General Manager, Band, Lavis & Associates, Inc.
Senior Vice President, CDI Marine
The year was 1977.
Jimmy Carter was inaugurated president, a U.S. postage stamp cost
13 cents, the minimum wage was $2.30 an hour, we lost Bing Crosby
and Elvis Presley, but Courageous successfully defended the America's
Cup in four straight races.
David Lavis uses these interesting trivia tidbits to put into
perspective the startup year of Band, Lavis & Associates, Inc.,
the naval architecture company which he founded in Annapolis with
partners Bill Band and Shirley Wilson. "The company for which
we had been working moved out," Lavis explains, "and left us with
office space, furniture and, most importantly, one client to set
us on our way." From that relatively humble beginning, BLA conservatively
and slowly expanded its business base, focusing on its strengths
and its clients' needs.
The naval architects and marine engineers of BLA provide design
and research and development services to the U.S. and other governments
and to the private sector. "Government contracts, either directly
or indirectly, make up the majority of the business," Lavis says.
"We do a lot of overseas work, as well." Lavis cites contracts
with the Finnish navy and shipyard, the Swedish shipyard and Korean,
Japanese and British entities. "It must be clear that we do not
design sailboats," Lavis explains. "We design high-speed power
boats, mostly for the military. We are also very much engaged
in large ships, up to 80,000 tons."
Lavis' fascination with "things that go fast on the surface" goes
way back. He hails from a family boat-building business in England
that started in 1875. He has been sailing since he was 5 years
old and continues to enjoy sailboat racing. At age 18, Lavis left
home and joined a company on the Isle of Wight which sent him
to college and sponsored both his HND (B.S. equivalent) in mechanical
engineering from the Portsmouth Institute of Technology, in England,
and his master's degree in aeronautical engineering at Cranfield
Institute of Technology. Lavis worked for that company seven years.
"It was a company that married boats and aircraft," he explains.
"They actually built sea planesand needed people that had an understanding
of the water as well as aerodynamics."
In 1967, Lavis was recruited by a company in Buffalo, N.Y. "They
made me an offer that I couldn't refuse," he says, "with a 10-fold
increase in income. I had a 5-year-old and an 18- month-old at
that time. We came across on the Queen Mary---first class.
It was absolutely unbelievably wonderful except for the fact that
we experienced the worst storm that ship had seen in nine years.
It took us an extra day to travel across." After suffering through
two New York winters, Lavis and his family decided that was enough.
He accepted a job with an aerospace company in Sacramento, Calif.,
and the family remained on the West Coast until 1974. "My wife
was getting a little homesick, I think, and wanted to go back
to England," Lavis says, "so I convinced her to use Annapolis
as a stepping stone. And we stepped and stayed."
Annapolis reminded Lavis of Cowes on the Isle of Wight. "We lived
right opposite the Royal Yacht Squadron, right across the river,"
he recalls. "We were on one peninsula; they were on the other.
Cowes is the center of sailing in the United Kingdom, as we regard
Annapolis as being the center of sailing here."
Over the last 25 years, delivering quality products has been the
most important challenge for Lavis "because I have made it a challenge.
You have to devote a lot of effort to achieve it, but it can be
fun doing so. I think the toughest thing is growing the business
at a slow but consistently increasing rate. We did grow," he says,
"but we grew at a very slow rate because we were very cautious.
There are a lot of companies that grew too fast and didn't survive."
Business partner Shirley Wilson attributes Lavis' success to "his
attention to detail, attention to business. He is known for his
integrity. We have received so much work because of his attention
and requirement for excellence. You don't often see that in today's
In 1998, Band, Lavis and Associates, Inc. was acquired by CDI
Marine Company and would function as that company's Advanced Naval
Architecture Division. Lavis describes the marriage of the two
companies as mutually beneficial. "CDI Marine was known principally
for their ship detail design expertise," he explains, "while we
were known for our innovative early stage design capability...a
combination that can now offer the full spectrum of naval architectural
and marine engineering services. The acquisition has provided
many more resources in terms of design capability and equipment,
computer resources and software," he explains. "It has made us
now a more complete, full-service organization, allowing us to
bid for much bigger contracts than we were capable of bidding
Lavis enjoys interesting and challenging work that makes a contribution
to society. "One area we have quite a bit of business with right
now concerns supporting the Joint Program Office for Biological
Defense," Lavis says. The systems development, which began last
summer, really went into high gear after September 11. "Specifically,
we are developing systems for sampling air and testing for biological
agents," Lavis explains. "We have our systems in Afghanistan,
in Washington, D.C., and all over." Originally, the Department
of Defense approached the company to waterproof one of their existing
systems. BLA engineers soon discovered that they could not only
waterproof the system, they could build the same system at a fraction
of the cost.
Lavis has been involved in many
rewarding projects over the years, but one particular experience
stands out as being extremely challenging and gratifying. Author
of several hundred technical papers and reports, Lavis was called
to be an expert witness for the government in a patent infringement
suit. "I knew my subject so well," Lavis says. "I think you've
got to know that I've been 42 years in this business and there
isn't anybody in the world right now that knows more about this
topic than I do. And I say that with confidence because they've
all left or they're dead or whatever...they're gone."
The plaintiff in the case had perfected a skirt for hovercraft
in 1957 and was long since deceased when the matter came to court.
His descendants were owners of the patent and claimed that the
U.S. government had infringed on the patent. "The claims that
were being made were trying to put interpretations on the language
in the patent that the inventor clearly had never intended it
to embody," Lavis says. "My job was to look at it technically
and prove [through physics] that what was being claimed was physically
impossible..., that the patent was invalid..., and to show that
the claims in the patent did not apply to the systems that were
built and used by the government." Lavis was successful. "It was
very challenging and a lot of fun," he says.
Lavis enjoys working out at the gym on the buddy system with his
now-adult daughter; he has taken up water color; he cleans his
own house and does his own landscaping; he reads fiction. He also
refuses to end a sentence with a preposition or take his Jaguar
XK-8 convertible out in the rain.
"I guess I will retire someday," he says, "but as long as I remain
healthy and feel that I'm continuing to make a serious contribution,
then I will continue to get up in the morning and look forward
to coming to work."