It’s now the first week of 2018, but I had lunch with David Young in the middle of December on a particularly bleak day filled with ash, smoke, and fire. David’s optimism was — pun intended — a breath of fresh air. This Santa Barbara maverick has reinvented himself many times, and his was the perfect story to hear while heading into the new year.
Born and raised in the hills of Goleta, David attended Dos Pueblos High School and grew up playing in bands around Santa Barbara. “This was before any bands got record deals,” he recalls. “I thought it was an impossible dream.” So he headed south to San Diego State University to major in advertising.
But the music business kept calling and he gave it a try after graduating, working his way up the ranks in the Urban Music Department at MCA Records. “I thought I could discover bands,” he says, but he was never given the chance.
David decided to do it on his own. He came across an intriguing new band in Santa Barbara that needed development. “This was in the early ‘90s when Nirvana had just broke,” says David, who helped craft the image of the band that would eventually become Dishwalla. “I wrote a business plan for them in back of a napkin. I got A&M Records to sign with them.”
David was fired from MCA on the spot, and then started his own artist management company, which he ran for 10 years. His second band was called Summercamp, which signed to Madonna’s Maverick Records and did well in Japan. But David felt intellectually stymied — the music business felt like a broken model.
In 2002, he started an automotive company that stripped SUVs and rebuilt them to run with natural gas. His Environmental Vehicle Outfitters (EVO) was a hit with the celebrity crowd, and soon Leo DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz, Britney Spears, and Woody Harrelson had EVOs. But the business never really grew from that small niche of people, so David sold out of that partnership in late 2004.
His next move kept him in the realm of celebrity transportation. A pilot friend from Dos Pueblos introduced David to someone who owned a fleet of jets and needed management help. One of David’s first calls was to the manager of Green Day, and the band became a client. David was soon in charge of entertainment-related bookings for Sentient Jets.
In 2012, he started his own company called Young Jets, and sold it three years later to the British aviation firm Victor. David is currently the senior vice president for North America.
Though he lived for 20 years in Los Angeles, David is now happily back home in Santa Barbara with his family. “All the reasons that made me leave Santa Barbara as a young man are the reasons why I’ve returned as an adult,” he says.
The inspiring phoenix David Young answers the Proust Questionnaire.
What is your most marked characteristic?
I am an eternal optimist with a dreamer’s eye on the future. As a related quirk, I like to constantly stay informed, so I am constantly reading, something, anything. I pack in every minute of the day obtaining tidbits of information. The “news” feature you can flip from my iPhone screen is my best friend and worst enemy. I do however like turning it all off when it is time to chill out.
What is your current state of mind?
Thankful, but pensive about the future
What do you most admire?
My father. The kindest man I know who never once chose his own needs over his family’s best interests. He also loves his job and, in his late 80s, still works with NASA every day sending optical equipment into the far reaches of space.
What is your greatest fear?
FOMO — the Fear of Missing Out! It’s a clichéd phrase, but it is a pretty accurate assessment. On a deeper level, I think the fear of becoming irrelevant keeps me from being just that.
What do you like most about your job?
I love travel, I love private jets, and I love music. I work with all three at once and I am able to do it on my own terms, from Santa Barbara. I like that I can work with the world’s most accomplished rock stars and diplomats one day, then surf or relax with the family on postcard-perfect Hammonds or Miramar Beach the next.
I spent many years in Los Angeles laying the groundwork and establishing a name in the entertainment industry and I can take that anywhere. The company Victor that I work with now is really committed to breaking new ground in private aviation and my fellow executives in NYC and London are always open to putting new ideas to the test, which is essential for me in a work environment.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Professionally, the concept behind the Barefoot CEO. I do love running things, but I also like to do it whenever possible sans footwear! Personally, a weekend at home with my wife and two boys, a guitar nearby, and maybe a swell in the ocean and nothing pressing on the calendar is my version of perfect happiness.
What are your greatest extravagances?
Family surf trips to exotic ports. Private jet excursions (like those found using our app). Sleeping in on the weekends.
What is the quality you most like in people?
Humility. Successful, driven people who still keep it real. Again, another reason why living here in Santa Barbara is ideal. We have so many interesting, highly accomplished people here who don’t feel the need to resort to opulent displays of wealth in order to flaunt their status.
What is the quality you most dislike in people?
People of a duplicitous nature. Bullies. Narcissism, especially on the world’s stage. Flakiness. Just do what you say and say what you mean.
What do you most value in friends?
I am drawn to creatives, people who are compelled to put their unique stamp on everything they do. People who break away from convention. I also bond best with friends who are instinctively driven to laugh at themselves, before they laugh at others.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
Well, I am a bit of a lifehacker who likes to think outside-the-box and move-the-needle with an all-hands-on-deck approach. So, I am typically too busy trying to create game-changing, disruptive paradigm shifts to think about how I iterate, you know? #blessed
Which talent would you most like to have?
I’d like to be a master photographer and be able to tell vivid stories without speaking. I have a deep appreciation for people who have the discipline to master the fine arts, but if I could do it without having to spend all my free time on it, that would be ideal. Like some sort of artistic genius express route, but more of a pill I could take that would download a hundred Lynda.com videos direct to my brain. With any luck, there is probably someone in a lab in Carpinteria working on that right now.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I could probably be more selfless and find the time to give back to others in need in new ways. And possibly have the body fat percentage of a Thai kick-boxing champion, as long as we are in dream mode here.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
The Hallmark answer is marrying Healey and raising two amazing boys, Drake and Beck, and that would be the honest truth.
The Rolling Stone answer skews more towards all the crazy cool experiences I have been able to log around the world with musicians and notable figures, all the while keeping up the pace with people generally more intelligent and interesting than I.
From a pure business perspective, selling YoungJets to UK-based Victor after three years was no small accomplishment, as was winning a Billboard Music Award for Rock Song of the Year for Dishwalla, a band I developed who were just young guys playing locally at clubs and practicing at a home studio on Ontare Road when I found them. Beating the likes of Metallica (who are now clients of mine) and Stone Temple Pilots out for that award was probably the peak of my days managing bands.
Where would you most like to live?
I am extremely happy here in Montecito up the road from the beach. I can’t imagine living anywhere else right now. I spend a good amount of time as of late in Manhattan, as we moved our American HQ to NYC last year, and I love the predictable chaos of the city. However, coming back to Santa Barbara and banking that last turn towards SBA over the Pacific Ocean is a victory lap I will never take for granted. In a fantasy life, I would be living a minimalist existence amongst the monkeys and rice farmers in Bali.
What is your most treasured possession?
I am not super nostalgic or overly materialistic. I guess I am happy to be in possession of good health. And having skirted death more than once when I was younger, I am pretty stoked just to be alive.
Who makes you laugh the most?
My wife, Healey, makes me laugh the most and we’re the funniest comedy duo the world will never know. She keeps the routine fresh and never seems to run out of material.
What is your motto?
Live Fast, Dave Young
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Joe Strummer of The Clash. Musically the Clash was ahead of the curve emulating cultural shifts in popular music, not unlike the Beatles, and Joe’s message was always one of brutal honesty. But he was also a great humanitarian that rarely felt the need to shine the spotlight on his good deeds as a vehicle for self-promotion. I was interviewed by Julian Temple for his documentary The Future Is Unwritten about Joe’s life and legacy, and it was one of more crystallizing moments of my adult life.
On what occasion do you lie?
Only to save someone I love from pain.