Troy, Ohio — Army Ranger. Mold maker. Congressman.
U.S. Rep. Warren Davidson has earned his stripes in both the military and in the business world, and he is now looking to leave his mark in Washington.
Once a partner in both a mold making company and an injection molding operation, the Republican representative for the 8th District of Ohio has divested his business holdings to concentrate on politics.
It was a road he had never really considered until the opportunity arose. One that finds him knee-deep in issues like health care and tax reform. That's a far cry from hot runners and cycle times.
Davidson had never really given much thought to becoming a businessman or a federal politician.
“I never really had a big interest in business. I didn't know what I would do with business. I thought I would be a career soldier,” he said during an interview at his Troy district office. “I was an Army guy.”
But the country's political decisions regarding events around the world, such as the bombing of U.S. embassies in both Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, forced Davidson to re-examine his service.
“It was really hard. I think in a lot of ways I've been kind of bitter that I felt the need to get out of the Army. I loved what I did. I loved the people I did it with. I just really felt we were going down a path that was not rational,” he said.
So after being in the military for 12 years, Davidson found himself looking for a new challenge. He faced the choice of moving to Chicago to be a plant manager overseeing 250 employees or going to work with his father in a small tool and machine shop in southwest Ohio. He figured he would give it a year with his dad in the metalworking business to see what would happen. That was in 2000.
Davidson did not grow up in the family business. His father, Earl, started the company when Warren was a senior in high school. And he was off in the Army as the small company grew to about 20 employees.
It was after Davidson's arrival that operations began to branch out to include injection mold making and injection molding of parts. He grew to love manufacturing, earned his MBA at Notre Dame and settled in to his second career.
“I had minored in mechanical engineering. I understood mechanical processes, thermodynamics. I understood the heating-cooling cycle for plastics,” the West Point graduate said, explaining his decision to expand into that sector. “When I first said, ‘Let's make molds,' I had never built a mold, and I had never been a guy that processed the resin. But I understood the cycle pretty well.”
Global Source Manufacturing LLC set out to make its mark, starting in 2005, and plastics processing was added in 2013 through Integral Manufacturing Inc.
While the halls of Congress are far away from the hum of machinery in Ohio, Davidson said he has been able to take some insights from the business world into politics.
“I liken it to the product development cycle. Legislation is pretty similar to launching a product. It's a product. You want people to like it. The whole country is stuck with the end product, so they want it to work really well,” he said.
And that's why he believes two key pieces of legislation had very different outcomes. “One worked, tax reform, and one didn't, health care reform,” he said.
“When I thought about the health care piece, I don't think our product development process was very effective. We had limited participation across the conference. It was kind of like the engineers launched the product,” he said, without help from the manufacturing team or sales force.
“If you go and take the lessons learned from the failure of health care, it was like a bad product launch that companies experience from time to time. We went to a better product development launch on tax reform,” he said, including gathering input from different stakeholders.
The road to Washington
Davidson is in his first full term of office, having succeeded former Speaker of the House John Boehner, who resigned from office in 2015. Davidson first won a special election in June 2016 and then successfully ran for a full term that November.
“I wasn't planning to run for Congress,” he remembered. But a business conversation led to a suggestion that he consider the open seat.
His reaction: “I'm flattered, but that's really crazy,” Davidson recalled. “Thanks for building me up, but let me know when you find the right person.”
But something changed along the way as he started listening to people, including his in-laws on a family trip. He saw an opportunity and potential to have his voice be heard.
He filed his election paperwork on the last day possible for the special election and then beat out a crowded Republican primary field. That was the hard part. Davidson's district includes five counties and part of a sixth near Dayton and Cincinnati and heavily runs red. While redistricting changes district boundaries over time, Republicans have held on to the seat since 1939.
“I didn't commit to run [initially]. I was on the fence about whether to run or not because I generally liked what I was doing. I think it was a very important time for our business. And, frankly, the impact on our mold business shows it was a very important time for our business,” he said.
Global Source Manufacturing, as a result of Davidson's departure, has stopped operations. But the injection molding portion of the company still operates.
“Frankly, I see myself returning to capitalism at some point. I don't know how soon, but some time. I don't see politics as a new career. I see it as an effort to get us on the right course. I hope I'm successful in that,” Davidson said.
“If you want different results, maybe you need to send people with a different sort of experience. I think that's still incredibly true. We just can't have people that go to law school or work in local government or work in state government and then they go to D.C.,” he said. “I think it's really important that we have people that have the same sort of diverse experiences that make this the world's land of opportunity.”