Volume 39, Issue 10, October 2004

Issue@Hand

Guardian’s Angel

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.

I’ve come close to him a few times but, alas, circumstances always stood in the way. Over the years, I’ve called, I’ve written, I’ve hidden outside a door or two, but something (mainly that fact that he just doesn’t usually do that kind of thing) has kept me from interviewing one of my two ultimate dream interviewees.

So it was with little hope but a can’t-not-try attitude, that I tried again. Having been honored by being invited to the Luxembourg American Chamber of Commerce 2004 Award and Gala honoring Guardian Industries Corporation and its president/CEO William Davidson on September 29, I thought quickly. “Is he going to be there?” I asked Gayle Joseph just a little too much hope in my voice. “Yes, of course,” she replied, “but you know he really doesn’t do media (obviously Gayle was unaware of just how well I knew this), although he has been talking [to the media] a bit lately about sports and the championships.”

The championships to which she was referring were the National Basketball Association (NBA) championship won earlier this year by the Detroit Pistons, and the National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup, won by the Tampa Bay Lightening. Mr. Davidson is a managing partner of both teams. He became part of sporting history when, for the first time, two professional teams in different sports owned by the same person both won their respective titles in the same year.

“Can you give me an idea of what the interview would be about?” Gayle asked. “Uh…uh …sports,” I stammered, “yes, that’s it, sports … and the glass business,” I said, gaining more courage. Now, to be honest, had Gayle said that Mr. Davidson was doing interviews about hot dogs on buns, my topic would have been hot dogs on buns…and the glass business. “He really doesn’t do a lot of media, so don’t get your hopes up, but I’ll ask,” said Gayle, who was too professional to let on she knew I was stretching it.”I’ll get back to you if he says yes.”

Don’t get my hopes up!? 

Davidson is a real industry legend. A lawyer by trade, he went to work in a small family-owned windshield fabrication company and led its growth into a global glass manufacturing company. He took the company public in 1968 and bought it back in 1985. He also led its march toward diversification. Guardian owns several fiberglass insulation plants. In 1998, it acquired Builder Marts of America and in 2000, it purchased Cameron Ashley Building Products, known now as Building Products Distribution. 

Today, the company has more than 60 facilities on five continents and more than 19,000 employees. FORBES magazine estimates that its annual sales exceed $4 billion. It has achieved a good deal of that growth against the odds and opposition. Originally a fabricator that grew to become a primary manufacturer, for a long time it held a reputation as a “cowboy” of the industry, blazing new trails but not exactly following all the ‘rules’ of the day. Its entry into Europe was met by tremendous opposition from most of the countries there—save Luxembourg. 

Davidson is also well-known for his philanthropy. He currently ranks as the 104th richest man in the United States and has been on FORBES list of the 400 richest people in the United States every year since its inception in 1984. In one of the largest educational gifts ever made, Davidson donated $30 million to endow the William Davidson Institute, a think tank at the University of Michigan that studies business issues. In 1999, he donated $20 million to establish Davidson Institute of the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, Israel. He also has supported the Detroit Symphony Orchestra with multi-million dollar contributions.

I had first contacted Davidson’s office in 1982, and again in 1985 and every few years after that hoping he would consent to one of our “industry legend” interviews. He never did. So I didn’t hold out too much hope even though Gayle said she’d pass the request on. The week before the event, I began the process of insulating myself from yet another rejection. I started to tell myself it didn’t really matter and that I’d try again next year. Still, having waited 22 years I couldn’t help but be disappointed.

“He’ll do it,” Gayle Joseph said when she called the next day. “He doesn’t have a lot of time, and he really likes to stay out of the spotlight, but he will give you 10-15 minutes before the gala starts.” 

“There’s a few things you should know,” she continued. “He has a very busy schedule that night and there are a lot of dignitaries around-the Mayor [that would be Bloomberg] and the Crown Prince [that would be of Luxembourg]—but if you can be at the Rainbow Room by 5:15 p.m., he said he’d do it, but you gotta be there at 5:15.”

“No problem,” I answered. Heck, I’d sleep on the sidewalk the entire night before if necessary. I wasn’t leaving anything to chance.

Next month, Part II: Getting there is all the fun. 


USG

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