1990 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"I tell young people to be honest. If you're not honest, you're dead in the water."
Bill Davis was born in 1905 on a small farm in San Augustine, Texas. As a youngster, he hoed cotton for 50 cents a day. When he had saved $12, he left home and took a job as an addressograph operator with the Gulf Refining Company. When he did the work assigned to him that was supposed to take two weeks in less than three days, the head of payroll promoted him to be his assistant. "It was so much easier than picking cotton, I didn't realize I was breaking records for speed," he once said.
Davis left the refinery to work in a country store, where he learned the skills of selling and promotion. From there, he had sales positions with several Texas oil companies. During the Depression he succeeded in getting contracts with the only firms doing much business-contractors building roads for the state. In 1933, at the age of 28, Davis lost $136,000 in the stock market crash. He walked out of his broker's office with just $60 in his pocket. "I can't remember losing one hour's sleep over going broke," he said. "I knew prosperity was out there and all I had to do was go out and get it."
Davis went to Wichita Falls and took over a wholesale distribution agency for Sinclair. The agency became the most outstanding of its size in the nation. In 1946, he opened the first Frito plant east of the Mississippi River, in Washington, D. C. He sold it to H. W. Lay Company in 1956, and Lay subsequently merged with the Frito Company of Dallas, forming Frito-Lay, Inc.
Davis later joined Dr Pepper in Roanoke, Virginia. Eventually, he became chairman of Dr Pepper Bottling Companies of Virginia. Soon, the franchise had the highest per capita consumption of Dr Pepper in the United States, making Davis a member of the Beverage Hall of Fame. He resigned as chairman in 1975.
Davis was active for many years in Roanoke civic affairs. He spent 30 years on the board of directors of Dominion Bancshares Corporation and was chairman of the executive committee for several years. When asked what made him a success, Davis said, "I just had to do it. It just had to be. There are more opportunities for today's young people than there were in my youth, but you have to work hard and stay competitive. I was more than lucky. The good Lord patted me on the back until I became stooped."* Deceased