Industrial magnate and Piston’s owner Bill Davidson is justly proud of his Jewish heritage, and his office holds a small Hebrew welcome sign just outside the door. That Davidson promoted Russell Ebeid, a Lebanese American of the Christian faith to the number two slot at Guardian Industries should be seen as a world metaphor: that various viewpoints and allegiances can not only co-exist, but prosper. Guardian, of course, is one of the world's largest manufacturers of float glass and fabricated glass products.
“My dad was a knapsack immigrant,” he says with a nod of pride. “He came here not knowing what he was looking for, necessarily—but he knew what he was leaving behind.”
That included an unenviable job building stone tiers on a Lebanese mountain side, a farming technique that is necessary, but almost unfathomably labor intensive. Still in his teens, the elder Ebeid bought a steerage ticket—the cheapest one available—to the New World. Not speaking a word of English, he had a card made up that read ‘Get Me To Detroit’, and like many such fortune seekers, relied on the kindness of strangers.
“It’s hard to fathom the risks he must have taken in a new land, without money, language, or contacts. I can’t even with certainty tell myself that I would have had the courage to make the journey—let’s face it, steerage class wasn’t exactly Captain’s Quarters with a view of the ocean—let along conquer the obstacles.”
After a multi-faceted career that included work as a potato chip maker, a tailor and a grocery store clerk, the elder Ebeid (it’s pronounced ‘Ee-bide’) found his calling as a tool and die maker, finding the wherewithal to attend school (his classmate was Walter Reuther, father of the Unions) while supporting the family. Russell’s mother, in the meantime, showed her own spunky nature by attending English classes each evening. Says Russ, wistfully: “I still remember being three or four and crying when she left for school.”
Southwest Detroit, where Ebeid grew up, was then as now, a smorgasbord of immigrants. “There were Germans, Armenians, Hungarians on our block. As Lebanese, we were just part of the mix.”
But the mix also included kids whose folks sent them to school in jeans and sneakers; Ebeid’s parents would have no part of that. Their kids would dress up for school, and as such, Russ endured further needling from classmates as he showed up in dark slacks, even suits. “The irony is, I was an American trying to prove that I was American, dressing up so that I felt un-American! Basically, I felt like I just didn’t fit.”
No more, though; having reached the pinnacle of an amazing career, whose personal coups include a contract for the high-tech glass that will be installed in the Burj Dubai, the world’s tallest building.
Russ himself may take equal pride in his contributions to our good friends at the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, which may not set any skyscraper records, but in its reach for the heavens, is equally successful.