By Ken Jensen
Not long after she accepted a senior position in McDonnell Douglas Helicopter Company’s communications department, former East Valley journalist Kyle Davis received an unusual request from an Army retiree who worked at the company as a marketing executive. Thinking she was a clerk or an administrative assistant, he asked her to make him some copies.
The male-dominated good ol’ boy network typical of the aerospace and defense industries was in full force. That executive is long gone. But Davis, now president of BDN Aerospace Marketing, is alive and well and living in the East Valley and her business is thriving within the industries that greeted her so rudely almost 25 years ago.
Running a woman-owned business in a male-dominated industry just hasn’t been an issue for her and her partners, Grace Nakazawa and Mark Bennett.
“Do great work, make money and have fun,” is the principle Davis and Bennett set for themselves 12 years ago when BDN – then known as Bennett-Davis – opened its doors.
“If you do great work, the rest will follow,” Davis said.
And it apparently has followed. From a hard-working, two-person, one-client shop in 1999, BDN has grown to a seven-person, highly-successful niche player in the aerospace and defense industries with a client list that reads like a who’s who in the markets they serve.
Being a niche player also has not been an issue.
Davis said at the beginning the obvious need was finding new clients. She wanted an open approach; Bennett reasoned that a narrow focus would enable them to concentrate on the industries that they already knew. Bennett prevailed and the business flourished.
The current client list includes rotorcraft industry giants Sikorsky and Kaman. Other customers include key service and aircraft accessory suppliers such as AAR, EMS Aviation, Timken, Donaldson Corporation, BLR Aerospace, Air Comm Corporation, Tech Tool Plastics, Blackhawk Modifications, SCB Training, Breeze Eastern and Aeronautical Systems, Inc.
While only a few of these companies are household names, they are leaders in their aerospace and defense industry specialties.
Davis and Bennett, also a McDonnell Douglas veteran, flourished against big odds at the beginning. While MD Helicopters was a strong base from which to start a business, the events of 9/11 hit the entire industry hard, including Bennett-Davis.
BDN’s business survived because the company stayed with its game plan of focusing on the industries the partners knew best.
Nakazawa, also a McDonnell Douglas/Boeing veteran who worked closely with both Davis and Bennett at the aerospace giant, joined them as a partner in 2000. The trio works seamlessly as a team with Davis as president and the face of the business, Nakazawa in charge of operations and production, and Bennett running the graphics function and adding his industry acumen to the overall business.
“Being woman-owned hasn’t made a whit of difference,” Davis says. “Our clients want someone who knows how to get results.”
Being located in Mesa isn’t an issue, either. BDN clients stretch to the four corners of the United States. “Our business is not defined by geography,” Davis says. The company serves customers from southern California to New England, from Florida to Seattle, and points in between.
The company’s advertising and marketing products also are not limited by geography. BDN-created ads appear in publications published in the U.S., Canada, Europe, South America, Australia and Asia. If you read the leading world-wide aviation and defense trade and general interest publications, you’ve seen BDN-created ads.
Reading these same publications, you’ve likely also seen client-focused stories that originated through BDN’s public relations efforts. One of their recent high visibility successes was naming and branding Sikorsky’s next generation X2 technology and the company’s S-92 Raider.
They also have developed strategies for both domestic and international trade shows, including the Paris and Farnborough air shows, two of the largest and most important events in the aerospace industry.
“We are highly competitive because we specialize,” Davis says. “Besides our people, that’s the reason for our success. We have a phenomenal team.”
And, she says, BDN’s experience makes it easier to assist clients in developing their marketing strategies. “Our job is to make our clients look good,” Davis says.
Their list of industry awards may be an indication of success in that effort. The awards include multiple Gold Quill awards from the International Association of Business Communicators and numerous top scoring ads in industry and trade publications serving the aerospace and defense marketplace.
The “do great work” portion of the business plan appears to be on track. Apparently, so is the “make money” part. Davis says 2011 will likely end up being the best year since the company opened.