married Phyllis in March 1954. The couple tween 25,000 and 45,000 trees are in the ground “This is one of those cases where the nice guy
has ﬁve children: Mike (B.A. 1978); Dana at any one time. An experienced nurseryman to- ﬁnishes ﬁrst. He truly is a nice guy,” said Cooper.
and her husband, Mickey Rocco, who have day runs day-to-day operations and oversees a “He combines living nice with being a successful
three children; Doug and his wife, Debbie, staff of six. businessman and family man.”
who have two children; Jeff, who has two
children; and Matt.
• Davidson enjoys family trips and other