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Columbia Business Monthly

Will politics be John Warren's next step after exiting Lima One?

Nov 19, 2019 12:08PM ● By David Dykes

What will John Warren do next? That's what many are asking themselves after the founder and chairman of Greenville-based Lima One Capital sold his majority ownership stake in the company to his minority partners, stepping away from the specialty mortgage firm he valued at more than $100 million. One of the more persistent answers, at least among political prognosticators, is that the 2018 gubernatorial candidate may once again have his eyes on elected office.

Warren founded Lima One in 2011 and expanded the company to more than 300 full- and part-time employees around the country. Under his leadership, the company doubled in growth four straight years and grew its Greenville headquarters to more than 160 full-time employees. Following his exit, Lima One's headquarters and leadership team will remain in Greenville.

Lima One has been a critical part of Greenville's success over the past 10 years. When leaders like John choose to build their headquarters right here in Greenville, it shows other business leaders the benefits of locating their companies in the Upstate," says Knox White, mayor of Greenville. 

Warren, a Greenville native who turned 40 this year, says he decided to sell for two reasons: the continued growth meant the timing was good financially and he had already stepped away from the CEO's role to run for South Carolina governor last year.

"I wasn't operating day to day, so I didn't have the connection that I once had to all of the employees on a daily basis," he says. "And the other thing was, we were able to sell to two institutional partners who really have unlimited capital to keep the company growing."

He calls his decision to leave the company "bittersweet" and says he is proud of what has been accomplished.

Warren reached the runoff in the 2018 Republican gubernatorial primary even though he has never held elected office. He ran a campaign focused on limited government, reforming government systems and empowering taxpayers before losing to Gov. Henry McMaster.

The political blog FITSNews says Warren is regarded as a rising star in state politics. At the moment, Warren will only say he won't run against U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, in 2020. He's keeping any plans after that under wraps. 

Lima One is a specialty mortgage finance company that is one of the largest lenders for residential real estate investors and homebuilders in the country. Its core products are Rental30, a 30-year, fixed-rate, fully amortizing loan for purchasing or refinancing residential rental properties; FixNFlip, a 13-month bridge loan for investors who are buying, renovating and selling properties; and a multifamily bridge program for the purchase or refinance of multifamily properties of five units or more.

In 2014, Lima One was recognized as the No. 1 company in Greenville Business Magazine's 25 Fastest Growing Companies contest, and it was named as one of the best places to work in the state in 2016. Lima One has raised billions of dollars from institutional investors and is on pace to originate $1.25 billion in 2019. 

While at Lima One, Warren also was a principal in the largest bulk sale of single-family homes in the country, selling more than 1,400 rental properties in Atlanta to Blackstone Group LP for more than $100 million. 

Lima One was founded in Atlanta in February 2011. When Warren needed to hire his first employee, he and his wife decided to move back to Greenville and grow the company here.

Warren raised $1 million from his first investor for a "seed fund" prior to Lima One. He originated nine loans through that small fund and realized there was a huge opportunity. He then formed Lima One and started raising capital through a private debt offering.

Warren received his degree in politics from Washington and Lee University in 2003. He joined the Marine Corps in October of 2004, through the Officer Candidate School (OCS) in Quantico, Va. He had planned to join as soon as he graduated but was thwarted by a logjam of applicants. He worked for Michelin for a year while training for the Marines. A slot finally opened for the October 2004 OCS.

He spent four years on active duty as an infantry officer. In March 2006, he deployed with 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines to Ramadi, Iraq, where he spent seven months conducting combat operations against insurgent forces. In all, he led over 300 combat missions and left the Marine Corps with the rank of captain.

He received his MBA from New York University in August 2013, flying to New York City every other Thursday through Sunday. He specialized in banking.

"It was a great program that taught me a lot about finance and helped give me a little more credibility with institutional investors," Warren says. "It also was a very challenging time in my life because Lima One was taking off, Courtney (his wife) and I had just moved back to Greenville, and my father was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer."

He subsequently met with several prospective employers who told him, "You can do whatever you want."

When he asked, "What can I do in your company?" he found those same sources said, "You really don't have the skill set for our company but I'm sure you can do so many things."

"I found that people did not appreciate my background at all," Warren says. "I was not an accounting major. I wasn't a finance major. Everyone, if they wanted to give me a job, they wanted to make me a sales guy. I can close deals but I'm not a 24-7 sales guy."

For now, he and his wife will continue their philanthropic efforts and see where his business interests take them. He's content with that approach.

"It is hard to overstate the positive impact Lima One has had on Greenville and the Upstate. Over the past 10 years, Lima One has brought high-quality, high-paying jobs to the city and improved our entire city's quality of life," says John Uprichard, founder and CEO of Find Great People, a Greenville-based executive search firm and staffing company. "Lima One and John Warren have been great for our city and our region."