Sam Shine, the founder of Samtec, passed away on November 15 at age 86. Since his passing, several articles and obituaries have been written about Sam and his legacy. Rightfully so, most focus on his love for the Southern Indiana community, his local and national conservation efforts, and above all, his generosity.
He is known locally for his recent purchase of Joe Huber’s Family Farm and Restaurant. This family-owned restaurant farm market, located in rural Southern Indiana, was being sold by the family after being a fixture in the community for decades. Sam purchased the business and property at auction because he believed keeping it open would benefit Southern Indiana, and to protect the scenic land from development.
But this wasn’t the first time he purchased land to preserve it and protect its beauty. In 2018, he donated 6,200 acres of ecologically sensitive pine lands that he had purchased in Northern Florida to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The Purdue University Research Park in New Albany sits on 40 acres of land donated by his family, the very property where he and his brother Bob grew-up. There was also a $1 million donation to the Louisville Waterfront Botanical Gardens, 300+ acres donated for a Bloomington, Indiana land trust, and his support of the Ohio River Greenway, to name a few.
These would be a lifetime’s worth of achievements for most people, but all of these occurred in the second half of Sam’s life. In the first part, he founded and nurtured a company that is now metro Louisville’s third largest manufacturing firm and one of the top 10 largest privately held firms in the region.
That company is, of course, Samtec, Inc. Samtec, a $760 million, privately-held company headquartered in New Albany, has more than 5,500 associates (approximately 1,500 in Southern Indiana), at over 40 locations worldwide.
But when the company opened for business on January 2, 1976, Sam and Betty Shine handled all company duties, including manufacturing, shipping and receiving, purchasing, and the bulk of the administrative work. The first office was a couple of rooms in the back of a house that served as an insurance agency.
Samtec was founded on the principle of “Sudden Service.” Sam pioneered the importance of customer service in the electronics industry. His innovative ideas have been compared to the likes of Amazon, Southwest Airlines and Apple, except he did it for electronic connectors – without the internet – and in Indiana, years before those other companies existed.
Sudden Service worked, and the business grew. While the Sudden Service approach was groundbreaking – lead times in days instead of weeks or months, 24-hour shipment of free samples, associates (employees) trained to assist customers and empowered to make decisions on the spot – implementation was simple and straight-forward.
Sam’s philosophies eventually led to the company’s seven “Sudden Service Principles” which read more like a common-sensical list of how to be a better person rather than business principles. “Everybody makes mistakes, admit it and recover quickly,” “follow-up is essential,” and “if a customer isn’t happy, that’s the same as a quality reject” will probably not be published in the Harvard Business Review as the latest business mantra.
However, Sam directed the company according to those principles, he reinforced them, and encouraged all associates to live by them. This, combined with his sound business plan, helped distinguish Samtec from its competitors.
And stand out it did. Samtec has been awarded the #1 overall ranking in the Bishop and Associates Customer Service Survey of the Electronic Connector Industry, conducted in both North America and Europe, a combined 28 times. The Bishop award is the connector industry equivalent to the J.D. Power Award.
“Sam Shine created a company that can best be described as having high character, complete honesty and respect in dealing with others, a total commitment to superior customer service, and loyalty to employees,” said Ron Bishop, president of Bishop & Associates. “Samtec sets the gold standard for how companies should operate. For these reasons, Samtec has been voted Number One Best Overall Performer for the past two decades in Bishop & Associates’ customer surveys of the connector industry. Sam Shine’s character and leadership created a wonderful company in which all of us in the industry can be proud. We will all miss him.”
The early product line was designed to provide customers the industry’s widest selection of board-to-board interconnects, while giving them the flexibility to design a solution that precisely matched their specific requirements. The beauty of this system was the products could be manufactured in a few hours instead of weeks, with minimal inventory, and using low-cost manufacturing methods.
Since then, Samtec’s product line has mushroomed to include high-bandwidth, micro-miniature products for networks, super computers, meidcial equipment, aviation, and industrial automation and robotics applications, to name a few.
Sam sought associates who were honest and passionate, but he always stressed the importance of family and balance. Once, during a review, a young manager made a statement akin to “Samtec is my life,” and Sam told him he needed to get his priorities in order.
Sam was demanding and held associates to high standards. He was straight forward. You always knew where he stood on a matter, a trait that stayed with him his entire life. Several of us “Samtec lifers” can share story after story of Sam’s honesty and directness. Most of these are hilarious in retrospect, but it often didn’t feel that way at the time.
After Sam’s “retirement” from Samtec in the mid 1990’s — although some would say he never retired — he pursued his other passion of philanthropy, and in particular, conservation efforts. He founded the Sam Shine Foundation and his son John assumed the role of President of Samtec. The innovative service principles Sam Shine established became the cornerstone of the company’s future growth.
Of course the electronics industry has evolved since his retirement, but his foundational principles of service, excellence, innovation, and “taking care of people” (as he called it) has carried on.
Sam’s influence in the electronics industry is huge. In many peoples’ opinion, it surpasses his generosity and impact on the local community. But again, he left his mark on the electronics industry in the first part of his life.
Personally, as a 31-year Samtec veteran, I respect Sam most for his humility. He never sought the spotlight or public recognition.
Years ago, Sam reviewed a summary I prepared about Samtec for an electronics publication. His only change was to the first sentence, which originally read “Sam Shine started the company in 1976.” He removed his name and changed it to “The company was founded in 1976.”
If he were with us today, he would never let me publish this tribute. Sorry about that, Sam.
P.S. — Sam believed that the two best times to plant a tree were 30 years ago, or today. Sam’s obituary asked that people plant a tree (preferably an oak tree, his favorite) or donate to the Sam Shine Foundation instead of buying flowers.