Diverse supplier The Will Group played a key role in the largest city-led wireless smart streetlight program in the U.S. Learn more about the company, the people and what they’re doing to create positive community impact with an emphasis on diversity and inclusion.
This feature is part of our ongoing Black History Month series spotlighting the diverse voices and perspectives that shape and strengthen the lighting industry.
LightFair interviewed Joshua Davis on the heels of Lyons View, A Will Group company, welcoming Mayor Lori Lightfoot and other elected officials to the completion of the Chicago Smart Lighting Program. The streetlight modernization program is said to have improved the quality of nighttime visibility throughout the city and is projected to save Chicago taxpayers $100 million in electricity costs over the next ten years. The Program has been a springboard for the company. The Will Group has garnered support and investment from world-class organizations and grown into a 60,000 square foot facility in Chicago’s K-Town Business Centre where over half of the lights for the project have been assembled.
Before taking on the title of President, Davis held a range of positions including Warehouse associate, inside and outside sales, and operations manager. In this interview, Davis talks about his family business, the powerful influences on his life and career, his views on diversity and representation in the industry experiences as a LightFair attendee and the significance of the smart lighting program implemented in Chicago.
Professional background and journey
About The Will Group
The Will Group began in 1986 when my father, Stephen L. Davis, had a vision of a business that would honor the legacy of his father and promote the core values of integrity, pride and hard work that his father, William “Will” Edward Davis emulated. Will understood the importance of hard work, and that by empowering people with jobs, communities would begin to thrive.
From modest beginnings, our dynamic business environment began by supplying light fixtures and ancillary electrical products in the Chicagoland area. Our company later expanded to include manufacturing of light fixtures and energy-efficient lighting throughout Illinois. Very distinct, separate, yet related companies now include a distributor of electrical products and a cloud-based software technology that provides critical information on engineered products.
Operating under the philosophy and mission “Where There’s A Will, There’s A Way”, the corporate culture of The Will Group fosters ingenuity and creativity with every endeavor. Our competitive distinction is our ability to be an encompassing single-source provider for our clients’ lighting, infrastructure, electrical, manufacturing, and sourcing needs. We represent some of the industry’s most prominent electrical manufacturers. Our in-house team is fully trained on infrastructure assessments with expertise in final assembly.
How I started in lighting
I began my career in the lighting industry learning from my father. He worked as a lighting rep for General Electric when he moved to Chicago from Tennessee in the 80s and started our first family company here.
Much of what I know about the business has been absorbed while working in the warehouse, driving forklifts and moving things around at a young age. Later, I went on to study finance at The University of Tennessee and was blessed with an industry opportunity to work for a lighting manufacturer based in California. In my years in California, I learned an immense amount about the industry and sales, which encouraged me to come back to Chicago, to join the family business two years later. Like my grandfather, Will, my father understands the importance of hard work, and I, in turn, have learned that from him. Over the years, I have held a handful of roles within the company. It is a fulfilling experience working with my father, my family, and the great team we’ve grown over the past 36 years.
Biggest influences and role models
My biggest role model is first and foremost, of course, my father. I think it’s fantastic to be able to fall in his footsteps with my sister, Jessica Ashley Garmon, The Will Group’s Chief Operating Officer, and Chief Legal, and to be able to help grow the company through various verticals. I’m tremendously proud to work with my father. Both of my parents have been great role models, not just in word, but more importantly, by deed.
My wife has been a big influence in my life. Over the last couple of years particularly, as I’ve been working in a business that’s growing, while at the same time going to school to pursue my executive MBA. Despite both being new parents, she’s been extremely supportive and encouraged me through it all. Being a husband and father are my favorite things in the world.
Football coaches have been an immense influence on my life. They have taught me about driving through and pushing through adversity.
My seven siblings are my role models. That’s right, seven. Seeing their success, whether it’s entertainment, medical school, or graduate school, has definitely been encouraging for me.
Last but not the least, there are several employees who have been with the company for over 20 years whom I have learned from including Matt O’Brien, Joe Siddens, Scott Johnson, Rod Young and Kerry Hayden.
Views on diversity and representation in the lighting industry
Diversity in the lighting industry has been increasing in a good way just like most industries, and I’m proud of that. There is an awareness of the need and the value that diversity and inclusion bring.
I think that a lot of people in the lighting industry realize the value that diversity and inclusion bring, not only in immediate hiring practices but also in partners within the industry.
One of the things that I realized is that you don’t necessarily have to see the world the same way or have the same experiences to respect one another. I’ve shared rooms and spent a lot of time with different people in the lighting industry. We may not see the world the same and may not have the same experiences. But the diversity of thought and experience in the room allows us to grow and become better people in the end.
The massive streetlight modernization project is said to have improved the quality of nighttime visibility in Chicago and is projected to save taxpayers $100 million in electricity costs over the next ten years. Lyons View, A Will Group Company, a key vendor for the program garnered support and investment from world-class partners including LightFair exhibitor, GE Current, a Daintree Company. Lyons View Manufacturing, a certified MBE based on the West Side is dedicated to creating job opportunities for residents with barriers to employment. The company features non-discriminatory hiring practices that allow a second chance opportunity to job applicants. Lyons View assembled more than half the LED fixtures used in the program. Joshua Davis and his team look forward to growing their business on the West Side and taking advantage of the growing opportunities in the energy efficiency sector.
The Will Group’s Role in Chicago’s Smart Streetlight Modernization Program, Partnership with GE Current, a Daintree Company, Impact
As a company, our top priority is providing jobs to local residents. We believe that creating manufacturing jobs with fair pay, benefits, and good working conditions is the key to growing the global middle class and generating demand that is needed to power the economy.
The smart lighting program is an excellent example of the value that diversity brought in not just because we were working with a diverse company for products to install, but conceptually, that we would then be able to work in diverse communities and can empower those communities.
By creating this social capital, the community begins to change, it creates an ecosystem we can be proud of. These manufacturing jobs are not only a driver of economic growth—but they are also the vehicle through which economic growth is broadly shared to raise living standards city-wide.
On this project, we partnered with GE Current. GE Current was a great partner who saw the value that we brought to the city of Chicago as a company that was local to the area. We did the final product assembly at our 60,000 square foot facility in Chicago’s K-Town Business Centre. The program has been a springboard for our company to further invest in the community. As a company, we are investing $20 million dollars in new jobs and manufacturing. And it’s being called the K-Town Business Centre, nothing less than an attempt to embrace the community and recast its image.
The project’s success reflects the strength of our partnership with GE Current, and also the partnership between the city, ComEd, the local utility and all the other players. It’s been extremely impactful for not only the city but its residents and our entire industry.
The role LightFair and other industry events play in encouraging diversity
The great thing about LightFair is that it has a premium networking social element to it. The diverse setting presents the opportunity for you to see that you have more in common than not, with those around you. My hope is that, as diversity increases within the industry, it reflects in the attendees who come to LightFair.
Thoughts on hiring a diverse workforce and the benefits for employers
Diversity builds better teams, helps teams win and has tremendous value to it. We don’t have to share the same worldviews or the same experiences to respect one another’s experiences. I also think that you are truly missing out on talent if you’re only hiring those who have the same background.
As a CEO, I strongly believe that talent is diverse, talent isn’t one shade, one sexual orientation, one belief system. Talent is not a monolith.
Other interests outside of your work and business
I’m a private pilot, who loves spending time with my growing family. I enjoy flying small planes and taking people on Chicago skyline tours to see their reactions. Currently, I am trying to learn how to golf, as I wrap up my Executive MBA Program at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.