Rich Davis: Keeping Airline Passengers Safe Worldwide
With thousands of employees and passengers in the air every day of the year, as well as having to comply with a variety of regulations and being accountable to both travelers and the government, United Airlines’ Managing Director of Global Security and Compliance, Rich Davis, has a big job. “We are responsible for revenue protection, passenger facilitation, compliance with customs and border protection laws, compliance with all countries’ security laws, company investigations and compliance with our regulators,” says Davis. “Another major part of our department’s role is the geo-political oversight of the world, including the United States.”
Despite the enormity of his job, Davis enjoys the relationships he has developed with other airlines. “While the airlines are tremendous competitors, in the security world, we are the best of teammates because if any airline is struck by a security threat, we’re all under the microscope,” Davis says.
He has also built relationships with regulators such as the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and other governments around the world. “Even though they are the regulators, we have the same mission,” says Davis. “My role in aviation security has exposed me to security leaders from around the world in multiple sectors. Quite simply said, these security leaders are some of the finest and most talented people in the world, and the opportunity to collaborate with them on the variety of security challenges that we all face is quite rewarding and special.”
Davis has been in the airline security business for decades, starting when he was a teenager in the early 1970s and Richard Nixon ordered airport security. “I spent some time out at the airports in Chicago then,” Davis says. “After graduating college, I went into the corporate office of the same company I had done security for, and I was running all of the airport security for that company.” Soon, he was hired by United Airlines, and when the Pan Am 103 tragedy struck 10 years later, “people knew that I had the security background at airports, and thus began my security career.”
The biggest security challenge in Davis’s sector is simply that airlines tend to be a major target. “That is what has driven the important relationships with the other airlines, with the regulators, and with the intelligence community of the U.S. government and other governments,” he says. “When there is a history of successful terrorist plots, you understand why that makes what we do so important to our companies.”
Some of Davis’s main focuses are the anti-terrorism effort, hiring qualified staff, and making sure that staff is well-trained. “We ensure that our security personnel in the field are properly trained, knowledgeable on what their responsibilities are and on the execution of the security requirements that all governments have in place,” Davis says. “That includes a significant investment by our company in conducting airport audits around the world. We also have worldwide geographically and strategically placed security employees.”
United’s C-suite has always given Davis and his team their full support. “This company has allowed us to do whatever it takes to maintain the protection of our passengers, employees and corporate assets,” says Davis. Many of his team members have been appointed chairmen and chairwomen of working groups and have been invited to speak at major venues as well. Davis himself has been elected the chairman of Airlines for America six times and four times for the international airlines. “It’s an honor and humbling to be recognized with this responsibility,” he says.
Davis measures security’s value within the company simply by the fact that the doors are always open. “Security, like safety, is our culture. Safety is a part of everybody’s responsibilities,” he says. “Security is everyone’s responsibility. It’s just embedded in our daily thought process through our worldwide network. The safety and security of our employees and customers is our top priority every day.”
The hardest part of the job is the never-ending responsibility 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. “We don’t turn off,” Davis acknowledges. “What makes that tolerable is that nobody on our team shies away from that. They’re motivated by our responsibilities, and they all have a do-what-it-takes attitude.”
When he has time off, Davis likes to spend time with his family, participate in sports, and go to concerts. “I am a major Chicago sports fan of the White Sox, Blackhawks, Bears and the Bulls, not the other team,” he says. “I’ve also found time to see the Rolling Stones 37 times.”
Annual Revenue: $36 billion
Security Budget: $30 million