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Erroll Davis, Jr.

Education administrator Erroll Brown Davis, Jr. was born on August 5, 1944 and grew up in a working-class neighborhood in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. While Davis had a close relationship with his parents, Erroll, Sr. and Eleanor, his strongest influence as a child was his grandfather, John Boykin, a Georgia farmer who had migrated to Pittsburgh and worked as a chauffeur.
Davis graduated from high school at age sixteen, and then worked his way through Carnegie-Mellon University, becoming, along with his sister Diana who graduated the same year, the first members of his family to graduate from college. Davis received his B.S. degree in electrical engineering from Carnegie-Mellon University in 1965 at the age of twenty. He moved to Chicago for graduate school, receiving his M.B.A. degree in finance from the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business in 1967.

Following his graduation from Chicago, Davis worked briefly at ARCO, an international oil company, and then spent two years as an U.S. Army officer during the Vietnam War. In 1969, Davis joined the Ford Motor Company as a systems analyst. He later spent five years working in corporate finance at Xerox Corporation. Davis worked for Ford Motor Company until 1973, when he left for a position in Stamford, CT with Xerox Corporation, with whom he was affiliated until 1978. At Xerox, his focus was on strategic financial planning. Prior to the creation of Alliant Energy, Davis worked at Wisconsin Power and Light Company (WPL). From 1978 to 1990, Davis received several promotions through the senior management ranks at WPL, starting as vice president of finance and ending as CEO and President.

Davis’ higher education experience includes serving as a member of the University of the Wisconsin System Board of Regents from 1987 to 1994, and as a former chairman of the board of trustees of Carnegie Mellon University, where he is a life member. From 2006 to 2011, Davis served as chancellor of the University System of Georgia. He was appointed superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools in July of 2011. He is a member of the board of directors of General Motors and Union Pacific Corp., and serves on the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) board and on the advisory board of the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) along with numerous professional associations and civic organizations. He is a former member of the U.S. Olympic Committee Board (2004-2008) and the University of Chicago Board of Trustees.

Davis is the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including recognition as one of the Atlanta Business Chronicle’s “100 Most Influential Atlantans,” one of the “75 Most Powerful Blacks in Corporate America” by Black Enterprise Magazine. Davis also was named one of the “50 Most Powerful Black Executives in America” by Fortune Magazine in 2002 and received the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the University of Chicago’s Graduate School of Business in 1993. In addition, Davis was honored by the magazine U.S. Black Engineer as the “Black Engineer of the Year” in 1988.

Davis and his wife, Elaine, live and in work in Atlanta, Georgia.

Erroll B. Davis was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on December 17, 2012.

Accession Number

A2012.251

Sex

Male

Interview Date

12/17/2012

Last Name

Davis

Maker Category
Middle Name

B.

Schools

University of Chicago Booth School of Business

Carnegie Mellon University

Westinghouse Academy

First Name

Erroll

Birth City, State, Country

Pittsburgh

HM ID

DAV27

Favorite Season

Fall

State

Pennsylvania

Favorite Vacation Destination

Anywhere

Favorite Quote

All Problems Are Leadership Problems.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Georgia

Interview Description
Birth Date

8/5/1944

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Atlanta

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Pork Chops (Smothered)

Short Description

Education administrator Erroll Davis, Jr. (1944 - ) served as the chancellor of the University System of Georgia and was appointed superintendent of the Atlanta Public Schools in 2011.

Employment

Atlanta Public Schools

University System of Georgia

WPL Holdings

Wisconsin Power & Light, Inc.

Ford Motor Company

Xerox

Alliant Energy

Favorite Color

Green

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Erroll Davis, Jr.'s interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Erroll Davis, Jr. lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Erroll Davis, Jr. describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Erroll Davis, Jr. talks about his maternal grandparents' move to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Erroll Davis, Jr. talks about his maternal relatives' names

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Erroll Davis, Jr. describes his mother's education

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Erroll Davis, Jr. describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Erroll Davis, Jr. describes his father's education

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Erroll Davis, Jr. remembers his father's aspirations

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Erroll Davis, Jr. talks about his maternal grandparents' employers

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Erroll Davis, Jr. describes his parents' personalities

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Erroll Davis, Jr. remembers his parents' discipline

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Erroll Davis, Jr. talks about his sister

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Erroll Davis, Jr. talks about the Homewood community in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Erroll Davis, Jr. describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Erroll Davis, Jr. recalls his parents' civic involvement

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Erroll Davis, Jr. talks about his father's career

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Erroll Davis, Jr. remembers his early academic success

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Erroll Davis, Jr. remembers his early work experiences

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Erroll Davis, Jr. remembers entering kindergarten at four years old

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Erroll Davis, Jr. remembers an influential teacher

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Erroll Davis, Jr. describes his hobbies

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Erroll Davis, Jr. recalls his start at Westinghouse Junior Senior High School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Erroll Davis, Jr. remembers his favorite teacher at Westinghouse Junior Senior High School

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Erroll Davis, Jr. describes his extracurricular activities

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Erroll Davis, Jr. remembers his high school graduation

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Erroll Davis, Jr. talks about his university applications

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Erroll Davis, Jr. remembers meeting his wife

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Erroll Davis, Jr. describes his course of study at Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Erroll Davis, Jr. describes his course of study at Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Erroll Davis, Jr. remembers his activities at the Carnegie Institute of Technology

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Erroll Davis, Jr. recalls his decision to attend the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Erroll Davis, Jr. remembers the black community on the South Side of Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Erroll Davis, Jr. talks about his mentors at the University of Chicago, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Erroll Davis, Jr. talks about his mentors at the University of Chicago, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Erroll Davis, Jr. recalls his graduation from the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Erroll Davis, Jr. remembers enlisting in the U.S. Army

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Erroll Davis, Jr. describes his time in the U.S. Army

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Erroll Davis, Jr. recalls working at the Ford Motor Company

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Erroll Davis, Jr. remembers joining the Xerox Corporation

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Erroll Davis, Jr. recalls his time at the Xerox Corporation

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Erroll Davis, Jr. describes his career at the Wisconsin Power and Light Company

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Erroll Davis, Jr. recalls leaving the Alliant Energy Corporation

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Erroll Davis, Jr. talks about forming the Alliant Energy Corporation, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Erroll Davis, Jr. talks about forming the Alliant Energy Corporation, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Erroll Davis, Jr. talks about the representation of African Americans among corporate executives

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Erroll Davis, Jr. recalls his appointment as chancellor of the University System of Georgia

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Erroll Davis, Jr. talks about his membership on the board of BP P.L.C.

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Erroll Davis, Jr. describes his chancellorship of the University System of Georgia

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Erroll Davis, Jr. talks about the historically black colleges in the State of Georgia

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Erroll Davis, Jr. recalls his appointment as the interim superintendent of the Atlanta Public Schools

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Erroll Davis, Jr. remembers the discovery of the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Erroll Davis, Jr. describes the aftermath of the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Erroll Davis, Jr. reflects upon the problems in the Atlanta Public Schools

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Erroll Davis, Jr. talks about the strategies for increasing student achievement

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Erroll Davis, Jr. talks about school disciplinary policy

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Erroll Davis, Jr. describes his plans for the future

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Erroll Davis, Jr. reflects upon his life

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Erroll Davis, Jr. describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 6 Story: 10 - Erroll Davis, Jr. talks about his family

Tape: 6 Story: 11 - Erroll Davis, Jr. reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 6 Story: 12 - Erroll Davis, Jr. describes his advice to aspiring businesspeople

Tape: 6 Story: 13 - Erroll Davis, Jr. describes how he would like to be remembered

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Erroll Davis, Jr. narrates his photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

4$6

DAStory

2$3

DATitle
Erroll Davis, Jr. talks about his mentors at the University of Chicago, pt. 1
Erroll Davis, Jr. describes the aftermath of the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal
Transcript
So, now, were there any particular--did--was there--did you have an advisor, I guess, in the business department there?$$ No, I didn't, but I had truly great professors who were giants in their field, such as Sidney Davidson. I wanted, in my naivete, to waive accounting, which I just thought seemed boring and dull. And, and after a while, after going back and forth, they finally said, "Look, son, you are going to take accounting." And so I took accounting, and I found it trivially easy, because they were solving for the concept of an unknown, and that's what engineers do every day of their life, except there's a lot of dog work and rules and steps to get to these. And I just aced every exam, every, every homework because it was just trivially easy. But the one thing I do remember is that Dr. Davidson called me in after one exam, and he said, "You've got this entire section 100 percent wrong on the test." And I said, "What, what are you talking about?" And he said, "Well, your answers are all wrong." And I looked at them, and I said, "Oh, my God, I misread the instructions. I thought it meant this." And he said, "That's what I was afraid of. I thought that I had done something wrong 'cause you're such a good student." And he said, "And I could see how you could interpret it that way. So I'm just gonna give you a quick quiz on the spot." So he gave me a quick verbal quiz, and I aced them, and so he gave me like an A plus in the course. But I never forgot that, because he knew I was such a student that I wouldn't screw up, other than the directions not being good, and he took that upon himself. But then he says to me after the course, he said, "You know, Erroll [HistoryMaker Erroll Davis, Jr.], this was too easy for you, and you obviously are walking around here with this I'm a hotshot attitude. So I'll tell you what: how would you like to make even more money by being a grader for me the next semester?" And I said, "Sure, no problem; I'll do that." And I learned more accounting being a grader, looking at how people could go wrong than I did from sitting in a lecture listening to how it should be done, because once they told me how it should be done I would do it. That way I would apply rules, solve for unknowns, but it was just stunning to me the mistakes that people could make and misapplying the rules. And I had fun caustically correcting them and saying such things as, "Congratulations, you just proved two plus two equal five." And we had a, had a good time. But I'll never forget him. He is a great man, a great professor. And a lot--and I went through life and went through there with a, I think, a, an unmerited and unwant- unwarranted degree of insouciance and arrogance. I remember having a course with Gene Fama [Eugene Fama], who is the father of random walk theory of the stock market. But he was a full professor at University of Chicago [University of Chicago Graduate School of Business; University of Chicago Booth School of Business, Chicago, Illinois], and he was probably not even thirty years old at that point in time a full professor. And we played basketball together. And I remember one question on one exam where he said you know, list the contributions of Pierce [ph.], Arrow [Kenneth Arrow], couple of other people, and Fama to capital asset pricing theory. And I said you know, how arrogant, to give a course and have somebody list your contributions on their--I mean, he was right. But at that point I remember writing the answer, was that I felt that Fama's contributions were really nothing more than sophisticated mathematical reformulations of somebody else's theories. You know, that sort of set him off, but we got a kick out of that as, as well. And so, I had a great time. I mean, things that people take for gospel in business education and in M.B.A. programs were, in fact, being invented in the middle '60s [1960s].$I don't want to be known as the worst performing school, because with the rise of charter schools, people will take kids out of my school, and pretty soon they'll close it. And so I have to demonstrate to parents that they should send their kids here. They'll get good education and good grades here, even though there is not a lot of integrity in that process.$$Okay, okay. So, you said it's taken a, a year to, and you're still not quite at the, at the--finished with this investigation?$$ Well, the--one of the reasons this has taken so long is that the special prosecutors turned their evidence over to the district attorney. They didn't turn their evidence over to us. And so the only evidence we've ever had is that which the district attorney has seen fit to share. And that sharing has been a lot slower than we would have liked, but I respect that he's trying to put together criminal cases and conspiracy cases. So they're not giving out a lot of information, particularly at the admin level or in this office, as opposed to, well, we're not gonna bother with some people at this school, so you can have the information related to such and such school.$$So the, the perpetrators of these, of this cheating [on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests] face two forms of jeopardy I guess. They, they can lose their job, or, or be penalized in Atlanta Public Schools, or face criminal prosecution too, or both.$$ Yeah, there's three, actually, avenues.$$Okay.$$ One, of course, is our administrative reviews here at APS. The second is the Professional Standards Commission [Georgia Professional Standards Commission], our licensing body; they can get their license revoked. And in fact, they've revoked some licenses before we get to hearing our own administrative hearings. And we say well, you know, you're not gonna have a license. I can't put you in a classroom without a license anyway. Even if it is under appeal, I can't take the risk of the appeal being sustained and me having to take you out of the classroom. And so, my need to serve children with a stable teacher is greater than your need to be placed in the classroom. And the third avenue is the criminal avenue. When you falsify official documents it's criminal. When you order somebody to destroy evidence it's criminal, for example. And so we have all three, three avenues working, you know--$$Okay.$$ --although the district attorney has yet to file anything or make any charge.$$Okay, okay. All right, so this is--but, I guess the scandal side, what, what are--what things are you trying to do with the Atlanta public school system to bring it up to where--$$ Well--$$--it needs to be?$$ --we spend a lot of time here putting an effective teacher in every classroom. And then we surround that effective teacher with some of the worst systems imaginable, registration systems that don't work, scheduling systems that don't work, inconsistently and sometimes inappropriately applied discipline systems, et cetera. And so, what we have is a plan that says I'm gonna get these operational things working; I'm going to hire and train and retrain great people, that's a second. The third is I'm gonna put in more rigorous curriculum around the Common Core [Common Core State Standards Initiative]. And this is all this three tiers should lead to improve student achievement, higher graduation rates, lower dropout rates, et cetera.