Curtis Davis is more than just a telecom and security guru. His success in business dovetails with a passion for community activism. And both are making Columbus a better place to live.
Curtis grew up in a small eastern Ohio town. While other boys were playing baseball or riding bikes, he was pursuing his interest in technology. “I was pulling wires for security systems when I was 10 years old,” he recalls. From freshman through junior year in high school, Curtis hosted a drive-time Top 40 radio show. During his senior year, he ran 500 pairs of telephone lines through a conduit into his parent’s basement and started his own answering service and alarm business.
“We had eight telephone operators answering alarm calls and two people going out to install security and phone systems,” he explains. His employees answered calls for a range of businesses, including an ambulance service, the local power company and AAA. The job had one major perk. “Whenever there was a storm or a fire in our hometown, the news hit our basement first,” he recalls.
As time went on, Curtis began installing state-of-the-art security systems. His client list grew, and he took on bigger clients. He won the security contract for all the Columbus Housing Authority’s buildings. And in 1991, Curtis scored an even bigger coup – he was chosen to design the security for AmeriFlora ‘92.
It was there that Curtis received an endorsement from an unexpected source. He was sipping a drink at AmeriFlora’s VIP Club, a high-end lounge area reserved for donors and other key players. “I heard a voice behind me say, ‘I know you’ll be a success at anything you do, because you’re a hands-on person like me.’” Curtis turned around to find Wendy’s founder Dave Thomas smiling at him. Apparently, he had seen Curtis talking about his business on TV. “I’ll always remember that moment,” says Curtis proudly, “and I hold it to heart every day that I’m in business.”
After selling his old company, Curtis took on the task of rolling out Radio Shack’s ADT Security program. Then, he took a job at WesTec (now Protection One). After that, he started another company: E-One. His clients included Columbus City Schools and Columbus Parks and Recreation. At one point, he had 27 employees and a payroll of almost $500,000.
“I swore I wouldn’t go back into security,” he muses. “The alarm business is somewhat of a skilled trade; you can’t just jump into it. It’s hard to find qualified people who are willing to put in the hours.” In addition, although contracts were coming in, the overhead and licensing fees were steep. Stressed out, Curtis ultimately decided to scale down.
Today, Curtis owns ICS, a small company that provides telecom, Internet, cabling, phone systems and cellular solutions for small and large businesses across the country. The company is a “Master Agent,” meaning it represents multiple carriers and vendors. “We go in and do an audit, then manage the services our client selects,” he explains. “We become their IT/Telecom department. And it doesn’t cost the client anything, because we’re paid by the carriers for bundling and selling their services.”
Over the course of his career, Curtis has made plenty of introductions and negotiated plenty of deals. So perhaps it’s not surprising that he’s developed a passion for politics.
“My work life and political life tend to mesh,” he confesses. His current commitments relate to the people he loves and the place he calls home. Among other things, he is President of the Stonewall Democrats of Central Ohio, Business-at-Large Commissioner of the South Side Area Commission and an active member of the National Stonewall Political Action Committee Board. “‘My philosophy is: ‘If you give back to your community, it will give back to you,’” he says.
Curtis is excited by the changes he’s seeing in Columbus. His neighborhood, and the South Side as a whole, is being revitalized with money from the city and from former local Jim Grote, the founder of Donatos Pizza. (The original Donatos restaurant is located on the South Side.) Jim’s son Tom is a very active LGBT community member, and Curtis looks up to both of these men as true community leaders.
Mayor Coleman is also very open to the LGBT community. He has appointed a number of LGBT people to city boards and commissions to ensure their community has a voice. “Mayor Michael Coleman has done a lot for our city,” Curtis says. “And not just by following; he leads. He wants to be first, and he’s driven to make things happen.”
The mayor isn’t the only LGBT ally in city government. “Sheriff Zach Scott and Police Chief Kim Jacobs are very engaged. They want to know what issues are affecting our community, and they address those issues in a fair and ethical manner,” says Curtis. “I should also mention Council President Andrew Ginther and City Council members Zach Klein and Eileen Paley.”
When Curtis talks to people from other states, they’re amazed at how Columbus is so diverse and accepting. To illustrate his point, Curtis tells a story about City Councilman Zach Klein. One night, at an event held for the Sheriff, Zach met Kelly Coate, a local gay Realtor. The following night, at another event, an imposing drag queen swept up to Zach and introduced herself as Sable Coate … the same person he’d met the night before. The fabulous Ms. Coate ushered Zach around the room, introducing him to her friends. Zach seemed completely unfazed. And Kelly Coate now serves as the membership chair of the Stonewall Democrats of Central Ohio.
Curtis has also joined an initiative to form an Ohio Stonewall/Pride Caucus. It would only be the third such caucus in the country. “I’ve talked to a lot of people in other states, and they’re gun-shy about doing this,” he says. “But Ohio is such a key state. We need to be a voice not only for our local community, but for LGBT people across the country.”
Curtis has plans to add star power to the Stonewall/Pride Caucus campaign this year. “Kelly Coate has connections with a former MTV/Viacom executive who is talking to people at ‘Ellen’ and ‘Glee,’” he explains. The idea is to make “Get out the Vote” videos to play at popular bars across the state. There may even be guest appearances by some of the stars.
“Anyone can start a Facebook following,” says Curtis. “We’ve had our share in the past year. But we must make young people understand that you have to register to vote. Then, you have to cast your ballot. And you have to learn to act on facts and statistics, not on emotions.”
Spoken like a true hands-on guy.
For more info on ICS call 877.869.7709 or visit www.team-icsc.com