JACK SAMMONS – PRESIDENT OF AMPRO INDUSTRIES
With a rich and illustrious biography marked by decades of achievement and community stewardship, Jack Sammons epitomizes the essence of a true visionary. He has been President of Ampro Industries, a leading global manufacturer of ethnic hair care products, for over twenty years and serves as General Chairman of the FedEx St. Jude Championship.
The FedEx St. Jude Championship is a premier golf tournament that embodies the spirit of excellence, sportsmanship, and community engagement. Supported by FedEx and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, the event has evolved over the years to become a symbol of sporting excellence and charitable impact by raising funds to support the lifesaving mission of St. Jude while showcasing world-class golf talent. Check out our interview, where Mr. Sammons shares his journey to Ampro, his love for family, friends, and philanthropy.
OTC: I like to start interviews with a check-in word to see how your day is going. If you had to come up with a word for today, what would it be?
Mr. Sammon’s: For today, well, I would say productive.
OTC: Nice, I had a productive day, too. It’s been very calm. You have been at Ampro for almost 25 years. What initially inspired you to join the beauty and hair care industry?
Mr. Sammons: Well, frankly, I was appointed by a court to try and straighten out a company that was in a challenged time. We were able to get everything straight and back on track, put it in a growth mode, and make it financially sound. We developed systems like any other business to ensure its continued success. When I arrived, I was probably the least qualified person in America to run a business like this. I didn’t know a relaxer kit from a first aid kit (laughs).
OTC: How did you learn about the industry?
Mr. Sammons: I was fortunate that one of my good friends was friends with Mr. Tae Jhin, and this fellow and I, we both had an office and law firm here in Memphis. When the judge called me and told me that he wanted to appoint me custodian to run this company I was like “Okay, I will call you back.” I walked across the hall and asked a friend of mine, Mike Pietrangelo. I said, “Mike, do you know anything about ethnic hair care?” and he looked up at me and said, “Well, you might consider me a world expert.” Well, he had been the president of Schering-Plough, which owned several brands like Sulphur 8. Then, after he retired from Schering-Plough, the Johnson family hired him to be a consultant in Chicago with Johnson products. He commuted to Memphis on Mondays and Fridays, so he said, “I need to take you to Chicago to meet Mr. Tae Jhin, the recognized leader in the industry.” There was another fellow who had worked for Mike at Johnson Products named Tom Polke. Mr. Jhin was crazy about Tom. He just always enjoyed seeing Tom. So me, Tom, and Mike visited Mr. Jhin. Mr. Jhin was busy, but he just put everything on pause and talked to us for hours about what was happening in the business. They were dropping names of people and products I had never heard of. I was taking notes like I was a court reporter. I was determined to learn. Mr. Jhin asked me, “What are you doing over there?” I said, “Mr Jhin, I’m sorry, I don’t know a lot. I’m intellectually curious. I want to learn as much as I can and do the best job I can.” He said, “Son, if you want to learn about this business, you need to stick with me for a while.” I looked at him inquisitively, like, “What do you mean? “. And he said, “You just stay here and let these boys go home, and you stay with me for a few weeks, and I will teach you what’s going on.
OTC: Wow! It is amazing that he was willing to be your mentor, and he had just met you. Were you prepared to stay longer?
Mr. Sammons: I didn’t have two weeks worth of clothes with me. I just said that I had intended to spend one night in Chicago. So my friends left, and I stayed there with Mr. Jhin for two weeks, and he went to work early. I mean, that gentleman was a hard worker. He went to work early and left late. He couldn’t have been a better friend and mentor for me. I mean, I was learning from the master. He was so frank and open with everything, and I got a master’s degree in ethnic hair care products in two weeks from Mr. Tae Jhin. I suspect that there are not many people in the world who could say that, but I wouldn’t be here today had it not been for Mr. Jhin. A few years later, my wife Jennifer and I went to Jamaica with Mr Jhin and Mrs. Jhin and Eddie. Jinny had an event in Jamaica. We all went together and stayed at a nice hotel and just had a great time and celebrated our friendship. And when we got back home, Mr. Jhin found out he was sick. Sadly, a few months later, he passed.
OTC: Mr. Tae Jhin left behind such a beautiful legacy. Are there any other memories that stand out to you that you shared before his passing?
Mr. Sammons: One of the things he told me when I visited him was, “I helped you, I want you to help my boy,” talking about Eddie and Eddie didn’t need a lot of help. Eddie was already in fifth gear overdrive. He was highly energetic, highly intelligent, and a great strategic thinker for a businessman. So Eddie and his whole family are dear friends, and when I tell people I am honored to be friends with the Jhin family, it has nothing to do with the business. You know businesses come and go, but lifetime friendships like that are indeed rare. They are all authentic friends of mine, and it’s one of the great treasures of my life.
OTC: What was the road ahead for Ampro after your master class with Mr. Tae Jhin?
Mr. Sammons: Ampro didn’t just take off like a rocket; we just had steady growth, and in the last five years or so, it’s been a meteoric rise; we have grown significantly. We have this huge plant, a new factory in Memphis in an old industrial area that had yet to see new investment in half a century. And our neighborhood is emblematic of the Ampro customer base. It is men and women of color, and we stuck our flag in the ground and said, “Hey, we are gonna do our part to help turn this neighborhood around, and we’ve hired people close to our plant. We feed them lunch every day. In a competitive labor market nowadays, you look for an angle. During COVID, we began to feed everybody every day because we didn’t want them to leave. We thought if they left at lunch, the odds of them getting sick increased, so we wanted them to hang tight [and be safe]. We had restaurants around town that were really struggling during COVID, so the second benefit of that is that we were able to help local restaurants by giving them large catering orders. We used a different restaurant every day of the week. It was good to be able to help the restaurant and help our people.
OTC: I’ve read that you are actively involved in the community. Please share a little about your experience outside of Ampro.
Mr. Sammons: I was an elected official here in Memphis for 25 years and also served as the deputy mayor here twice. They call it the Chief Administrative Officer, and that’s the guy that runs the city. In addition to that, much like my deal at Ampro, I’m the general chairman of this PGA Tour Golf event, this golf tournament in Memphis that benefits the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, which is funded right here in Memphis. I took that appointment, a volunteer job, when I decided to retire from politics. My uncle is the founder of FedEx, and he called me and asked me, “Jack, what are you gonna do with your time now that you’re out of politics?” I said, “Uncle Fred, all my friends, including my brother, play golf, and in playing golf, they get to travel and go to these wonderful golf courses around the world and enjoy each other. I’ve never had that opportunity because I’ve been going to committee meetings in city hall,” He laughed, and he is not a golfer. He is a world-class businessman. And he just shook his head. But he said, “Look, our company is very involved in golf, and I’d like to see you get involved with the local tournament here in Memphis. So he put me on the board, and within a year, they made me the chairman, and I didn’t even play golf at the time. It’s not so much about golf it’s about relationships and it’s about earning the trust of other people to invest their charity dollars in your event.
OTC: What positive impact do you feel the FedEx St Jude Championship has made?
Mr. Sammon’s: Golf is such a wonderful tool for humanity to find common ground, enjoy each other’s company, and get a little exercise. It checks a lot of boxes, and it’s fun. I am a decent player, but nobody gets too excited when they find out I am on their team (laughs). This will be my 14th tournament, and we have raised, not including this past year, over 75 million dollars for the hospital. The hospital treats the sickest kids in the world for free. When the Ukraine war broke out, there were a lot of children there who were being treated for cancer, and St. Jude sent large jets to Poland. They escorted these kids out of Ukraine and flew them to Memphis, and so many of them are doing great and have been treated here at the hospital; it’s really a blessing. It’s been one of the joys of my life to lead our group of 1750 volunteers, which is like a second family to me. When I took over the tournament, much like when I took over Ampro, we weren’t exactly the leader of the clubhouse. We were in bad shape, but now we are in the first round of the FedEx Cup playoffs. Our purse is 20 million dollars, and we have very high TV ratings and are seen all over the globe. So, it’s been quite a blessing for me, and I have met so many fine people who give up two weeks of their vacation time and volunteer to work in this golf tournament. It’s a passion for so many people, and we bring some of the children out there, and they meet the golfers. The golfers love interacting with the kids.
The story of St. Jude is that Danny Thomas, a famous actor from the 1960s, prayed to St. Jude, the patron saint of lost causes. His career was going nowhere, and he prayed to St. Jude, saying, “If you will just give me a break and I make it someday, I will take [a portion] of the money I’ve made and build a shrine to you.” He ended up having a gig in New York City, and a big storm came through. None of the other folks who were supposed to be on stage that night were able to make it, so he ended up being the whole show and in the audience was a talent scout from CBS who gave him a pilot, and it turned into a full-time show and he ended up being a big-time producer and actor and made a fortune. At some point, he goes to the Catholic bishop in New York. He says, “Alright, I made this commitment; what should I do? Actually, it was the cardinal that said, you need to go to Memphis and build a children’s hospital. He said, “Why Memphis?” and the cardinal said, “That’s the first city that I was assigned to as a young priest, and he said there are some fine people in that town that will help you. Memphis, at the time, was a segregated city, and he said, “You can play a big role in helping to heal the wounds of segregation in the South.” The architect Paul Williams, who designed the original St. Jude Hospital was an African American. When he first came to Memphis, he couldn’t stay at the fancy hotels, and that changed rapidly. The architect also designed the dining area where people eat at St. Jude and it is not a separate one for patients or scientists; he put them all in there together. It’s great to go in there and see Nobel prize-winning scientists sitting next to the fundraisers and patients and their families]. The Gallup poll did a story not too long ago, saying that St. Jude was the most recognized charitable cause in the world. We think our golf tournament has helped make St. Jude America’s Charity, and our goal is to make it the world’s charity.
OTC: What Danny Thomas did was phenomenal. Is Ampro also involved in giving back?
Mr. Sammon’s: Well, Danny Thomas’s theory was that no child should die in the dawn of their life, and we’re not gonna quit until that’s all behind us. The hospital is also very involved in sickle cell research, which is relevant to Ampro and our customers. Ampro puts the St. Jude logo on the jar of every product we make, so if you see a jar of Pro Styl gel or Shine ‘n Jam, you see the St. Jude logo on our jar. It’s an effort for us to help spread the word. Maybe a child’s life could be saved because of some of our efforts, and the Rudner family, the owners of Ampro, are also very generous; they make a generous donation every year. There is a synergy of concentric circles that all started with Tae Jhin and me and St. Jude and the Rudner family and Ampro products and Eddie and I, and now his sons and the rest of his family. It brought us all closer.
OTC: It sounds like you have had such rich experiences. How do you balance your personal and business life?
Mr. Sammons: Truth be known, I probably do a poor job with all of it, but nowadays, I love to play golf. I used to play tennis, which is my exercise, and we’ve got a plant that is many acres of ground, and I am walking that thing all day long from one end to the other, and that has become my exercise these days. My wife and I have been married for 33 years, and we have two kids, and my daughter is getting married soon. Work-life balance is a tough thing, but every hour we get is truly a blessing, and I don’t sleep that much because I want to take advantage of every minute of the day. I like the quote by Hubert Humphrey, former vice president of the United States, who said, “Life is to be enjoyed, not endured.” I really try to live that. You know work is work, but work is like a holiday because if you enjoy it, it’s not work. It gets more complex as the business grows, but running the Ampro business has been a true joy of mine and watching some of our young people grow through the organization and succeed has been so gratifying to me, and to see people achieve financial wellness through the success of the company has been a really positive moment in my life.
The Rudner family wants Ampro to be a family business, and it’s not just a bunch of words, we really do our best to make everybody feel like they are a part of the family and the organization and that their voice is being heard and that they are there to make a difference. The vast majority of our employees have been there for decades. They are loyal people who believe in what we are doing, and they know that we share success with our teammates. And that’s worked out well for us, especially in the last five or six years, because the growth of our company has been extraordinary.
OTC: What would you say that growth is attributed to?
Mr. Sammons: The Shine ‘n Jam product line has just enjoyed phenomenal success. We believe, and we know based on empirical data and consumer feedback, that we’ve just built a better product than anybody else has out there, and we’ve had a successful marketing campaign. It’s been a fun ride, and I’m not a kid anymore, but I still have a lot of energy and expect to be here for a while. My buddy Eddie Jhin lectures me often about taking care of myself and the importance of good health and all of that, and he is absolutely right. I try to do that. I’m a young 68-year-old.
OTC: It sounds to me like your spirit and positive attitude is also what keeps you healthy. What are your thoughts on the importance of keeping a positive mindset?
Mr. Sammons: A newspaper once wrote that I have a contagious enthusiasm, and that was nice of them to say, and I think that’s right because the glass is always half full to me, and I try to uplift other folks and motivate and make people laugh. Laughter is the greatest medicine, and so I’ve been blessed with one of my few talents: my ability to tell a story, tell a joke, and make people laugh. I’ve leveraged that in my business career as well as my personal career as well as the not-for-profit side. The guys at the PGA tour said there ain’t but one Jack Sammons, Thank God (laughs). They never know what I’m gonna say.
OTC: Well, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me today. I appreciate you.
Mr. Sammons: Allyson, God bless you.
OTC: Your stories would make a great book one day.
Mr. Sammons: You know I was a sports editor of the school newspaper. I have great admiration and respect for anybody who’s got the talent to write articles and then put together a magazine, oh my, that’s way over my head.
OTC: Thank you. I truly enjoy what I do at OTC, and I have such a great team.
Mr. Sammons: You do a great job, and we look forward to seeing the magazine every month.