When Commercial Integrator created its #AVLivingLegends series several months ago, our team had people like David Danto of HP in mind. Danto is the rare industry superstar who never carries himself like one. Instead, he embraces the model of being a servant leader, always looking to help others and serve the greater industry good. He does that today in several capacities: as director of emerging technologies with the IMCCA; as director of UC strategy and research on the Thought Leadership Team at HP; and as editor of Collaboration Today and Tomorrow.
In this conversation, Danto reflects on living out his values throughout his career. He beats the drum on the importance of networking, as well as why it’s critical to make yourself available to fellow industry members as a resource, partner and a friend. In short, Danto gives us a glimpse into why he’s a mensch and a veritable living legend in the AV industry.
Enjoy this conversation with David Danto of HP.
Commercial Integrator: What motivated you to join the commercial AV industry? What has kept you motivated and engaged in the decades that followed?
David Danto: I’ve always been drawn to areas where technology and creativity are combined. Production and engineering in theater, television, radio and AV are all awesome sandboxes to work and play in. When you “do it right” in any of those media, you can drive unparalleled experiences and engage people’s deepest emotions. We make our audiences laugh, cry, stay connected and get angry enough to change something — all using our technology. We can do all that, and we kept the world in business and families and friends connected during the worst pandemic of our lifetime. That’s what we can do. That’s the power of AV and collaboration tools when things are done right.
I stay motivated because there are always new technologies and new ways of combining and massaging them into even better experiences. And I’m here to try them all.
Commercial Integrator: Reflect on your role as both a mentee early in your career and as a mentor later in your career at HP. Who helped shape the trajectory of your professional life? How have you tried to help shape others’ careers?
David Danto: In 1978, I had my first internship at the AT&T corporate television studio in New York City. I learned so many things from the team that worked there — both what to do and what not to do. It was a great crew, and I’ve been lucky enough to stay in touch with (and sometimes work with) some of them to this day. (I recommend as strongly as possible taking internships early in one’s education path. It teaches things never found in the classroom, and it helps one to get started building a professional network.)
Throughout my career, I have been a champion of teaching while doing and making sure that I created learning opportunities for anyone who was interested. I’m proud of my many contributions, whether it was presenting an education session to a conference audience or showing one person how to set up some technology. In addition, I also have personally created networking opportunities in our space via my own events, as well as dinners that I host to this day.
Commercial Integrator: What’s the most memorable story/anecdote of your career in commercial AV, whether at HP or before?
David Danto: I have so many that it’s hard to choose! One TV production facility called me in to calibrate their audio because it was all over the place. I crawled around with my DMM, checking everything. Most of the tech staff made fun of “the geek with the meter.” But one of them really wanted to learn what I was doing. He went on to a great engineering career. He’s just one of a number of people who worked for or with me over the years (and whom I trained) who then went on to have very successful careers in our industry. And they’re still friends and, in many cases, clients now.
I also remember the time that a client reached out to me personally (on Facebook Messenger), on a Friday evening, when he was having problems setting up an international video feed for the next day. Most firms wouldn’t be available late at night and/or on a weekend, but I was taught that knowledge of a problem is ownership. I contacted the right people to help, and we all worked on the problem into the night until everything worked perfectly.
David Danto of HP Reflects on Incredible Memories
I could relate dozens of stories about things like operating a Steadicam outdoors during Hurricane Floyd; or designing and building America’s first self-contained, multi-building university cable television system using microwave links to cross public rights of way; or building a TV and radio studio in the “rule-and-regulation-intensive” Rockefeller Center; or building a huge digital-signage display in Times Square; or designing and managing the implementation of collaboration and AV facilities in countless buildings…. But I’d need more space for that than we have available.
Commercial Integrator: What has been your greatest professional accomplishment to date? What has been your biggest professional regret to date?
David Danto: I’m proudest of the person I’ve become and the awesome company that I represent. I’ve spent a four-plus-decade career being true to myself and my beliefs, never compromising on doing the right thing regardless of any consequences. I’ve taught and shared freely, and I’ve never hesitated to call out a new technology as “The Emperor’s New Clothes” when that was appropriate. People know they can reach me, people can count on me, and people trust me to be honest and reliable — and I couldn’t be prouder of the confidence they have in me. The same goes for working for HP, as they stand out as an organization that actually does what they say they. They practice what they preach about diversity, sustainability, innovation, product releases and lots more.
As far as regrets are concerned, my late father used to say, “We are the sum total of everything that happened before.” I wouldn’t be who I am today if not for all the mistakes that I learned from yesterday. About the only thing in the past that I’d change, if I could, is picking the right lottery numbers!
Commercial Integrator: What’s the best advice or pearl of wisdom that you either received during your career or came to realize on your own?
David Danto: Nothing in your career is as important as developing and nurturing your network. Get out there. Volunteer. Speak with others who do similar things. Compare notes. And do all this not just when you’re looking for a new job; instead, do it all the time. As you mature in your career, you will know whom to contact and whom to call when you need help and advice, and people will know they can reach out to you.
And — always remember — it’s never wrong to do the right thing. How we behave both in public and when no one will ever know what we’re doing is how to gauge our integrity.
Would you like to nominate a peer or colleague — or perhaps yourself! — to be featured in this #AVLivingLegends series, just as David Danto of HP was? If so, just email Dan Ferrisi, editor-in-chief of Commercial Integrator, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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