Made in America
Farouk Shami Calls America His Land of Opportunity and Now He’s Paying His Adopted Land Back
For the majority of people, no matter who they are, there are always obstacles that stand in the way of the success they dream of. Some resign themselves to fate. Others decide that fate will just have to step aside because they’ve got bigger plans.
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When you come from a place like Ramallah in Palestine, a town beset by war and hardship, fate can be a formidable opponent. But Farouk Shami knew the answer to his success would be found in the United States. It was, after all, the land of opportunity. Once he reached America he was sure that with determination and hard work, anything was possible.
It’s hard to believe that the man who just built a 35,000 square foot home in Houston, complete with a lake and an indoor pool—a home so lavish that it could be mistaken for a five-star hotel in Miami or Dubai started his life with so little. Shami arrived in the U.S. in 1965. He had just $75 in his pocket and every intention of earning his PhD to become a teacher. He enrolled in school and took a job as a waiter to pay his tuition. At work he met a girl who was studying for her cosmetology license. Thinking it would be a great way to supplement his income, he decided to join her in beauty school. Once he got there, he knew he would never become the college professor his father intended.
Shami was overwhelmed by how much he loved the art of hair, and the chemistry. Although he promised his family he would get his degree, his heart secretly belonged to hairdressing.
Like many who move to this country, he seized the opportunities available to people willing to work hard, and quickly became a successful stylist and salon owner in Houston. Then, disaster struck. He developed a severe allergy to the ammonia in haircolor and doctors told him it might be the end of his career behind the chair. With the determination that fires him to this day, he searched for an alternative. “I knew that many other hairdressers had the same problem,” he says, “so I needed to find an answer. I couldn’t afford chemists so I studied chemistry on my own, day and night.” After mixing up batch after batch of haircolor in the back of his salon, he discovered a viable formula and Sunglitz ammonia-free color was born.
Shami hit the beauty show circuit with his invention, and the appreciation that he received from thousands of hairdressers left no doubt in his mind. Farouk Systems would be a company of hairdressers for hairdressers, dedicated to making the profession safer, healthier, more artistic and more profitable.
The ideas kept coming. Adding silk to hair products to strengthen hair created Silk Therapy. He developed the CHI straightening iron that smooths away every trace of frizz and curl, which also quickly opened up a whole new profit center for salons. An organic hair care line based on the nourishing properties of olive oil became CHI Organics.
Staff members at Farouk Systems became accustomed to the boss bounding into work with a brand new idea for a product and ordering the team to get to work on it right away. The company Shami created with just $1,000 to sell Sunglitz was now selling products and tools to hairdressers around the world. Fast forward two decades, and he refers to himself as “The Billion Dollar Hairdresser”—a hint at his net worth?
Now, Shami is facing the challenges of the current economy headon for hairdressers. To provide superior technology at an affordable price, he has developed two new thermal tool collections—Velocity and Infra Tech. They include state-of-the-art dryers, irons, brushes, combs, even clips. The designs are racy—sleek lines and cool colors that will definitely reawake interest in appliances among salon clients. Plus, they boast the same features as rival tools that cost twice as much—including digital controls and ionic technology that actually improves hair condition and extends the life of haircolor.
“This country has done so much for me,” says Shami, “and I want to keep it strong.” Strength takes many forms and one way Farouk Systems does its part is by helping those in need. With little fanfare, stylists from the company can be found most weekends doing hair for a breast cancer fundraiser or a beauty pageant for the handicapped. At holiday time, company trucks roll into underserved communities and hand out much needed hair care products, along with other gifts, to kids and their parents. After Hurricane Ike devastated the Houston area last year, Shami himself, along with his son, company CEO Basim Shami personally accompanied trucks into the hardest hit areas and distributed items the displaced needed to rebuild their lives.
Then there is the matter of this country’s economic strength, and to this end, Shami has recently made a huge financial decision to bring all manufacturing back to Houston from overseas. It wasn’t easy.
He had to start from the ground up, building a brand new manufacturing facility to accommodate the operations. But he took advantage of his strong R&D team—headed by former NASA Chief Scientist Dr. Dennis Morrison—to create new manufacturing systems and protocols that will make production more efficient and quality more consistent. He estimates that the company will be bringing up to 4,000 new jobs to Houston over the next few years and he is so proud of the new facility, he has even invited President Obama to travel to Houston to cut the ribbon!
Shami has had some experience with economic downturns so he is not daunted by the current situation. “In the 1980s, oil prices dropped and Houston was a ghost town,” he remembers. “So I worked harder. When business slowed, I took the time to create and innovate. We’re doing that now. Crisis can become opportunity. If you are innovative, you can survive the worst.”
So, undaunted by the downturn, the ideas keep coming. Spend an hour with the man and you fill a notebook with his ideas for new products, tools and business strategies. As varied as they are, they all have one thing in common—Shami hopes that they will make life better and more profitable for salon owners and stylists. Because, despite how far he’s come from the days when he waited tables to make ends meet, one thing hasn’t changed. For Shami, it has always been for and about hairdressers, and it always will be.