Dale J. Davis – Cummins Inc.
When your employer is the world’s largest independent engine manufacturer, you’re expected to perform with precision. Whatever your department, you, too, have got to be part of a fine-tuned corporate engine.
So it goes with Dale J. Davis, who’s had much to do with keeping transactional processes humming since joining the Cummins Inc. legal staff in August 2020 as chief patent counsel. Promoted one year later to chief intellectual property counsel and deputy general counsel, he’s been at the fulcrum of complex deals that’ll have much to do with shaping the company’s future in a dynamic industry.
“We have the foresight to say that at some point there is going to be less demand for traditional engines,” Davis tells Vanguard in November. “What keeps me so energized about Cummins is the nuanced strategies that the Cummins Leadership Team employs to lean into the disruptive technologies while still providing world-class products in core technologies, as we have many customers worldwide.”
The Indianapolis-headquartered Cummins should be well prepared to meet these needs as it embraces the change in the industry. The past couple of years have been a game-changer, with Davis and his team supporting various transactions and M&A deals, corralling IP and technology. While much remains to be sorted out, he says everything’s been moving forward and reasonably on schedule.
A great integrator
In August 2022, Davis helped Cummins finalize a couple of acquisitions, including its largest ever, the $3.7 billion purchase of Meritor, a global supplier of drivetrain, mobility, braking and electric powertrain solutions for commercial vehicle and industrial markets. With around 10,000 employees being part of the acquisition, Davis has had much to integrate—Cummins is handling projects worldwide, some in joint ventures, and needs to ensure all teams have the necessary tools and support.
Around the time when Davis was helping to bring Meritor into the fold, Cummins was bringing another vertical into its business model by purchasing Jacobs Vehicle Systems. Jacobs, a supplier of engine braking, cylinder deactivation, and start-and-stop thermal management technologies, gives Cummins additional technologies to meet current and future needs.
More recently, Davis has been part of an ongoing divesture of Atmus Filtration Technologies, a Cummins division that went public last May after raising $275 million in its initial public offering. Davis explains that it’s been a complicated process. Though Atmus has been part of the Cummins family, not all its IP is under one entity, leaving the legal staff with more details to sort through.
“We’re not just spinning off a company to be on its own”,” Davis says. “For the first time, we’re spinning off a company that went public and going through the process of packaging great tech employees and leaders. Legally and emotionally, it’s hard.”
Then there’s Cummins, having launched in 2023 a new brand, Accelera, that includes a variety of technologies such as fuel cells and batteries, which should be building blocks in the zero-emissions technologies. This is a transitional change as opposed to a fast pivot, but through prudent strategy, the company can be prepared for the present with an eye on the future that also brings artificial intelligence into the equation.
DEI’s good business
The prudency extends to an area whose value Davis says is underrated regarding a company’s overall performance. He says DEI—diversity, equity, inclusion—is as much about sound business as socially appropriate. Being a Black man, he’s proud to mentor junior professionals of color and participate in Cummins Cares, which provides various support programs to underserved communities.
As a trustee of the Rochester Institute of Technology, he chairs the Trustee Committee on DEI. Building upon the experiences he gained as a Co-leader of GE Legal’s DEI subcommittee on benchmarking. He is very proud of the measurable success of his mentees, and organizations, he has helped in this regard.
For Davis, it’s all part of being in-house counsel to a leader in a fast-evolving industry. There might be some irony here; he is immersed in projects that must proceed incrementally for practicality’s sake. Ideally, he’d like to speed the processes up. Davis was a high school sprinter who planned to be on a collegiate track and field team until an untreated knee injury sidelined him.
“Losing an athletic scholarship was humbling, but it taught me the importance of adapting quickly to unexpected change,” Davis says.
A long legal journey
M&A and patent protection, however, can be marathons, not sprints, but Davis has pivoted. Time was when he might have been in the drawing room, a much younger Davis having been encouraged by a teacher to pursue mechanical engineering, though the armed forces also appealed—he was from a family with a military heritage. He’d satisfy both urges, enlisting as a 17-year-old in the U.S. Army, serving in infantry and special operations-civil affairs, and ascending to sergeant in three years while juggling curriculum at the Rochester Institute of Technology, where he graduated in 1996 with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering.
He recalls being at a crossroads at RIT after becoming interested in law school. Having accumulated much student loan debt, Davis reckoned he’d work and wound up at the right place, GE Power, which sent him overseas, including Milan, Italy, for nearly a year, where he learned the language and was part of a team developing control systems for power plants.
He logged five years in many international locales with GE Power and, in the process, married and finally felt that law school couldn’t stay on hold. Davis wanted to experience an HBCU school—a historically black college or university., so he opted for North Carolina Central University School of Law, graduating in 2004 and, after a couple of years as an IP associate at Moore & Van Allen in North Carolina, returned to GE, where he had roles in Atlanta, Fairfield, Conn., and Greenville, S.C., making full use of his engineering credentials by becoming a patent and IP counsel.
After a total of 21 years, Davis left GE in 2020 to join Cummins Inc., which has the potential to be his most consequential career stop, with the company on the cutting edge of green engineering technologies. Meaningful as that is, it’s not all he finds fulfilling about this post.
“The Cummins culture embraces me and has let me be myself,” he says. “In previous roles, I sometimes felt like an outsider. At Cummins, I felt like an insider from day one.”
The greater good for Davis is threefold: support the aims of his leaders, create a culture where people can flourish, and make the Cummins IP tools, processes, and people highly regarded worldwide.
“My parents emigrated to America from Trinidad & Tobago. I am the first American-born son of Cyril and Beverly Davis. While the journey was tough, I give all credit to my mother. Through tremendous hardships, my mother instilled in me a burning desire to think through any problem life sends us. Think ahead and move forward in a prudent way,” he says.
Davis lives in Greenville with his wife, Nicole, and two daughters, Naje and Solange. Their encouragement, understanding, and support are his secret sauce.
“I have been very unconventional and didn’t take the traditional road,” Davis says. “However, to paraphrase Robert Frost, I chose the road less traveled, which made all the difference.”
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