Remembers Guardian's William Davidson; Reflects on Achievements
and Leadership Qualities
March 16, 2009
William Davidson, 86, owner and chief executive officer (CEO) of
Auburn Hills, Mich.-based Guardian Industries, passed away at his
home in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., on March 13, 2009.
Guardian Industries released the following statement:
"The global Guardian Industries family mourns the loss of
its visionary leader and guiding light, owner and CEO William Davidson
'Mr. D' to the more than 19,000 Guardian people around the
world. We are deeply saddened by his passing ... During his 52 years
at the helm of Guardian he provided vision, leadership and a straightforward
approach to building business with an entrepreneurial style second
to none. He established a no-nonsense, anti-bureaucratic culture
within Guardian Industries and the other organizations he led. He
will be remembered for his steady hand that propelled Guardian to
the forefront of its many business segments in countries throughout
the world. His leadership principles and legacy of innovation and
excellence are embedded in the company's leadership team, which
will continue to provide management of the company according to
a transition plan established by the team more than a decade ago."
A native of Detroit, Davidson received his undergraduate degree
in business administration from The University of Michigan in 1947
and his Juris Doctor degree from Wayne State University in 1949.
He was admitted to practice before the Michigan Supreme Court in
1949. In 2005, he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree
from Wayne State University.
He joined Guardian Industries in 1955, became CEO in 1957 and led
the company from its beginnings as a small glass company to its
position as one of the largest international companies in residential
and commercial glass, automotive and building products.
In addition, Davidson has been the recipient of numerous awards
and honors including the Phoenix Award, given in recognition of
significant contributions to the world glass industry; the Order
of Merit in Labor of the Highest Class from the Republic of Venezuela;
Honorary Counsel of the Grand Duche of Luxembourg in Michigan; Grand
Officer of the Order of Merit, Commander of the Grand Ducal Order
of the Oak Wreath and Officer Legion of Merit for the Grande Duche
of Luxembourg; Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, from Jewish
Theological Seminary (NY); and an Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree
from the University of Michigan.
In 2003 Davidson was decorated as an honorary Grand Officier de
l'Ordre de la Couronne de Chene by the Luxembourg Minister of the
Economy Henri Grethen for contributions to manufacturing diversification
in the country and enhancement of the industrial fabric of the Luxembourg
In addition, Davidson was the owner of the NBA's Detroit Pistons
and the WNBA's Detroit Shock; he was inducted into the Basketball
Hall of Fame last year (CLICK
HERE for related article) and served two terms on the NBA Board
of Governors. He also owned the Palace Sports & Entertainment,
comprising The Palace of Auburn Hills and DTE Energy Music Theatre.
Mr. Davidson was also an honored philanthropist, giving away more
than $80 million in the 1990s alone. Davidson made substantial endowments
to education, cultural and community programs including:
- The William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan
- The Davidson Institute of Science Education at the Weizmann
Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel;
- The Detroit Symphony Orchestra;
- The William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education at
The Jewish Theological Seminary of America (New York City);
- The Karmanos Cancer Institute and Children's Research Center
of Michigan; and
- The Davidson Second Temple Period Archaeological Park and a
visitor's center to the Park surrounding the Temple Wall in Jerusalem.
Davidson's efforts and practices in business will certainly leave
a lasting impact on many people in the glass industry who have known
and worked with him.
Russ Ebeid, president of Guardian's Glass Group has known and worked
with Davidson for 39 years and says he was as humble, simplistic
and optimistic of a person that you could find.
"If he were a weather broadcaster he'd never predict rain,"
Ebeid says. "He had a total open door policy and you could
go in and talk to him about anything. He was an open guy, but you
always knew whom you were talking to."
Ebeid says that in business Davidson was always direct and he did
not take shortcuts.
"He believed that business was an equal relationship between
buyer and seller and that customers would do business with you for
the right reasons
quality and service
and not just
because of a low price."
Another of Davidson's characteristics that Ebeid recalls is that
he tried to teach his employees how to think and not what to think.
"He didn't tell you what to do, but he'd ask questions, such
as 'Have you thought about doing this?' or 'Did you consider that?'
And that would get you thinking [about the situation] and you'd
start coming up with the ideas," says Ebeid.
Scott Thomsen, Guardian's vice president and chief technology officer,
says that very early on he learned that Davidson was a humble person
who treated everyone with the same level of respect.
"The loyalty at Guardian is extremely high and that's because
he respected everyone the same way and that created a family environment;
it helped keep that small-company feel."
Thomsen also says Davidson created "the ultimate work environment."
"He did not believe in micromanagement and he gave deserving
people significant freedom to run their business segment, much like
running their own company," says Thomsen, who adds that when
he joined Guardian in 1999 he had no written job description "and
the only direction I had from Mr. Davidson was to make Guardian
an innovator and improve financial performance."
He continues, "There is no bureaucracy; Mr. Davidson developed
the vision and let the people here execute and deliver. He built
this organization around people and their abilities; not processes
In addition, Thomsen says Davidson truly was an innovator. "It
was like he had a crystal ball. From the time he took over here
in 1957 he was always five to ten years ahead of the market and
he always knew the appropriate and opportune
times to make strategic business shifts." Thomsen adds, "He
was an eternal optimist that Guardian would find the solution and
prevail-that's the culture here."
Russ Huffer, president and chief executive officer of Apogee Enterprises,
had spent seven years early on as a Guardian employee, 18 months
of which was in the corporate headquarters.
"I got to know Mr. D quite well during my time there. He was
very personable and he loved basketball metaphors," says Huffer."
He often talked about 'giving the ball to the person with the hot
hand'." Huffer adds that Davidson was the type of leader who
made his decisions based on results and people being accountable
for what they said they'd do.
"I remember when I was managing one of the plants, every day
my boss would get a call from Mr. D to find out how was business,
how were the shipments-those good, quick business questions,"
says Huffer, who adds that he learned a lot from working with Davidson,
which he applies to his own work today. He says the biggest lesson
focused on the importance of safety.
"Safety is of immense importance to Guardian and I think the
company really led the way toward safe work place standards. It's
something I have clearly carried throughout my career."
Davidson's influence also reached others in the glass industry
who were not Guardian employees. Leon Silverstein, president and
chief executive officer of Arch Aluminum and Glass, also got to
"I met him about 20 years ago and my dad had met him about
50 years ago," says Silverstein. "He was always nice to
me and nice to my children." [Editor's note: Silverstein
has two children at the University of Michigan]."
Silverstein says that on a couple of occasions he had the opportunity
to attend Detroit Pistons games and sit with Davidson.
"We talked about glass, but we also talked about the Pistons,"
says Silverstein. "And for a big sports fan like me it was
a great opportunity to go to a game and be able to sit with an owner
and to talk to him about who [in the game] he liked and disliked."
Silverstein adds that Davidson is most likely one of the most admired
people in the industry.
"His philosophy of business is one that we [Arch] have tried
to pattern ours after. He was tough, but fair
a sharp guy,
and he was the boss," says Silverstein.
For many people in the industry, Davidson is a man who will not
soon be forgotten. "Even though he's gone, I feel like he's
still here," adds Ebeid. "He was Guardian's Walt Disney
and his ethics and integrity will linger in this organization."
Funeral services will take place tomorrow at Congregation Shaarey
Zedek in Southfield, Mich., at 12 p.m. CLICK
HERE for more information about the service or to learn where
contributions in Davidson's memory can be made.
HERE for an article from today's Detroit Free Press about Davidson.
Click on the following links for various articles about this industry
legend from USGlass magazine.
One Man's Vision: Guardian's World Headquarters
William Davidson had some distinct ideas in mind when he first embarked
upon building the new world headquarters for Guardian Industries
Corp. in 1993.
READ MORE -
Guardian Industries Celebrates 70th Anniversary by Focusing
on the Future
Headquartered in Auburn Hills, Mich., Guardian Industries Corp.
is celebrating 70 years in the glass business and says it is now
focusing on future initiatives.
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Guardian's Angel: Part I
Twenty-two years... That's how long I've been dreaming about him
and lusting after him (in my own mind anyway). I can't count how
many nights I've fallen asleep wondering if we'd ever meet, if I'd
ever get him to myself-even for just a little while. I've fancied
myself a Jean Vallejon hunting her prey, or an Inspector Cousteau
bumbling her way toward an illusive quarry. But, in those same stark
nights when I see myself without filter, I know that what I really
am is your average American stalker.
READ MORE -
Guardian's Angel, Part II
5 o'clock lady, I got it," he sighed wearily. He was annoyed
with me. I could sense it.
READ MORE -
Guardian's Angels: Part III - The Happy Ending
It was one of those amazing coincidences of life that ends up saving
you. Last summer, I went to a wedding that I really didn't want
to go to. You've probably been in that situation yourself. The bride
was unknown; the groom, a friend of a family member who asks you
to go as the "guest." It was a five-hour drive to a wedding
that meant giving up an entire summer weekend, which I did.
READ MORE -
Sharing the Wealth
Watching the comings and goings on the Forbes List of the 400 Wealthiest
People in the U.S. (the Forbes 400) provides a microcosmic look
at changes in American businesses. The so-called "titans of
industry"-the Rockefellers and the Carnegies, who ranked in
the top 20 even 50 years ago, remain on, but toward the bottom of
the list, with heirs growing faster than inheritances.
READ MORE -
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