David Salley didn’t start his company in a predominantly white industry for any reason other than the chance to become part of what he calls an “interesting” and “exciting” endeavor. He wasn’t looking to be a trailblazer or break any barriers.
In fact for most of the first 18 years of DasNet, Salley turned down just about every opportunity to do interviews or speak in public about the work the company was doing and projects they had won. Even today, Salley doesn’t see himself as a role model or someone who should inspire others to do what he does, unless it’s a profession that also interests them.
“I liked the technical challenges AV presented,” says Salley when asked why he added an AV focus to his company in 2003 after starting it with a focus on building military communication systems in 1998 while he was still working for AT&T. “It’s a growing, burgeoning industry. It’s something we knew we could put our mark on. It’s a never-ending process of learning.”
Salley, 45, started DasNet with five employees slowly building it by adding people with audio and codec experience. After designing satellite systems for the U.S. Air Force in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait during the first Gulf War, DasNet partnered with L3 National Security Solutions on a GSA project that created a military communications system with integrated AV in Korea.
“Our engineer designed a system that exceeded the Air Force’s stringent requirements,” says Salley, noting the original equipment was from the Korean War.
“The U.S. military allowed us to do a lot of proof of concept at their expense and we were able to make it work,” says Salley. DasNet has focused heavily on building command and control centers and helped the military discover new ways to create data walls.
Salley joined AT&T as part of its engineering support staff in Saudi Arabia after finishing his tour with the Air Force. Despite his young age, Salley distinguished himself among his crew because of his knowledge, he says. And, while “I got along with everyone,” Salley “kept my mouth shut and worked within the process,” although he felt some level of disdain toward himself because of his age (21 at the start).
Over the years, Salley has certainly run into some level of discrimination, starting with that experience straight out of college. In the early days of DasNet, Salley relied on friend Alan Scarborough when making pitches because he believed customers—mostly generals and colonels—would not be as accepting of a company run by a black man and he was intent on getting the jobs.
These days, though, Salley doesn’t have those same concerns, knowing DasNet has proven itself to be a company worthy of its customers’ trust. DasNet joined USAV Group in February as the buying and integration group’s regional representative.
“I’ve always wanted to be known for my technical skills,” says Salley. “Once you prove yourself, race isn’t an issue. I’ve always been able to bridge the gap.” Government-run customers in the Middle East give companies not run by white people or Europeans low priority when it comes to winning work, says Salley, and he said his DasNet colleague pointed out to him that he was the only black man at a USAV meeting last year, but it’s not something he spends a lot of time thinking about or focusing on.
“I don’t look at it from that perspective, but I know it still exists,” says Salley. “I’m very proud of what we’ve done and who we are.”
USAV Group CEO K.C. Schwarz is excited to have Salley and DasNet as part of the group.
“One key role of USAV is to promote growth and leadership among our members, both as companies and executive leaders,” he says. “Several of our USAV integrators recommended DasNet because David Salley’s leadership has led to rapid growth and strong market success. Although DasNet is a relatively new member, we look forward to tapping David’s obvious talent in a future leadership role within USAV.”
Salley knows he’s unique in the AV world as a black man who runs his own company, but he doesn’t feel any unique pressure to succeed because of that. He’s thankful to those who gave him the opportunity to break into the industry and build his company over the past 17-plus years.
“If it weren’t for those ‘old white guys,’ I wouldn’t know what I know,” says Salley. “They taught me everything I know and I am appreciative of everything they did for me. I don’t want DasNet to be known as a minority firm. We have a diverse staff and all of us have the best interests of our clients in mind.”
Salley “would like to see more diversity in (USAV),” but he knows that will be an uphill battle since AV is not necessarily the focus of young people. Salley has encouraged his daughters, nephews and nieces to focus on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects in hopes of exposing them to new experiences.
“I didn’t know this world existed when I was in school,” says Salley. “It’s interesting and exciting. There’s so much you can do. I am a proud veteran of the U.S. Air Force and I’m extremely sensitive and loyal, if not overly patriotic, to our country. I believe the key to our future in STEM resides within our youth from all reaches of this nation, regardless of race or environment; therefore, I live by the motto ‘each one teach one.’”