Marine Corps to CEO: John Warren ’03 Alumni at Work, From the Marine Corps to CEO of Lima One Capital
“I am very driven to create a great company. The bigger the company gets, the more opportunity I have to impact the markets and neighborhoods in a positive way.”
John Warren was a student at Washington and Lee University majoring in politics when the United States was attacked on 9/11. The Al Qaeda-led attack on our homeland made an impact on Warren that changed his future forever.
When he graduated in 2003, Warren planned to immediately join the U.S. Marine Corps. However, with no openings available, he deferred that plan and joined a fast-track management program with Michelin. During a one-year stint in Atlanta as a territory manager for Michelin, his desire to join the Marines never left him.
His chance came in October 2004. He became a Marine, completed Officer Candidate School and was commissioned as a second lieutenant. After more training, he became an infantry officer, commanding the First Platoon, Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, Eighth Marines, stationed in Ramadi, Iraq.
“Ramadi was known as the graveyard of Marines,” said Warren. A third of his platoon earned Purple Hearts for combat injuries, but “in seven months, we saw an 80 percent decrease in attacks” against the U.S.-led forces.
His experiences with Lima Company and another deployment on a Marine Expeditionary Unit that traveled throughout the Middle East, left lasting impressions on him that surfaced later in his post-military life as an entrepreneur.
Back in Atlanta, Warren decided that creating his own business was the best track for his civilian career. He had flipped a house once before and enjoyed seeing the transformation that takes place when a rundown house becomes a newly remodeled home for a family.
He would need capital to get started, and luck played a role. He was introduced to someone in Atlanta and the two “met over bagels one morning.” He pitched his idea, and the man offered to get him started with a $1 million investment, to be paid back at 8 percent interest.
“This was just after the housing market crash,” Warren said. Thousands of houses in Atlanta were going into foreclosure, and he thought his timing and the investment were enough to get a rental fund started. However, when he went to foreclosure auctions, “I was always outbid.”
He needed more information, so he asked other investors how they were getting the money for their purchases. Most said they were using their own cash, “but it didn’t make sense to me that they weren’t leveraging their capital.”
He discovered that because of new regulations passed by Congress after the housing bust, banks were not lending money to residential real estate investors. Warren began to research the regulations and discovered that 20 percent of homes were being sold to investors, but there was no good source of funding for them. Lenders, called “hard-money lenders,” offered some funding, but at high interest rates and fees. Most investors stayed away from them.
He went back to the investors and asked them if there were “a professional company with fair rates,” would they consider borrowing to increase their business. The answer was yes. “I saw a huge need,” said Warren. He realized the best use of his investor’s loan was to start that type of company.
He formed Lima One Capital, named for his former Marine platoon, and made nine loans with his $1 million. “I learned the business by providing safe, low-risk loans,” he said.
Much of his time became devoted to raising capital. He “picked up a hedge fund in Florida,” and in 2011, he moved the business to his hometown of Greenville, S.C., and focused on growing the company.
Lima One now lends in 43 states and has 60 full-time employees in six offices in D.C., Charlotte, Miami, Atlanta and Orlando, in addition to Greenville. “We have been named the fastest-growing company in South Carolina,” Warren said.
The Marine Corps taught Warren many lessons that he has put to use in his company, especially how to evolve his tactics as situations change. His years at W&L also provided a values base for his life and company. His most challenging classes, U.S. Foreign Policy and the Vietnam War with Barry Machado, who also served as his thesis advisor, taught him “to analyze complex situations, to think critically and to find innovative solutions.”
Warren transferred to W&L for his junior and senior years. “Lots of my high school friends and family went there, and everyone loved it,” he said. He noted that the social life and excellent job placements convinced him W&L was a better fit for him than the college he was at. A Marshall Scholar, he devised a thesis that combined his love of military, history and family. He researched and wrote about his grandfather’s World War II B-24 bomber squadron. In addition to interviewing his grandfather, Warren found and interviewed 30 other surviving members of the squadron.
He returned to campus recently to serve as a judge for the Business Plan Competition and was “blown away by the quality of students at W&L and the entrepreneur classes.”
He also noted the connections within the W&L alumni body. His wife, Courtney, joined Dan Einstein ’83 at Marsh and McLennan Agency. It was Einstein who conducted the alumni interview with Warren when he was applying to the university. “That speaks volumes about the W&L network,” he said.
Today, Warren and Courtney are the parents of 8-month-old son Stevie. At Lima One, he is focused on growing his business even more. As the housing market has improved, the company has diversified into loans for rental property, as well as commercial and multi-family loans with the goal of serving all real estate investors.
“I am very driven to create a great company. The bigger the company gets, the more opportunity I have to impact the markets and neighborhoods in a positive way,” he said.
— by Linda Evans