There isn’t any doubt that João and Leah Simões, Co-Founders of Davenport Aviation, are a bona fide power team. In truth, their road to success wasn’t an easy one to take. Nor was it the most obvious. But in always seeing the forest through the trees, João and Leah trail-blazed a path worth noting – and worth emulating.
As with many such tales, it begins with one man’s search for opportunity.
A Chance Meeting
Born in Brazil, João Simões always imagined he’d one day own his own company. He was simply a man driven by his ambitions – a journey that brought him to the US in 2001.
For the first few years in his new home, João worked as a painter and flooring installer. But he wanted more. In 2005, he found it in the form of a beautiful and ambitious young lady named Leah. The couple quickly fell in love and everything began to change.
The two married and Leah, fresh out of college, landed a well-paying job in the DC area working in government relations. Inspired by Leah’s achievement, João made his own move to attend college himself, eventually earning his bachelor’s degree in International Business from Strayer University. Life was good and the couple was well on their way to achieving their 5 year plan.
Degree in hand, João soon found himself employed for an aviation parts supply company where he uncovered his true passion in sales. This newfound passion immediately opened new doors, flying João to Africa where he successfully established a market with Portuguese-speaking airliners. He quickly gained responsibility, becoming the Regional Manager for Africa operations – an experience which would be invaluable in shaping his understanding of the industry and trade.
Life moved quickly in those early years. The couple soon had their first child and João was gaining confidence every day in his new role. Yet, while so many doors had indeed opened, others still remained closed. A lingering idea stirred in João’s mind – he could do things better if only he had his own company.
Then came 2009.
Leah lost her job, another casualty of the ongoing recession. Meanwhile, João continued to work in his. Progress had halted – regressed even – and everything that had looked so positive a year prior now appeared to be moving in a downward spiral.
The couple’s response may surprise you.
Rather than wallow amidst the wreckage of economic adversity, João and Leah saw opportunity. They saw their chance.
“The market crashed, the recession hit big time, I had lost my job and so we had an opportunity to do it,” Leah remembers. “It was the only thing that we were going to do. This is it. We’re doing it now.”
In a great leap of faith, João left his job. The couple knew they could forge their own way by doing things better. And with the knowledge and experience João gained in Africa, they had somewhere to start. This fledgling idea soon came to be called Davenport Aviation, named after the street where their life had begun in DC.
Down the rabbit hole they went.
From The Runway To The Skies
The beginning months were a crawl. The nature of the aviation business, which João knew well, often requires the prospective distributor to front money for any parts purchased. The distributor sells at a markup, allowing an airliner to finance the purchase over time. In short, João estimated Davenport Aviation would need near a million just to get started.
Money the couple didn’t have.
Fortunately, João and Leah were able to capitalize on João’s experience in Africa. As a native Portuguese speaker from Brazil, João was also in an excellent position to acquire new clients as well.
“That was a very niche market. Portuguese speaking countries in Africa? There’s only a handful of them,”Leah describes. “It’s an in. It’s one in. Because these countries are very relationship based… the language was a big piece of being able to get in and start to build relationships.”
That niche market proved fruitful as João quickly secured a small order from a regional airliner in Angola in November of 2009 – an order the company paid cash for. The result was $40,000 in profit. It was modest, but enough to allow the company to continue moving forward.
Shortly thereafter, another order came in. This one was bigger. Much bigger. It was an entire aircraft engine totaling an impressive $500,000, finally enabling Davenport Aviation to truly take off. In Leah’s own words, “That gave us the capital that we needed to start a business.”
Davenport Aviation’s successful start didn’t stop Leah and João from continuing to take risks. In an effort to increase business, the couple packed and moved their business from Washington, DC to Columbus, Ohio, where Leah is originally from. The move represented so much more than a sentimental homecoming.
“Columbus has so much to offer in terms of cost of living,” Leah praises. “Everything the city of Columbus—Mayor Coleman—is doing to make this city a desirable place to live and work, is bringing so much talent, so much business. You can see it happening right in front of your eyes.”
Davenport Aviation had arrived. Now positioned in the right location with the right ideas, João and Leah were poised to take Davenport to places that months before seemed impossible.
Together, João and Leah had to figure things out the long way. They had a combined zero years of experience running a business and knew little about aircraft component parts. Building on their dream required patience, tenacity, and the ability to take everything in stride.
Five short years later, Davenport Aviation has 15 clients around the globe, is coming off a 5.5 million year in sales, and has several clients carrying $500,000+ credit lines. It’s no wonder Leah likens the frantic pace of her small business to that of the New York Stock Exchange. With only eleven employees, Davenport Aviation drives a lot of international business.
And they are gaining recognition, too. The couple was named Entrepreneurs of the Year by Ernst and Young in 2013 and Davenport came in at #10 on the Fast Fifty this year.
Speaking with Leah, her passion and love for her business is unmistakable. “I’ve always wanted to have my own company since I was a very little girl,” she says. “So this is a dream for me, this is a dream come true. I’m doing it right now.”