"I actually refer to it as my 13 years of hell."
Daniel’s parents divorced when he was born and his early years were quite turbulent. His stepfather was a bikie, and not a particularly ‘nice’ fellow. Being exposed to alcohol & drug abuse together with domestic violence for the first 13 years of life was far from ideal. A number of his male relatives also went to jail.
Clearly unhappy with the state of his life, Daniel decided to turn that around and independently moved out of home at a very young age. “By the time I was 13, I wanted to get out. I’d had my first job at 10. From there I learnt I could be independent and I had started earning some income. I had three casual jobs outside of school hours and that gave me enough money to move out of home. I just rented a room and got out of the place. Although it was really challenging. it was also a big relief” Daniel recalls.
In all, Daniel attended 13 schools before reaching Year 7. Daniel didn’t like school and refers to his those years as “my 13 years of hell – like a jail sentence. I couldn’t wait to get out” When Daniel finally left school in 1996, like many others, he was quite confused and didn’t know what he wanted to do.
He looks back and reflects that he simply continued to work. He started as a roof tiler, then tried a few different jobs, eventually taking a job doping the weekend overnight shifts in a service station – “the dangerous shift nobody wants to do”
Daniel had no formal training as such and learned on the job about how to manage people and staff as well as gaining tips on what it took to run a retail business. His boss had high standards and ran a good operation so Daniel learnt well.
The turning point came when “I got a job as a manager and also got engaged at 19, and whilst all this was going on I was thinking, ‘What am I going to do with my life?’ Working in a service station wasn’t looking too promising.”
In his role Daniel had helped his boss establish each of his new stores. “We’d gone to look at a new potential store in the Blue Mountains, and he said ’It’s too far, I’m not going to take this store.’ I started to look at this situation and ask questions for myself. I took the wedding fund I’d been saving – it was another year before the wedding – and put it into the business. So that’s where it all began.”
Looking back, Daniel reflects on how his childhood shaped his future. “Sometimes the challenges in life are the gifts you don’t see. A normal 10-year-old doesn’t work. I look at my own children, my son’s now 11, and I think, ‘I should make you start working!’ They work at home and they have to earn their chore money, but I think society’s making a bit of a mistake sometimes because if it wasn’t for that, no way I would have been able to start at 21”.
Even the most basic ‘work’ can be beneficial as Daniel knows only too well. “You’d be surprised at what it takes to have a paper run business. You’ve got to look after your regular clients, manage your cash and manage your stock. There’s actually a lot of skills to be learnt doing that. Those kinds of things are gone nowadays and I think it’s a shame.”
Daniel was always learning. “It’s one of the gifts that comes from having an upbringing with nothing. My wife still finds it shocking how many times we moved and that we didn’t have a TV or a car. I think growing up without anything also gives you an element of strength, almost in the sense of, ‘I have nothing to lose’. “
Times change though and Daniel’s attitude to risk has changed somewhat. “Now I’m 36, I’ve got two kids and a wife to think of and my risk considerations are definitely higher. It’s better to be a little bit more cautious. I’ve always been on the risky side.”
Life was tough for Daniel in building his business too. “In the initial phases, I lived in the store. I worked 5am to 11pm, seven days a week for two years and lived in the back storeroom which wasn’t very pleasant. I could see the vision though and I believed in what the store could do. We grew that store, constantly upgrading it and looking at how it can improve. By year three, we had the highest sales per square metre turnover for any IGA store in Australia.”
Daniel eventually returned to Sydney and became involved in other areas, investing in one particular business which bought him undone. He lost a lot of money in 2008 just as the GFC was beginning to bite. He remembers “selling properties at rock bottom and I really lost out a lot there too.”
When asked how important failure is, Daniel says “I’ve seen a lot of people fail, and then give up. They don’t look at failure as being just part of the journey, they take it personally. Whenever something goes wrong, I look at ‘what’s the lesson here’? ‘What should I be learning’? Because there’s definitely something to learn. I think failure is important; it’s the way in which you handle it which counts. If you take things too personally, you really struggle in business.”
Daniel’s businesses are also about having fun. “At Gallop Solutions, fun is an important component of business. I’ve always had that philosophy of going the extra mile. Yes, with customers of course, but also go the extra mile internally for ourselves, make sure that we have fun too. I think starting out in business at a young age probably helped. I was 21, I wasn’t really prepared to not have fun.”
The journey to Daniel’s current business success began with a not uncommon situation for many people taking on an existing business. “Before Gallop, I’d invested in a company I didn’t know much about. Within the first three months, my new business partner got an ATO bill which bankrupted him and I was left with a company I didn’t know much about.
Putting his previous work ethic, street smarts and business skills to work, Daniel thought “it won’t take me that long, three to six months of hard work, and it’ll be right.” Unfortunately, he was there for three years, working 80 to 100 hours a week and it was not working – it was devastating. “I now had a wife and two little boys at home and I was missing them terribly working those hours as well as pumping in a lot of money and losing the assets I’d accumulated in the previous 10 years. Most frustrating of all, I couldn’t seem to find any help”.
Daniel was referred to Lindy McNocher, who had founded Gallop Solutions seven years earlier. “In all honesty I didn’t think there was any hope that she’d be able to help me, but I took her on anyway. And to her credit, three months into working with her, we broke even for the first time in three years. Prior to that I’d been losing up to $50,000 a month. It was so great to have the relief finally come and I’d halved my business hours.”
Simplistically, Lindy’s model worked on The Seven Ingredients for Business Success. “In essence they break a company up into seven critical divisions. These are seven areas of focus have people accountable at the top of each division. When the seven ingredients are successfully created, the company can be successful.”
Daniel sees Gallop Solutions is a business education company which aims to arm business owners and their management teams with the tools, knowledge and skills which run their business more effectively.
Having helped over 350 companies since becoming involved with Gallop, Daniel’s goal is to take Gallop around Australia, and then take the model overseas. “We’re expanding our product offering. One of the things we’ve identified is our clients need a lot more than just our management system. They often need help in marketing or the accounting area. Another area is legal both in terms of commercial and HR law.
Daniel’s favourite inspirational quotes are on the walls of his office. He particularly likes: “It’s not man’s dreams that fail him, it’s the lack of know-how required to make those dreams a reality.”
He notes though that “if there was an instruction manual, you’d be able to accomplish it”.
This is similar to being a parent as many first timers will relate; “I know when my first son was born, I said ‘Is there an instruction manual now? What do we do?’ It’s really, really daunting. And you do your best. Just as business owners do, they do their best. They work very hard and there’s not necessarily any guaranteed outcome, so knowledge is what people need.”
As many find out later in life, there are some aspects of learning which become useful especially in the correct context. Daniel agrees in saying “It didn’t seem to make any sense sitting in Maths class but once I put a dollar symbol in front of a number, it was all making sense to me. I was suddenly interested.”
Daniel also didn’t like another element of his education; reading. He could read perfectly well however Daniel felt that he was being asked to read at school was very boring. One day, aged about 19, he picked up Richard Branson’s book in a shop. Flicking through it Daniel thought “this is interesting so I bought it. That was the first book I ever really read.”
A useful revelation for Daniel then was “this god of business was actually a really normal guy who also had struggled at school, in fact more than I had. He actually had a problem – dyslexia – and he really struggled. And he’d gone on to build this billion dollar empire. I thought ‘if he could do it, what could I do?’ And it got me thinking…”
Further inspiration was to come Daniel received an invitation last year to stay at Richard Branson’s home on Necker Island for a week. Daniel describes that as “one of the most surreal times I’ve ever had. He’s a truly wonderful guy.”
Another insight was to come. Two days prior to Daniel’s arrival, the Virgin Galactic flight had tragically crashed in the Mojave Desert bringing about the death of the test-pilot. Daniel thought his opportunity to meet Sir Richard had passed. He was amazed to hear on his first morning on the island though that Sir Richard had arrived and the appointment they’d had was going ahead. Sir Richard’s view was “I said I’d be here, so I’m here”.
When asked for three elements needed to succeed, Daniel firstly nominates resilience. “I don’t want to sound like a tough guy here, but business really isn’t for the weak. Unless you’ve got a strong backbone and belief in yourself, you’re going to struggle. Most people will give you a reason why it can’t be possible. If I listened to those, I would’ve never have gone into business.”
His second element is unsurprisingly to have fun along the way. “You can’t get too serious, and it’s very easy to get too serious. So remind yourself to also balance life as best you can”.
Thirdly, Daniel’s belief is that it’s all about people. “Be with great people, internally and externally. John Hatz from VFX, a client of ours who’s been a bit of a mentor to me, has a sign above reception which says ‘We only deal with nice people.’ His view is to ‘Never put yourself as second best. Always make sure you put yourself first and deal with nice people, internally and externally.’ That’s been a great tip for which I’m grateful”
Daniel’s long-standing involvement with charities stems from his upbringing where he relied on op shops like St Vincent de Paul which dressed him for the first 16 or 17 years of his life. Daniel knows only too well the value of those enterprises. “People go through tough times, and so I believe now that I’m in a position to give back, that’s fantastic.”
Daniel lists organisations such as Miracle Babies, Australian Thyroid Foundation, Westmead Medical Research Foundation as ones he has supported over the years. A more recent addition, Our Big Kitchen, is one Daniel admires as doing an amazing job in Sydney.
Direct community involvement is another of Daniel’s ways of giving back. He enjoys speaking at schools to help teenagers in trouble, perhaps going through the same life experience he went through, He enjoys sharing his story and teaching them tips to help them on their journey.
Daniel proudly relates this story to illustrate the point of what can be achieved; “A very shy boy came up to me after many months of a group session I did at a school. He said ‘You’ve really influenced me, and I just wanted to tell you that I got a job at McDonald’s.’ That’s going to change that kid’s life. He’s on a different path now.”
Issuing an invitation to other business owners, Daniel concludes by adding “I know the power of what those actions can do, not only for that individual, but also for society. Other business owners might like to give it a shot and see how it feels. It’s nice to see people do well”.
- “I think failure is important.”
- “I didn’t like school. I actually refer to it as my 13 years of hell.”
- “It’s not man’s dreams that fail him, it’s the lack of know-how required to make those dreams a reality.”
Daniel Davis left home at 13 after surviving a family background of domestic violence, drugs and alcohol abuse. Remarkably, he finished school and built a thriving business. By 23 he had a seven figure income and owned three service stations. He now shares his experience coaching other start-ups.