Wallace Davis learned at a young age what it was like to live on a limited income, and he decided it wasn’t for him.
Three weeks ago, the Centerville, Ohio, man paid $3 million for Beatrice’s oldest manufacturing company, Dempster Industries Inc.
At 7, after Davis’s father died, his mother moved the family from Arkansas to Michigan to be closer to relatives and good jobs in the automotive industry, he said. But because of health issues, his mother couldn’t get the job of her dreams, and the family had to rely on government assistance.
“At a very young age, I decided I wasn’t going to allow people to tell me when I could have cash,” he said.
Davis earned a basketball scholarship to Oakland University in Rochester, Mich., and said he not only found his chance to better his life but developed new respect for his mother. He recalled moving off campus as a sophomore and realizing there are times when needs must be put before wants.
He called his mother to apologize for pressuring her to buy him things he wanted.
Davis graduated from Oakland with a Bachelor of Science degree in human resources, specializing in training and design. While he was in school, Davis completed an internship with Marriott International Inc. and was offered a position as a food service manager, he said. He was promoted every year for six years and was aiming for the company’s training program, but said the competition was so steep he rethought his long-term goals and left Marriott for the automotive industry.
Nearly 14 years later, he said, he earned a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Michigan.
“I always aspired to do my own thing,” he said.
Davis left the automotive industry to work for Cooper Industries, a Houston-based tool company, and oversaw operations of a plant in Ohio with a $50 million product line and 260 employees, he said.
Within six weeks, he said, he realized the plant was headed for disaster.
He said he met with corporate heads, then with employees, and told them if they were willing to work with him he’d try to keep the plant open.
Within two years, he said, the plant was able to manufacture its product more cheaply than it could outsource the work to China. Today, he said, Cooper Industries is in-sourcing more products than it is outsourcing.
Davis believes he can turn around Dempster, which once was a world-renowned windmill manufacturer with 500 employees. Today, the plant continues to manufacture windmills, water well pumps, fertilizer spreaders and other products — with about 30 employees.
“That’s what I think I can bring here,” he said. “Everybody wants Dempsters to win.”
Dempster will continue to make windmills and other agricultural products, Davis said, but the company will work hard to market its products better and make good products even better.
For example, he said, Dempster makes a great, reliable pump — and it will continue to do so — but it will introduce a new pump line that is still good quality but less expensive.
When Davis bought the plant in late July, he announced the development of a new energy division that will work with Windation Energy Systems of California to produce wind turbines.
Three wind turbine prototypes are being developed and should be ready for production in January, Davis said.
Eventually, he said, Dempster will broaden its reach into such renewable energy resources as solar.
Dempster employees are dedicated and the community is supportive, he said. Momentum is building.
“When you share a vision and when you walk down that same path, you can make it happen.
“We have plans. Will we hit every target? Probably not, that’s the way the world works. But we will endure.”
Davis lives in Centerville, Ohio, and plans to split his time between Dempster Industries and a distribution center in Springfield, Mo.
This story originally ran in the Aug. 16, 2008 edition of the Daily Sun.