William Davidson: one of the most successful businessman and team owners in the world

The business trajectory of William Morse Davidson led him to be one of the richest men in the world, which provided him with the means to donate millions of dollars to charities and educational institutions. He became the first team owner to win championships in three professional sports with the NBA’s Detroit Pistons, WNBA’s Detroit Shock and NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning. Member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, and President, Chairman and CEO of Guardian Industries, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of architectural and automotive glass. His dedication to the advancement of education led him to support Jewish education in the Diaspora as well as science education in Israel. The crown jewel of his generosity is the flourishing Davidson Institute of Science Education at the Weizmann Institute of Science. His combined business ventures led him to an estimated net worth of $3.5 billion, which led to Forbes ranking him as the 68th richest man in the United States.


Bill Davidson was born in December 5 of 1922, in Detroit, Michigan, to a Jewish family. He was a high school athlete (member of the track and field team) and played football in the Navy during World War II. He graduated from Detroit’s Central High School in 1940. After serving in the U.S. Navy during WWII, he earned a B.A. in business administration at the University of Michigan 1940, followed by a law degree from Wayne State University (1949). After three years, he gave up his law practice to rescue a wholesale drug company and a surgical supply company from bankruptcy. In 1957, he also took over his family’s Guardian Glass Co., now Guardian Industries Corp. the same year the company declared bankruptcy.


As a businessman, philanthropist, and a devoted member of the Jewish community, Davidson made a difference, wherever he went. At a time when numerous words often replace real action, he used few words, but translated them into an impressive array of deeds. Davidson’s belief that education and good management are the best tools for promoting economic growth and his commitment to quality education are both apparent in his other philanthropic endeavors. In addition to the Davidson Institute of Science, Bill Davidson established several other educational institutions such as the William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan; the William Davidson Faculty of Industrial Engineering and Management and the William Davidson Chair in the IE&M Faculty at the Technion; the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York; and the Davidson Center at the Jerusalem Archaeological Park. In 1997, the Council of Michigan Foundations honored Davidson for his lifelong philanthropic efforts locally, nationally and internationally. He was listed as one of America’s most generous donors in a New York Times article that same year. After the Yom Kippur war, Bill Davidson received the Prime Minister Club award for outstanding Philanthropic deeds towards Israel.

Guardian Industries

Guardian Glass would be the precursor to his company Guardian Industries, one of the largest glass suppliers in the world. Davidson encouraged risk-taking, discouraged second-guessing and was seen as aggressive. Not without controversy, Guardian was sued at least six times between 1965 and 1988. In 1989, Guardian was ordered to pay its competitor Johns Manville $38 million for stealing fiberglass-making technology. Guardian now stands as one of the world’s giants of glass manufacturing with facilities in Asia, Europe, Africa and South America in addition to its sprawling North American interests. He led the company from its humble 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.

Sport Teams Ownership

In 1974, Bill bought the Detroit Pistons for $6 million, and four years later, he relocated the team from Cobo Arena in downtown Detroit to the Pontiac Silverdome, and then to the Palace of Auburn Hills in 1988. It was the first NBA arena that was financed entirely with private funds. He was also the first owner to buy an airplane for his team, and other teams soon followed his lead. The Detroit Pistons won the NBA Finals in 1989, 1990, and 2004. Davidson was also the first to encourage globalizing the marketing of the NBA. He has served as Chairman of the Board of Governors and was active on several committees.

Tampa Bay Lightning Warmups_patrick dwyer_businessman_american financial titan_William Davidson
Image courtesy of Matthew Paulson at Flickr.com

He bought Tampa Bay Lightning hockey team from Art Williams, who due to bad decisions had to sell for a great loss to William Davidson in 1999. Tampa Bay won the Stanley Cup under Davidson’s ownership in 2004. On August 7, 2007 Davidson sold the Lightning franchise. He is the only owner in professional sports history whose teams have won an NBA Championship and a Stanley Cup in the same year. He sold the Tampa Bay franchise on August 7, 2007.

Patrick Dwyer also found that his Detroit Shock team of the WNBA won the 2003, 2006, and 2008 WNBA Finals. And his Detroit Vipers of the IHL won the 1997 Turner Cup.


William Davidson. Davidson, 86, died at his home in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, on March 13, 2009. The funeral was held at Congregation Shaarey Zedek, in Southfield, and Davidson was buried in the Clover Hill Park Cemetery, in Birmingham.


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