Charles Addison Sammons wanted to see everything. "He liked to go
different places and do different things," said his daughter, Mary
Anne Cree. "He felt that was an education in itself." His
inquisitive nature and eagerness to learn led him around the globe. He
traveled everywhere, from the New York World’s Fair in 1939 to a golf
cart factory in Poland in the 1970s. As a businessman, he was often
called a visionary. An avid reader, Mr. Sammons built an enterprise using
competitive intelligence to identify and acquire businesses in
high-potential industries. He capitalized on some of the greatest
consumer demands of the twentieth century, including oil, cable
television, and bottled water.
pleasure was not in accumulating wealth. Rather, he wanted to create
value through diversified and decentralized operations. This meant that
Sammons Enterprises’ many subsidiaries were autonomous. The holding
company’s role was primarily to allocate capital and ensure each
investment had a strong leader in place. Charles Sammons’ business
philosophy resulted in continuous growth and acquisition. According to
Jim Whitson, former CEO of Sammons Communications, and EVP and COO of
Sammons Enterprises, selling a business represented failure to Mr.
Sammons. But as a risk-taker, Charles Sammons accepted that failure was
sometimes unavoidable. As Mrs. Cree put it, “He always said to me, ‘I
don’t know how successful I was, but I won more than I lost.’”
Under ordinary circumstances, Charles Sammons’ success would be
impressive. But for a man who had neither father figure nor higher
education, it is exceptional. The enterprise he built has endured the
Great Depression, World War II, natural disasters, and several
recessions. In early 2009, the business spanned the United States,
Mexico, and the United Kingdom, and had a market value of more than $3
As companies across the globe struggled under the weight of 2008’s
sharp economic decline, Sammons Enterprises remained on firm footing.
Charles Sammons’ businesses have withstood many economic fluctuations
since he established the precursor to Sammons Enterprises during the
Great Depression, and they remain strong and diversified in the face of
today’s challenges. “We view these current times as much an opportunity
as we do a challenge,” said Sammons Enterprises chairman Bob Korba. Mr.
Korba admitted it is impossible for Sammons’ many businesses to be
unaffected by the recession. “Our insurance group has a lot of
investments that are subject to write-downs and devaluations, and in our
equipment business people just aren’t spending,” he noted. Even so, Mr.
Korba believes there are prosperous times ahead. “It’s not an issue of
whether or not we’ll survive. We know we’re going to survive. The
question is how can we get through this even stronger than we were when
A Childhood Cut Short
Charles Addison Sammons, Sr., and Mary Georgie Porter Sammons had
little time to teach their children about life. Charles Addison, Jr., the
second of three children and only son, was born on June 5, 1898. By 1911,
Charles and his sisters were orphans. Their mother died on January 26,
1910, and their father succumbed to a heart attack on December 16, 1911.
The impact Mr. and Mrs. Sammons made in these few years, however,
strongly influenced the course of Charles Sammons’ future.
The Sammons family made their home in Ardmore, Oklahoma. Still
considered Indian Territory for most of their time there, Oklahoma became
the forty-sixth state on November 16, 1907. Ardmore developed along the
route of the Santa Fe Railroad. It was named by a railroad survey crew in
1886 when they drove a stake into the ground to mark the site of a future
station. They named the site Ardmore, for a town in Pennsylvania. On July
28, 1887, the first train arrived. It
brought much needed lumber and other building supplies to the town, which
then consisted of just a few tents. In 1898, the year Charles Sammons was
born, Ardmore was granted a city charter, and the first city elections
were held. Telephone and electric services were also established that
Cotton served as the community’s primary economic base. In fact,
Ardmore was the largest inland cotton market in the United States. But
the soil eventually became depleted and cotton could no longer be
produced. When that happened, oil became Ardmore’s main commodity. The
first oil well was drilled in 1905, and by the 1920s, the town boasted
five oil refineries.
In the midst of farmers and oilmen, Charles Sammons, Sr. was a
businessman. It was a skill his son inherited. Mr. Sammons owned
lumberyards in both southern Oklahoma and northern Texas, and provided a
comfortable life for his family. They traveled regularly, spending
summers at the Antlers Hotel in Colorado Springs. Located at the foot of
Pikes Peak, the fashionable hotel was a popular destination for U.S.
presidents and other celebrities.
For young Charles, the appeal of travel never faded, and he instilled
it in his own family. “Travel was very important to both my mother and
father,” said Mary Anne Cree. “He felt that was more important than
school, though I always had to take my homework along.” Mrs. Cree was not
the only family member guilty of absenteeism. Mr. Sammons took time off
from building his business, even in the vital early years, to vacation
with his family. This was no small feat for a man for whom business was
more than work. He later wrote, “My hobbies are reading, travel, some
swimming and bicycling. However, perhaps attempts to solve business
problems, help make companies grow and prosper is my most interesting
Before long, however, the line between business and travel blurred.
The cost-saving nature for which Mr. Sammons would later be renowned
began to appear. He entered the hospitality industry in the 1950s, and
vacations became getaways to Sammons-owned properties. Those who knew him
joked that, like the queen of England, he never stepped on land he didn’t
But before building his enterprise, Charles Sammons had to confront
the tragedy of his parents’ deaths, and the loss of the life he had
known. Because his parents left no will, explained Mary Anne Cree,
“everything sort of disappeared.” The Sammons children were split among
relatives. Charles Sammons moved to the farmland of Plano, Texas, to live
with his aunt. That familial separation shaped the life Charles Sammons
made for himself. More noteworthy than the loss, however, was the
resilience and ingenuity with which he responded.
to Mary Anne Cree, Charles Sammons felt responsible for his sisters even
after they were separated. This drove him to work at an early age. “He
picked cotton one summer,” she noted, “and said he never wanted to have
to make a living doing that.” He quickly developed a dislike for the
physical labor involved in farming. That feeling persisted during high
school when he worked a laundry route. He ultimately chose to follow in
his entrepreneurial father’s footsteps and become a businessman. He
bought a wagon and hired a horse and some of his high school friends to
lug the clothes around while he concentrated on the operational side of
the business. Counting all three of Plano’s barber shops as clients, Mr.
Sammons earned commissions of several thousand dollars each year he was
He was able to earn enough money to help send his sisters to college,
though he never went himself. “He had a very bright, active mind,” Mrs.
Cree said, “but he always felt that he missed out because he didn’t have
the advantages of college.” Nonetheless, Charles Sammons gained
invaluable practical education through a lifelong career in business. And
he was always eager to learn from the people with whom he surrounded
back to top
After graduating from high school in
1916, Charles Sammons went to work for a wholesale hay dealer in Plano.
Working for someone else was a rare experience, but it gave Mr. Sammons
the opportunity to learn the trade and gain experience. The commodity brokerage
business developed in the 1800s. It emerged due to changes in the
agricultural industry, driven by the development of both the railroad and
telegraph. The rise of the commodity futures industry helped propel the
purchase, transport, and delivery of goods across the nation. These
brought increased organization and speed, and ultimately lower costs, to
consumers. For farmers who were previously forced to rely on bartering at
local markets to sell their products, the emerging national market was a
By 1917, Charles Sammons felt he had learned enough about the hay and
grain industry to move to Dallas and begin his own operation. Using
credit from local banks, he bought carloads of hay, grain, oats, and
other livestock feed from producers and shippers and had them shipped
directly to buyers. By selling his product for more than
the amount due on his loans, he was able to maintain his credit and make
a profit. “My bank arrangements allowed me to handle about ten times the
collateral I posted with the banks,” Mr. Sammons later wrote. “My profits
soon doubled or tripled that starting capital, and I soon had similar
offices in Fort Worth and Waco.” Mary Anne Cree described her father’s
financial intuition as a gift. “He understood money,” she said. “He
always used other people’s money to make money.”
Charles Sammons was building his business at a time when most of his
contemporaries were working as ranch hands and stocking warehouses. But
his relationship with Dallas-based Security National Bank was put in
jeopardy when the institution discovered he was not of majority age. He
owed the bank roughly $100,000 at the time but legally could not be held
accountable for the debt. Mr. Sammons diffused the situation by going to
court and having his minor status removed. The act allowed him to
continue building his enterprise. But just as important, his actions
demonstrated the manner in which he conducted business. Integrity was of
the utmost importance to Charles Sammons. And he expected just as much from
his employees and business partners as he did from himself. As his
business grew in the following years, so did the challenges. But he
encountered each one with the same uprightness exhibited when, according
to the law, he was just a child.
With his banking relationships restored
and his adult status legally recognized, Mr. Sammons set his sights on
the future. Even in his early twenties, Mr. Sammons had the ability to
look past his current project to the next endeavor. It was a trait that
eventually earned him the label of visionary. It also helped diversify
his enterprise, which ultimately became a cornerstone of his business
philosophy. Through diversification, Charles Sammons could continue to
develop his business without relying on a single industry to constantly
provide growth. While still in the hay and grain business, he took
bookkeeping and business law courses, as well as cotton-buying classes,
to expand his business into cotton sales. It was a timely decision. The
new business both complemented the old and gave Mr. Sammons the
additional industry on which to concentrate, should the market for
livestock feed deteriorate. “The hay and grain business was feast and
famine, and it ended in famine,” he said. Power-driven equipment soon
began to replace the draft horses and other animals fed by his original
product. But for Charles Sammons, always a step ahead, it was a
relatively smooth transition.
back to top
When Security National Bank discovered Charles Sammons’ status as a
minor, it put their relationship in jeopardy. Though Mr. Sammons had his
minor status removed, as a show of good faith he invested the majority of
his wealth in the bank’s stock. It was an ill-fated decision. In the
early to mid-1920s, farmers’ struggles with crashing crop prices and
bankers’ poor lending practices led to the failure of many U.S. banks.
Security National was one of them, taking Charles Sammons’ money with it.
As the Depression began to set
in, many Americans were destitute. Jobs and savings vanished seemingly
overnight, and thousands were forced out of their homes. Many ended up in
“Hoovervilles,” communities of makeshift shacks constructed from as
little as cardboard boxes. The temporary housing was named for President
Hoover, whom many blamed for the crisis. Others roamed the country in
search of work, though there were few jobs to be found. By 1932, roughly
25 percent of the U.S. workforce was unemployed. For Charles Sammons, who
had neither family nor physical skills to rely on, the future could have
been grim. Rather than succumbing to the fate of so many other Americans,
he regrouped. Mr. Sammons moved to Waco, Texas, and refocused his efforts
on the cotton trading business.
Charles Sammons continued to rely on his ability to attract investors.
He quickly secured the financial backing of a Waco businessman who owned
a cotton storage facility. In return, Mr. Sammons ran the business, and
they shared the profits.
During this time, he also became acquainted with local businessmen Abe
Marker and Harold Goodman. Mr. Marker and Mr. Goodman were rebounding
from a failed attempt in the health and accident insurance business.
“They had learned why they went broke,” wrote Charles Sammons. “It was
because they had spent all of the money collected as it came in and had
nothing left to pay claims.” Abe Marker and Harold Goodman wanted to give
insurance another try, and recognized in Mr. Sammons a potential business
partner. Though his insurance industry knowledge was minimal, Mr. Sammons
had several key assets to offer the relationship. He had managed to amass
a decent savings, which, coupled with his excellent credit, gave him a
small but sturdy base. He had also gained considerable operations skills
while running his livestock feed business. “It turned out they wanted me
because I knew about office machinery, typewriters, adding machines,
etc.,” skills the two men lacked.
In 1928, Abe Marker, Harold Goodman, and Charles Sammons formed a
partnership, agreeing to split everything equally. Each contributed a few
hundred dollars to establish Postal Indemnity Company, a mutual
assessment insurance company that wrote accident and life insurance
coverage. Money was scarce. The only capital was the $1 application fee
they collected. In fact, the partners had to borrow money to pay their
first accident claim. It came in at $1,000, which was their limit for
accident coverage at the time. But Charles Sammons again refused to let
capital, or lack thereof, become an obstacle to building a business. He
turned to Republic National Bank, as well as other Dallas banks, which
willingly funded the operation. Mr. Sammons felt they dispensed their
money a little too willingly. He later criticized several bankers for
“lending me money with which to go into businesses in which I had no
experience whatever.” He cited a basement full of letterhead as evidence
of the many companies that were financed, but never thrived. He was
always quick to note, however, that he never denied any just claim. Nor
did he ever default on a loan or declare a company bankrupt.
Despite its meager beginning and the fact that economic woes still
hung thickly over the country, Postal Indemnity grew. Its name soon
changed to Postal Mutual Indemnity Company. The policies the company
originally sold for $3.65 per year (one cent a day!) turned into
thousand-dollar-per-year income streams. Marketing emerged as one of the
tools used for company growth, and was an area of creative interest for
Mr. Sammons. According to Jim Whitson, former CEO of Sammons
Communications, and EVP and COO of Sammons Enterprises, even forty years
later marketing remained one of the few operational areas in which Mr.
Sammons gave any business input at all. True to form, Charles Sammons
capitalized on the sales appeal of Postal Indemnity’s first claim. “We
made thousands of pictures of the check and mailed them to doctors all
over the United States to show them how important such small policies
could be,” Mr. Sammons said
was always on Charles Sammons’ mind, but insurance laws of the 1930s
limited mutual assessment policies to $1,000. Expansion meant branching
out into other areas of Texas as well as other parts of the country, by
acquiring existing companies. As Postal Indemnity moved into states such
as California, Indiana, Illinois, and Arizona, the partnership grew as
well. Mr. Sammons considered Abe Marker and Harold Goodman to be
“entirely honest,” and “excellent partners and friends.” In later years,
however, he did note that while Mr. Marker was an industrious worker, Mr.
Goodman was lazy. Mr. Sammons felt that he and Mr. Marker carried Mr.
Goodman along. The comment sheds light on the end of their partnership.
When Abe Marker died from a heart attack in 1938 at the age of forty,
rather than continuing the business with Harold Goodman, Mr. Sammons
bought Mr. Marker’s share of the company from his widow. Mr. Goodman took
the Indianapolis, Indiana, branch as his share of their agreement. Once
again, Charles Sammons was on his own.
back to top
Mr. Sammons used the handful of mutual insurance companies that he
solely owned, and a $26,000 loan to form Reserve Life Insurance Company
(RLI) in 1938. It was his first stock-based company, and the basis on
which Mr. Sammons built his dynasty. With the cash
Reserve Life generated, Mr. Sammons funded future acquisition.
Charles Sammons also continued his pattern of business expansion
during economically challenging times. To combat the struggles of scarce
labor and machinery during World War II and postwar years, Mr. Sammons
kept RLI running twenty-four hours a day at times. He arranged for
employees to work in shifts to accommodate business requests. He even
operated the addressograph machine, printing addresses on customer
In the early years of Reserve Life, Mr. Sammons used the capital
generated from his mutual companies to fund growth. However, as RLI began
to offer additional products and services, expansion was subsidized
through the company’s own sales efforts. Mr. Sammons also continued to
acquire insurance companies.
Modern-day health insurance in the United States began with the Baylor
Plan, which was established during the Great Depression by Baylor
Hospital administrator Dr. Justin Ford Kimball. Dr. Kimball had
previously been a school superintendent. Knowing the burden of health
care costs on a teacher’s salary, he created a fund into which teachers
could pay fifty cents a month to guarantee up to twenty-one days of
hospital care. Other hospitals around the country followed suit, and in
1944, the Baylor Plan was merged into Blue Cross and Blue Shield of
of RLI’s new products was hospital insurance, which it began offering in
1946, shortly after the formation of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas.
Mr. Sammons also pioneered the concept of selling monthly premiums, which
increased growth. The success of his efforts showed clearly in his
premium income numbers. In RLI’s first year, premium income was
$1,453.71; in 1946, it surpassed $1 million.
Geographical expansion, however, brought challenges. The regulations
for obtaining an insurance license in each state were different. In some
states, the requirements were especially difficult to satisfy. In New
York, for example, insurance laws were extra-territorial. This meant New
York laws applied to the insurance a company wrote not only in New York
but also in any other state in which that company operated. To avoid
these types of restrictions, Mr. Sammons typically acquired companies
that were already licensed and let them operate as subsidiaries under
their own names. In this way, he neither had to endure the often painful
licensing process, nor bind Reserve Life to other states’ rules. What he
could do, however, was introduce the products and services offered by
Reserve Life into the subsidiaries, thus creating a national market.
Building a Values-Based Culture
At the onset of his career, Charles Sammons discovered he could not
legally be held accountable for his debt due to his minor status. His
decision to assume the debt anyway came from an unwavering commitment to
his personal values, one of which was integrity. As Mr. Sammons began to
grow his enterprise, like any businessman, he was periodically faced with
values-based decisions. While these types of judgment calls can seem
singular and isolated when they arise, over time they create precedents
and help define an individual’s, and in this case an enterprise’s,
“Mr. Sammons set some fairly high standards, one of which was to keep
our word in a transaction. If we committed to do something, we would do
it,” Sammons Enterprises chairman Bob Korba said. Ethics were important
to Mr. Sammons, and he would go out of his way to uphold the company’s
integrity. Mr. Korba, who was general counsel for Sammons Enterprises before
assuming the role of CEO and later chairman, noted that the company faced
several baseless lawsuits over the years. Refusing to settle with
plaintiffs making false claims, Mr. Sammons spent thousands of extra
dollars on litigation to defend the company’s honor. “It was not a
business decision,” said Mr. Korba. “It was a decision based on his
Another standard established by Charles Sammons was hard work. On this
he set the bar much higher than most people could reach. He was often
noted as having worked until the day he died. And he expected a lot from
his employees as well. As Doris Hartman, his secretary of forty-seven
years, explained, “After hours, he’d often go around and check people’s
desks to make sure they did their work for the day. He wouldn’t
necessarily say anything, but he was definitely aware.” Demanding though
he was, Mr. Sammons created an atmosphere that inspired his employees.
Doris Hartman said she never minded the hard work or long hours, noting,
“It was fascinating because there was always something new happening.”
Today, Sammons Enterprises concentrates on recruiting new employees
who uphold these same principles. “Everybody wants the best and the
brightest people,” explained Mr. Korba. “I think bright is a commodity.
Everybody in our organization is bright. We emphasize the ‘best.’ And by
that, we’re talking about the character and the personality of the
individuals. They understand priorities. They first care about themselves
and their families, they next care about their community, and lastly,
they care about what they do at Sammons. If they’ve got their personal
priorities right, they’ll be great employees.”
In recent years, the company has made a concerted effort to define and
articulate its values to both new and existing employees. And just as
company executives believed, the original principles Charles Sammons
stood stubbornly by were clearly worth defending. Across all of Sammons
Enterprises’ businesses, ethics, integrity, and a commitment to creating
value, regardless of the amount of work it takes, are essential company
“It Was a Good Life”
Though it may have seemed so, life during the first half of the
twentieth century was not all business for Charles Sammons. In the 1920s,
he met Rosine Smith in Dallas while running his livestock feed business.
They married in 1928. Though
Rosine Smith’s early life had followed a different path than Charles
Sammons’, she exhibited one important characteristic in common with her
future husband: the ability to reach beyond what was expected. While many
women were just getting used to exercising their recently gained right to
vote, Rosine Smith was attending college at Southern Methodist
University. She graduated with a degree in journalism, and later held a
variety of jobs in her field, including Dallas newspaper publicist.
Before marrying Charles Sammons, she became the publicity director of The
Adolphus, a leading Dallas hotel. The Texas landmark was built in 1912 by
Anheuser-Busch co-founder, Adolphus Busch, and featured luxurious Baroque
architecture combined with world-class service. The first woman to ever
hold the publicity director position, Rosine Smith was truly ahead of her
Though she no longer held a full-time job after marriage, Rosine
Sammons continued her work with a range of charities. She provided the
publicity for the local chapter of the United Way and brought the first
Girl Scout chapter to Dallas. Looking back, Mary Anne Cree noted that
while at the time she took her mother’s charitable work for granted, she
now realizes how progressive her mother was.
Rosine Sammons also had a great deal of influence on her husband.
Charles Sammons followed her philanthropic lead and became a large
contributor to local charities as well. As parents, Mr. and Mrs. Sammons
passed the importance of charitable work on to their daughter. They often
explained that for all the advantages she had, she owed that much to
society. Mrs. Sammons was also able to offer Charles Sammons some of the
higher education he missed as a younger man. “Mother was a great sounding
board for him,” Mrs. Cree explained. Dinner conversations were Charles
Sammons’ chance to take advantage of his wife’s education and test his
ideas. They even discussed the meanings of words. “They were a good
combination,” said Mary Anne Cree.
It was a good life,
confirmed Mrs. Cree, who grew up in a middle-class neighborhood in
Dallas. Even though she was born during the depths of the Depression, she
claimed never to have gone without, including the attention of her
parents. Though Charles Sammons worked hard, there was still time for
pitching practice and other sports with his daughter. She joked about his
choice in activities, saying, “Daddy was probably a little frustrated
that he didn’t have a boy.”
Mary Anne Cree described her father as loving but not necessarily expressive
with his emotions. “I always knew I was cared about a great deal, but he
didn’t talk about it,” she said. He also expected his daughter, and
grandchildren, to be independent and successful. For a man who earned
every penny he made, nepotism was not an option. Ever the businessman, he
saw the drawbacks of hiring family members. “Certainly no capable company
department head or executive would want very much to continue with us,
thinking that if we had a promotion or a better job, it would most likely
go to some of the kinfolk,” he wrote to one of his hotel managers who had
been caught adding his family to the hotel staff.
He often told his daughter to live conservatively and quietly. And
there is no better way to describe the life he led himself.
back to top
Reserve Life’s expansion was briefly put on hold in 1948 as Charles
Sammons recovered from a heart attack. Only out of the office for a month
or two, Mr. Sammons struggled with the notion of “taking it easy.” “He
had to nap every afternoon between two and four,” explained Doris
Hartman, who had to force him to rest. “It was impossible for him to let
go of work for those two hours, because he could hear phone conversations
and wanted to get up,” she said.
Mr. Sammons was in good hands, though. He had created a family
atmosphere among his businesses, and employee health was of the utmost
importance. In fact, when Reserve Life introduced its family health plan
to policyholders, Mr. Sammons made sure that employees benefited as well.
The plan was based on preventive medicine, a new approach at the time.
Employees received copies of the same educational materials on health and
home safety produced for plan policyholders. “He cared about everybody,”
said Sammons Enterprises chairman Bob Korba. “He worried about people’s
health, and he’d talk to people about it.”
Communicating with his employees was second nature to Mr. Sammons.
Even though many struggled to see beyond the executive-level boundaries
that automatically attach to a company founder, Charles Sammons was
readily accessible. “His number was in the phone book, and he generally
answered the phone himself,” Mr. Korba said. In fact, in later years when
Mr. Sammons no longer came into the office, he regularly hosted employees
at home. He welcomed them into his apartment to discuss even the smallest
Sammons’ Watchful Eye
By 1950, Charles Sammons had returned to full health and was ready to
refocus on growth. That year, Reserve Life’s premium income surpassed $22
million. Mr. Sammons relied on tight cost controls to help grow his
company, so much so that he was often seen as a penny-pincher. Doris
Hartman remembered times when employees would approach him requesting
salary adjustments. “He would say, ‘Oh? Up or down?’” He was also known
to reprimand employees for being wasteful. His definition of wasteful was
throwing paper clips away, or not using pencils to their fullest extent.
While many bristled under his watchful eye, it was this mentality that
had served him well in the early days. In a 1982 letter to then president
of Sammons Enterprises, Ken Mutzel, he commented on what he termed the
“ridiculous” long-distance telephone expense. “Early in my business
experience, my main selling tool was keeping a number of employees on the
telephones, trying to monitor their calls to a minimum and calling at the
cheapest hours. I had to operate a tight ship or go broke. I did operate
a tight ship and survived and saved a few tens of thousands of dollars to
go into some other businesses which treated me somewhat better.”
worked then, and continued to do so. But Mr. Sammons relied on more than
memos and admonishments to control costs. He used creative techniques,
one of which was limiting sales agents’ continuing interest in the
policies they sold. He provided them with leads, thus saving agents time
and money in researching potential clients. In return, he paid them a
one-time fee for each policy. Agents with a continuing interest could
potentially be compensated 5 to 10 percent of the amount of a policy’s premium
on a continual basis for the life of the policy. At Reserve Life, agents
had no continuing interest in the policy once that initial fee was paid.
Charles Sammons also continued to pioneer new health insurance
products. In the early 1950s Reserve Life introduced its family health
plan, the first of its kind. The plan encouraged preventive medicine as a
method for bettering policyholders’ lives and costing the company less in
claims. “We feel what we are doing will write new medical insurance
history,” a Reserve Life press release stated. “What we are doing is not
at all unselfish. We know that we can save these people pain and worry
and grief, and we think that we can keep their insurance rates down, and
we also expect to save money ourselves.” The family health plan offered a
number of specialized services, including a home safety quiz and coupons
with which policyholders could obtain services such as free medical
counsel and urinalysis tests.
than a creative product, the family health plan was another example of
marketing savvy. Reserve Life partnered with Dallas writer, sales expert,
and Reserve Life policyholder Elmer Wheeler to promote the plan. In 1950,
Mr. Wheeler published The Fat Boy’s Book, which explained how he lost
forty pounds in eighty days. The book became popular through newspaper
syndication, and Reserve Life decided to capitalize on its success.
Reserve Life agreed to fund the cost of The Fat Boy’s Tummy and Automatic
Calorie Selector, a pocket version of the book with supplemental information.
The book was sent to potential policyholders, with a note from Elmer
Wheeler explaining the benefits of the family health plan and a business
reply postcard for those interested in more information.
Mr. Sammons also used creative cost control methods when acquiring new
businesses. He took advantage of the fact that some of them operated in
less expensive environments. According to Bill Rigsbee, former president
of Midland National Life Insurance Company, being located in Sioux Falls,
South Dakota, gave his business an advantage over competitors located in
higher cost areas, such as New York City–based Metropolitan Life. “As a
result of having a cost advantage, we had a pricing advantage in our
products,” he explained. “We could be competitive in the marketplace.”
Acquisitions indeed were a large part of Mr. Sammons’ growth strategy,
and he was constantly in search of new developmental opportunities. While
expansion itself motivated Mr. Sammons, he particularly liked turning
struggling organizations around. In a 1983 letter to Ken Mutzel he wrote,
“If we can get a list of quite a few private companies in which we might
be interested, there might well be one or two that would like to continue
on and to safeguard the future of their employees that will be interested
in what we have to offer.” The fate of the employees was always one of
Mr. Sammons’ concerns when acquiring or selling a company. “He was very
sensitive about people and people being employed. He felt good about
providing a livelihood to people,” explained Bob Korba.
Midland National, one of Mr. Sammons’ most successful acquisitions of
the 1950s, was founded in 1906 as Dakota Mutual Life Insurance in Lead,
South Dakota. Even in its early history, the company exhibited characteristics
that proved to be a good fit for Mr. Sammons’ enterprise. It was durable,
able to withstand the influenza pandemic of 1918–1919, which killed
approximately 675,000 Americans. That’s ten times as many who died during
World War I. The company had also survived the Great Depression and World
War II. By 1925, Dakota Mutual had written life insurance policies
totaling more than $28 million and had a national clientele. In
recognition of this growing customer base, company leaders voted to
change Dakota Mutual’s name to Midland National.
In addition to its strength,
the company boasted another Sammons-like characteristic: innovative
marketing. When the Dust Bowl overwhelmed local farmers in the 1930s,
Midland National created the “Hog Contract.” The company gave farmers who
either took out a new life insurance policy or renewed their existing
policy a female hog for breeding. With the money earned from selling the
offspring, farmers would pay back the loans they took out on the policies
and begin paying their premiums. Though the Hog Contract required an
initial investment on Midland’s part of $90,000, it provided many farmers
with life insurance. Plus, it boosted the struggling hog-farming industry
in South Dakota, Minnesota, and Iowa.
Charles Sammons acquired Midland National in 1958. In 1961, he brought
in Bill Rigsbee from Franklin Life Insurance Company in Springfield,
Illinois, to run the organization. At the time, all of Mr. Sammons’
insurance companies sold mostly health-related products, except for the
recently acquired Midland. Mr. Rigsbee explained that while his
background was in life insurance, Midland could have moved toward selling
health insurance. Mr. Rigsbee, however, pushed to keep the company
primarily as a life insurance provider. In the 1960s, Mr. Sammons did not
have a company other than Midland licensed to write insurance in
Wisconsin. Mr. Sammons approached Mr. Rigsbee about using Midland as a
vehicle to write health insurance in that state. “I felt that was not a
wise move to make, that there would be some rub-off on Midland relative
to some things that were going on in the health insurance industry,” Mr.
Rigsbee said. He was referring to the reputation challenges relating to
underwriting that the health insurance industry as a whole was facing.
“Agents would write business and the policies would be issued, and
sometimes they wouldn’t be careful to document the health history of the
applicant. The first notice the company would have that this applicant
wasn’t a very good risk was when they got a claim. This created public
relations problems,” Mr. Rigsbee explained. He was determined to protect
Midland from this exposure. In a show of faith in his executive, Mr.
Sammons agreed to leave Midland as it was, focusing primarily on life insurance.
Willingness to listen to his employees was a key aspect of Mr.
Sammons’ leadership style. Rather than taking a hands-on approach, Mr.
Sammons instead hired people he believed in and got out of their way. “I
would rarely hear from him and I knew that if I didn’t, that was good
news,” Mr. Rigsbee noted. As Bob Korba explained, “Charles Sammons
created this healthy environment where you could, with minimal
interference, grow your business as big as you were capable of growing
it. He empowered people to prove how good they could be.” It was a
successful policy. Mr. Rigsbee was able to grow Midland substantially,
boasting a 15 percent compound annual growth rate over his
thirty-one-year tenure with the company.
In the 1980s, Mr.
Rigsbee expanded his role, heading up all of the insurance companies in
the Sammons portfolio. In this role, he oversaw a period of merging and
selling companies that were not faring as well as others. This included
American Progressive, British Fidelity, Westland Life, and Professional
Insurance Corporation, most of which were acquired during Mr. Sammons’
1950s era of expansion. Mr. Rigsbee also coordinated the merger of
Reserve Life into Midland National, which was a testament to Midland
National’s success. When Mr. Rigsbee retired in 1992, Midland National
posted year-end revenues of more than $350 million and life insurance in
force of $50 billion.
back to top
In addition to expanding his insurance business in the 1950s, Charles
Sammons also focused on diversification. One of his most notable moves
was entering the cable television industry. The industry had only just
begun to emerge, and Mr. Sammons’ decision demonstrates his ability to
spot an unmet consumer demand and act quickly to fill it.
Cable television in the late 1940s and early 1950s bore little
resemblance to the industry we know today. It was initially a reception
service, designed for areas that were either located a significant
distance from a television station or surrounded by mountainous or hilly
terrain. Large towers with “community antennas” were constructed, and
subscribers could receive television signals that were amplified and
distributed from these antennas through coaxial cables.
Charles Sammons entered the industry via a partnership with prominent
Colorado cable broker/investor Bill Daniels. Mr. Sammons was particularly
attracted to the industry because, much like the insurance business, it
generated regular cash flow. Once initial subscriptions were sold, as
long as the customers remained happy, they continued to send money each
month. In fact, Mr. Sammons’ acquisition strategy in the cable business
was based on cash flow. He would not buy a business for more than ten
times its cash flow. “Of course you had to look at what constituted cash
flow. If the system was really run down, you would give less than ten
times because you would have to go in there with a rebuild,” explained
Bill Strange, vice president of Corporate Development for Charles
Sammons’ cable businesses.
Sammons formed a Communications Group in 1961, and continued to buy
antenna systems around the country, as well as several radio stations. In
1964, he folded these holdings into National Trans-Video. Growth in the
industry continued at a rapid pace. To keep up, Charles Sammons formed
Sammons Communications, Inc., in 1972 to provide antenna and cable
television services nationwide. By the time Jim Whitson joined the company
in 1973, Sammons Communications posted yearly revenues of more than $13.6
million, had nearly 450 employees (most of them in the field), and
operated in twenty-one states. In 1974, T.V. Digest listed Sammons
Communications as the seventh-largest cable television system operator,
based on its 244,074 subscribers.
Sammons Communications was a multiple system operator, which meant
that it served numerous communities. As one of the earliest of its kind
in the country, Sammons Communications approached each of its systems
like a local business. Programming catered specifically to subscribers in
each region. For example, viewers in Easton, Pennsylvania, watched a
pre-taped local congressman’s Washington, D.C., interview, while
subscribers in other areas tuned in to city council meetings.
The cable industry saw many changes in the final decades of the
twentieth century. As technology progressed and the Federal
Communications Commission began to relax its regulations, more options
became available for consumers. Initially, strict rules put in place to
protect the broadcasting industry limited the number of signals providers
could carry. This essentially controlled their ability to compete in
major markets. However, in the 1970s and ’80s, the rules were relaxed,
allowing cable providers to bring in signals from anywhere they could get
them. Also during this time, satellites came into use. Companies like HBO
and Ted Turner’s WTBS took advantage of the new technology and expanded
their range. No longer having to rely on cable companies to build towers
and string wires to receive their signals, companies like HBO and WTBS
could broadcast their programs to the entire country. For cable providers
like Sammons Communications, this meant that after the initial expense of
purchasing and installing the satellite equipment, broadcasting these
additional channels became a viable option. They charged each customer a
subscription fee, which they used to pay for the additional channels.
Mr. Whitson at the helm, Sammons Communications continued to grow. Like
Bill Rigsbee, he was given the opportunity to succeed, with little input
from Charles Sammons. “He participated to the extent that I told him what
we were planning to do, and he either agreed or didn’t,” Mr. Whitson said.
Not surprisingly, marketing was the one aspect of the cable business’
operations in which Mr. Sammons did contribute. “He was prone to call our
marketing person directly and set up marketing programs,” Mr. Whitson
Like Charles Sammons, Jim Whitson ran a tightly controlled operation
when it came to costs. Bill Strange recalled the details of Mr. Whitson’s
efficiency measures. “We shared secretaries, we never used private
planes, we flew coach. If we couldn’t go coach we’d wait for the next
plane.” These measures aided growth, and Sammons Communications logged
more than 700,000 basic subscribers by the mid-1980s. Things went so
smoothly, in fact, that when Sammons Enterprises CEO Bob Korba asked Mr.
Whitson to become EVP and COO of Sammons Enterprises in 1989, Mr. Whitson
made a relatively easy transition. And though the business remained
successful, Mr. Whitson and Mr. Korba made the difficult decision to sell
the cable company in 1996.
The motivation to sell was twofold, said Mr. Whitson. In addition to
increased competition from telephone companies, the business faced
demands for added services, such as Internet.
Sammons Communications consisted of small companies scattered across
multiple states. Some of them were very small markets, such as Clinton,
Oklahoma. Mr. Whitson and Mr. Korba did not anticipate a large return on
their investment for upgrading their services. Knowing how Mr. Sammons
felt about selling anything, Mr. Whitson struggled with the decision. In
fact, he continued to think about it in the years after his retirement.
But ultimately, he acted according to the sound business judgment Mr.
Sammons had relied on for years. “It was a hard decision to make, but I
think it was the right one. If faced with the same set of circumstances, I’d
do it again. In any business there comes a time when it may be a right
time to get out. If you’ve got an alternative use for the capital, take
advantage of it. We had an alternative use and it has proven to be very
successful.” Over the course of two transactions, they sold the cable
business for roughly $1.8 billion. The capital was used to acquire
additional businesses, helping to build the billion-dollar insurance
business of today.
back to top
On Sunday, August 26, 1962, Rosine Sammons succumbed to injuries she
sustained after falling in the home she and Mr. Sammons had recently
purchased. She died in Baylor Hospital. The Dallas Times Herald reported
that Mrs. Sammons had stepped through a layer of Sheetrock™ in the
Sammons’ attic and fell two stories. She landed on the marble floor
below. After thirty-four years of marriage, Charles Sammons faced
heartbreaking loss. Upon hearing of Rosine Sammons’ death, Jim Bishop, a
friend who had previously suffered the loss of his own wife, wrote Mr.
Sammons a letter. In it, Mr. Bishop offered the most honest of words:
“Grief will hit you in waves and go away and come back again when you
least expect it. No words of mine will help. You, who have done so much for
so many friends, now stand alone in sorrow.”
The tragedy was an unexpected event in Charles Sammons’ personal life.
And it would take time and distance to heal. But business moved on. By
1962, Charles Sammons had fully diversified his holdings. In addition to
the insurance and cable businesses, he had acquired companies in a range
of industries. Some of these were Bennett Printing Company, a Texas-based
printing and stationers company; United China and Glass Company, a
worldwide importer of ceramics and other gift items; and Briggs-Weaver,
Inc., one of the largest industrial distribution companies in the
southwest. Mr. Sammons also had significant investments in the
hospitality industry, which are often noted as particularly close to his
heart. He concentrated even more of his efforts in this area in later
years. To accommodate his growing vision, Charles Sammons formed Sammons
It can be argued that the true beginning of Mr. Sammons’ dynasty was
the formation of Reserve Life in 1938 or even Postal Indemnity in 1928.
But the official beginning of today’s multibillion-dollar business is
marked by the establishment of Sammons Enterprises, Inc. on December 17,
A New Life Begins
After Rosine Sammons’ death, Charles Sammons tried to stay away from
Dallas. Perhaps the memory of his wife still lingered too vividly there.
Luckily, the love of travel that had been integral to Mr. Sammons’ life
since childhood kept him busy. In the early 1950s, he purchased the Jack
Tar Hotel in Galveston, Texas, combining his hobbies of travel and
business. “My family and I enjoyed stopping there, so when it was for
sale, I thought it would be nice to own it,” he said.
Mr. Sammons’ purchase of the Jack Tar
Hotel initiated his entrance into a new industry in which he later became
heavily involved. Over the next eleven years he expanded into travel
agencies and tour companies, as well as investing in thirteen hotel
properties in locations stretching from Charleston, South Carolina, to
San Francisco, to the Bahamas.
One property in particular, the Grand Bahama Hotel and Country Club
purchased in 1959, needed quite a bit of attention in the early 1960s.
Situated just fifty miles off Florida’s Atlantic coast, the secluded,
2,000-acre property had the potential to be an exquisite getaway. It was
surrounded on three sides by sparkling blue water filled with coral
reefs, colorful sea life, and game fish. To unlock its promise, Mr.
Sammons invested roughly $70 million into the property. He expanded the
amount of guest rooms from 340 to 575, and increased the number of holes
on the golf course from eighteen to twenty-seven. Also located on the
property was the West End International Airport. Mr. Sammons extended its
runway to 6,400 feet, long enough to accommodate 747s.
Overseeing the bevy of improvements provided a great escape for
Charles Sammons. He often stopped at the Jack Tar sales office in Miami
on his way down to the resort. There, he became acquainted with Elaine
Dewey, who worked in the office. A widow, Ms. Dewey provided much-needed
friendship for the healing Charles Sammons. Eventually, friendship grew
into more. The two married in November 1963.
With a background in hospitality and a talent for interior design,
Elaine Sammons offered sound business judgment to her husband,
particularly in the hospitality sector. In fact, The Grove Park Inn,
which Mr. Sammons purchased in 1955, was one of Elaine Sammons’ most
“Built for the Ages”
The Grove Park Inn Resort and Spa sits on the slope of Sunset Mountain
in the western North Carolina city of Asheville. It is surrounded by the
Blue Ridge Mountains. Wanting to capitalize on the scenic mountain town’s
developing tourism, entrepreneur Edwin Wiley Grove built the inn in 1913.
Mr. Grove was inspired by the Old Faithful Inn at Yellowstone National
Park, whose log-and-wood exterior gave way to a huge lobby with a stone
fireplace inside. Finding an architect to carry out his vision of a
rustic-style inn, however, was no easy task. After many consultations he
settled on the only drawing that brought his ideas to life. It was
created by his son-in-law, Fred Seely, who had no architectural
inn was constructed from boulders taken from Sunset Mountain and the
surrounding area. The lobby, appropriately known as the Great Hall, was
120 feet long and 80 feet wide. On each end sat a large fireplace stocked
with twelve-foot logs.
In the first half of the twentieth century, the inn’s guest registry
was filled with the country’s most influential names, ranging from Thomas
Edison to F. Scott Fitzgerald. During World War II, the U.S. government
leased the inn for various purposes. Axis diplomats and consular
officials were housed there while they waited for expatriation. It also
served as an army redistribution station for soldiers who awaited
reassignment. But when the government contracts ended, hard times fell
upon the inn. Not only were many of the rooms empty, but the
infrastructure was in dire need of repair. For Charles Sammons, who liked
nothing more than to restore a failing business, the inn was an
opportunity. In 1955 Charles Sammons bought The Grove Park Inn for
In the late 1970s, Mr. Sammons agreed to a complete overhaul of the
inn. He decided to put as many resources as were necessary into the
project. Though the changes were financed by Charles Sammons, they were
led by Elaine Sammons. She recognized the inn needed more than
remodeling, it needed preservation. Instead of covering up the inn’s age,
she wanted to expose its history.
Restoration began with replacing water and electrical lines and the
heating system in the main inn, as well as installing a bar in the Great
Hall. Expansion came next.
To create a wealth of new rooms and meeting space, Charles and Elaine
Sammons added the Sammons and Vanderbilt wings to the main building. They
were designed as continuations of the original structure so that the
historic look and feel of the inn was uninterrupted. Mrs. Elaine Sammons
filled the additions with authentic Arts and Crafts antiques and
well-made reproductions, adding to the building’s historic feel.
Mr. Sammons had also acquired
the inn’s adjoining country club, golf course, and outdoor swimming pool,
which he then upgraded. He also built a new, modern sports complex for
guests. When the work was completed in 1988, The Grove Park Inn Resort
boasted 510 guest rooms, five restaurants and lounges, two ballrooms,
forty meeting rooms, a country club and golf course, two swimming pools,
sports facilities, more than 600 employees, and an annual payroll of more
than $10 million.
Charles, and particularly Elaine, Sammons successfully recaptured Mr.
Grove’s vision by restoring the original architectural design. Granite
walls, oak woodwork, and copper lighting fixtures were all preserved.
They also embedded that vision within the additions and updates. Elaine
Sammons embraced the American Arts and Crafts movement, another important
component of the original design. The movement promoted individual
artistry and sought to reestablish the ties between art and the artist.
It can be seen throughout the inn in details such as the antique
furniture and appointments and the stencils applied to parapet walls,
revealed only after the staff removed thirteen layers of paint.
inn was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. Today
it stands among the elite hotels around the world, once again boasting a
registry full of prominent names. Charles Sammons is often noted as the
savior of the inn, rescuing it from almost-certain demise. And while he
may have saved the building, it was Elaine Sammons who saved the spirit
of the inn. After her husband’s death, many assumed Mrs. Sammons would
sell the inn. But she remained committed to guiding it to an even higher
level of success. In the 1990s and 2000s, she embarked on a new set of
renovations, including updating the historic main building, replacing the
roof, and building a state-of-the-art spa.
When The Grove Park Inn opened on July 12, 1913, faithful guest
William Jennings Bryant declared that it had been “built for the ages.”
Charles and Elaine Sammons ensured it remained that way.
back to top
“To whom much is given, much is expected,” Charles Sammons always told
his daughter. But for him, the saying was only half true. He was given very
little in life, but gave of himself a great deal. Even as a teenager,
when the responsibilities of homework and baseball practice could have
easily filled his days, Charles Sammons worked to help fund his two
sisters’ college educations. When both sisters were afflicted with breast
cancer at a fairly young age, he was again inspired to act on their
behalf. Their struggles personalized his lifelong support of the Baylor
University Medical Center. “I first became interested in the field
through Dr. Fred M. Lange, president of the Dallas Community Chest Fund,
and Dr. Boone Powell, director at Baylor University Medical Center,” said
Mr. Sammons in 1977. “I find contributing toward the research
In June 1955, the Baylor University
Medical Center, then known as Baylor University Hospital, installed its
first Theratron Cobalt sixty-Beam Therapy Unit. The 16,000-pound cobalt
unit was a radiation machine designed to treat cancer. With ten times as
much power as the hospital’s preexisting X-ray machine, it was able to
penetrate deeper into cancerous tissue, yet cause less harm to
surrounding, healthy tissue. The machine was the first of its kind in
Dallas, and among the first in the entire southwest. It was purchased
with a $75,000 gift from Charles Sammons.
In the late 1950s and ’60s, Mr. Sammons made numerous contributions to
the hospital. His gifts enabled the facility to continue to upgrade its
technology, establish a nuclear medicine department to aid in the
diagnosis and treatment of disease, and further cancer research through a
new virology lab and additional funding. In 1973, Mr. Sammons donated an
additional $1 million to the hospital, which helped to establish the
Charles A. Sammons Cancer Center. Mr. Sammons donated the money as a
“challenge gift,” which was meant to inspire others to dig into their own
pockets. The nature of the gift forced Mr. Sammons to make his
contribution public. Though ever humble, he did so reluctantly. In a
letter to Boone Powell, Sr., executive director of Baylor University
Medical Center, Mr. Sammons wrote: “We would very much prefer that there
be no publicity of this matter at this time. However I realize that a
gift of this kind helps bring further similar gift funds that will be
needed for the project.”
Charles Sammons’ challenge successfully encouraged other donors. The
hospital was able to collect enough money to build the Center, which was
dedicated in January 1977. The facility served as a hub for the
hospital’s oncology branch, housing Baylor’s department of radiation
therapy and treatment services for cancer. It was stocked with
sophisticated equipment, including an eighteen-million-volt electron beam
therapy linear accelerator. This state-of-the-art tool delivered
previously unavailable precision in radiation treatment. In a Dallas
Times Herald article, Dr. Reuben Adams, chairman of the medical staff
that planned the institute, explained that the Center’s focus would “be
directed toward bringing the latest advances in cancer control methods,
both diagnostic and therapeutic, to the patient, hopefully resulting in
improved chances of survival in many types of malignancies.”
Years later, Baylor had not forgotten the generosity that enabled the
hospital to accelerate its work in the field of oncology. “Thanks to Charles
Sammons’ vision, his planning and his support, the Cancer Center is a
reality, as are advances in understanding and treating the disease. We
look forward to the future, knowing that we’re building on a firm
foundation laid by Mr. Sammons and other dedicated individuals,” said
Boone Powell, Jr., who became president and CEO of Baylor University
Medical Center in 1980.
generosity reached beyond what he alone could offer. He inspired those
around him to give as well. The employees of Reserve Life’s home office
held a Founder’s Day each year, during which they raised money to give to
a charity of their choice. Mr. Sammons matched the amount they raised.
One longtime friend of Mr. Sammons, Harry Blomberg, sent a
check to the Cancer Center every year on Mr. Sammons’ birthday. He
always sent a letter, often joking, “I could not find a necktie that
I thought you would like so instead I chose a birthday gift that I know
you will like.”
The Beneficiaries of Value
Charles Sammons made considerable contributions to the advancement of
oncology, which unquestionably benefited many patients. But perhaps one
of his most significant gifts was not to a charity at all, though he
cared deeply for the recipients. In 1978, Charles Sammons created an
employee stock ownership plan (ESOP), giving his workforce ownership of
what they helped create.
concept of an employee stock ownership plan was developed in the 1956 by
Louis Kelso. A lawyer, investment banker, and economic thinker, Mr. Kelso
argued for a binary theory of economics and co-authored The Capitalist
Manifesto and its follow-up, The New Capitalists. He believed
that capitalism would be stronger if all workers, not merely a few
stockholders, shared ownership of capital-producing assets, including the
company itself. Initially, few benefited from his idea. Congress had yet
to define the ESOP. This meant that the ability to borrow money to buy
stock for participants was based on Internal Revenue Service rulings and
had no clear legislative authorization. Thus, many companies shied away
But in 1973, in the Montpelier Room of Washington, D.C.’s Madison
Hotel, Mr. Kelso met with Senator Russell Long. Senator Long was chairman
of the Senate Finance Committee, which was one of the tax-writing arms of
Congress. Mr. Kelso convinced Senator Long that employee benefit law
should not only permit but also encourage tax benefits for ESOPs. That
same year Congress passed the Regional Rail Reorganization Act,
legislatively defining ESOPs for the first time. In 1974, a legislative
framework was established for ESOPs in the Employee Retirement Income
Security Act, which governs employee benefit plans. Following this
legislation, ESOPs became much more widespread.
Ken Mutzel, then CFO of Sammons Enterprises, introduced the ESOP
concept to Charles Sammons in 1973. According to current chairman Bob
Korba, two significant factors made the ESOP a logical option for Mr.
Sammons. “Creating the concept of employee ownership was the main one,” he
said. “And the second critical piece was that it provided a vehicle for
his daughter and her children to sell stock, which they had inherited as
a result of the death of Rosine Sammons.” Mary Anne Cree and her children
had a great deal of net worth tied up in the company’s stock. While it
was a valuable investment, it was not a liquid asset. Initially, the only
market for their stock was either Sammons Enterprises or Charles Sammons
himself. The ESOP created new shareholders to whom their stock could be sold.
first, Charles Sammons saw the ESOP as a way to provide for both his
family and his employees. And while that remained an important goal, his
thoughts on the ESOP evolved over time. “He became more and more
intrigued by the concept of employee ownership and what he thought were
the real benefits,” said Bob Korba. “He was very interested in growing
the company and keeping the company together.” In light of this growing
interest, Charles Sammons wanted to change his will. He hoped to
designate the ESOP as the first beneficiary of the stock in his estate.
Mr. Sammons wrote a letter to his attorney, Vester Hughes, saying, “It
may be so that all or much of my stock can be given directly to ESOP
without taxation.” The $26 million tax he had paid more than twenty years
prior was still very present in his mind. He feared that Elaine Sammons
might face the same consequence upon his death.
While Mr. Sammons’ doubt was well-founded at the time, a few business
leaders around the country had begun to support the idea of allowing
ESOPs to be treated as charities. “Congress wasn’t sold on the idea,”
explained Vester Hughes. “But I told him that it might be worth it to
spend time, energy, effort, and money to try to get it done.” Charles
Sammons was in his eighties at this time. Mr. Hughes realized that while
legislation might eventually allow for Mr. Sammons to donate stock to the
ESOP without being taxed, it might not happen during Mr. Sammons’
lifetime. “We set up a charitable remainder trust,” Mr. Hughes said.
Ever the visionary, Charles Sammons planned for the possibility of
change even after his death. He saw the ESOP as a worthwhile risk. “I’m
not sure how he thought the ESOP was going to work when he first
established it,” said Bob Korba. “As he became more familiar with it, he
saw how it could be an incentive for the workforce. And I think he also
felt that at the end of the day the people who are creating all this
value are the employees, and why shouldn’t they be the beneficiaries of
To demonstrate the benefit of the ESOP, Bob Korba cited the company’s
performance. He noted that in both the holding company and all of Sammon’s
subsidiaries, Sammons companies perform at the highest levels. “The
result has been tremendous,” he said. “The workforce is more enthusiastic
about what they do, care more about their jobs, work harder, and perform
the best they can. And, ultimately, they are the people who get the
benefits of all their efforts.” The evidence is also in the value of the
company’s stock, which continues to increase. “I’ve been participating in
the ESOP since it was established more than thirty years ago. The value
of the shares the first year was $15. And the end of 2007, it was $409 a
share,” Mr. Korba said. “We’ve been able to create value in years when
the rest of the world hasn’t, like after the dot.com bust and after 9/11.
We’ve been able to create value during all of those years, and I think a
lot of that is due to the ESOP and an energized workforce.”
A Vehicle for Giving
As a philanthropist, Charles Sammons cast a wide net, giving to a
range of causes. To facilitate his generosity, he created the Sammons
Dallas Foundation. Recipients of his philanthropy included the Salvation
Army; the Educational Trust Fund Commission of the Catholic Diocese of
Dallas; the Communities Foundation of Texas, which provides grants to
help address community needs; and area hospitals including Baylor
University Medical Center, Methodist Dallas Medical Center, and UT
Southwestern Medical Center–St. Paul.
The foundation was more than an avenue for charity, however. It
established some order to Mr. Sammons’ estate planning, which suffered
after the death of Rosine Sammons. Because Texas is a community property
state, Mr. Sammons’ wealth was owned jointly by him and his wife. When
she died, it created an estate tax liability of more than $26 million
dollars. To pay this debt, Mr. Sammons had to liquidate several of his
holdings. These included the two profitable insurance companies, George
Washington Life Insurance Company and Pyramid Life Insurance Company, and
a few hotels. “He was very sensitive to the payment of estate tax,” noted
Vester Hughes, of Mr. Sammons’ response to the debt, “and he had no
intention of ever paying that much again.” The tax exempt status of the
charitable remainder trust and of the Sammons Dallas Foundation allowed
Mr. Sammons to control where his money went upon his death without
generating estate taxes.
Building an Artists’ Home
Charles Sammons began creating value in the 1930s with Reserve Life
Insurance. In the mid-1980s, he was looking for a way to commemorate its
upcoming fiftieth anniversary. Also during that time, renovations were
beginning on Dallas’ historic Turtle Creek Pump Station. The plan for the
$3-million-dollar project was to turn the building into a performing arts
center. But it was a tough time for construction. Funds were scarce, and
the nonprofit organization was competing with the Morton H. Meyerson
Symphony Center, another Dallas performing arts building being
Creek’s executive director, Mischa Semanitzky, a former symphony
conductor with real estate development experience, was desperate to find
a donor to complete the Center’s renovation. The stars aligned when Mr.
Semanitzky had a chance encounter with Sammons employee Fred Gottschalk,
who knew just the benefactor.
Charles Sammons was an active community leader, and Elaine Sammons was
a longtime patron of the arts. The opportunity to help restore a
community landmark as well as create a home for numerous local art
organizations seemed the perfect way for them to commemorate Reserve Life
Insurance’s success. Their contributions secured the Center’s path toward
a better life. It also prompted a new name: the Sammons Center for the
The Ones Who Made It Happen
Built in 1909 by architectural firm C. A. Gill & Sons, the Turtle
Creek Pump Station was Dallas’ sole water source until the 1930s. At that
time it was relegated to a water meter repair and equipment storage
facility for the Dallas Water Utility. In 1954, however, the city shut
down all activity at the station, and the building was virtually
abandoned. In fact, when Harry Hines Boulevard, which runs alongside the
Center, was widened from two lanes to six in the 1950s, the southwest
corner of the building was actually removed to make room for the road.
This resulted in a partially diagonal wall that now runs the length of
the building’s west side, and a loss of roughly 5,000 usable square feet.
Though still owned by the city, the building sat idle for nearly
thirty years. On June 24, 1981, it was designated a historic landmark by
the Dallas City Council. With its previously uncertain future safe, the
oldest public city building in Dallas was ready to serve a new purpose.
The city solicited suggestions for the building’s use, and accepted a
proposal put forth by Jo Kurth Jagoda, president of the Greater Dallas
Youth Orchestra. She recommended that the building be used by a coalition
of nonprofit arts organizations.
this simply meant that local performing arts groups could rent space in
the building for rehearsals and administrative tasks. No one realized
that the Center would come to provide so much more. Today, in addition to
the rehearsal, performance, and meeting spaces, the Center offers
management assistance to its tenants. “We help groups find health
insurance programs, choreographers; we help them apply for city grants,”
noted the Center’s executive director, Joanna St. Angelo.
The Center has also created the Dallas Arts Resource System (DARS),
which it calls a “business incubator program.” DARS provides tools such
as mailboxes, copy and fax services, a library/information center, and
even an on-site notary. It also contains an on-site technology center
with computer equipment, Internet access, and software including
accounting programs and desktop publishing. “Our model proves that this
is the most efficient way to provide resources and facilities to
performing arts groups,” Ms. St. Angelo said. She believes that the
secret to the Center’s success was its flexibility with growth. The
Center’s staff allowed for change organically, as it was needed.
As the oldest and largest facility of its kind, Sammons Center for the
Arts is now a model for other cities looking to provide local talent a
place to work and hone their craft. “Every community has artists and
vacant property,” explained Ms. St. Angelo. But she acknowledges that the
key final ingredient can be hard to come by. “What every community
doesn’t have is a Charles and Elaine Sammons to help make it happen.”
back to top
In the later years of his life, Charles Sammons developed Parkinson’s
disease. Though it never progressed past the early stages, he did have
slight trembling in his extremities and was advised not to walk without
the help of others. This was due to the fact that he could lose his
balance and fall. For many people in their eighties, this would mean
retirement. Not for Charles Sammons. It simply meant that instead of
going to the office, he brought the office home. “He had a little seating
area, there were a couple of soft chairs around the coffee table, and
that’s where he conducted business,” said Bob Korba.
Little else changed for Charles Sammons during “retirement.” In fact,
some might argue that bringing the office home inspired him to work even
more. As Bob Korba recalled, “He would pick up the phone on a Sunday
morning and call the office and be frustrated when nobody answered, until
Mrs. Sammons would say, ‘Well Charles, you know, it’s actually Sunday
Reading was still a large part of his
day, though it was the one area in which he did begin to struggle as the
years went on. In a memo to his longtime secretary, Doris Hartman, he
described his worsening eyesight: "I have had to have a lot of stuff
read to me by you and others, and may later try to get the services of a
professional reader to pick out for me the stories and articles from
magazines and papers and attempt to cover items of special interest, such
as cable TV; life, health and accident insurance; printing; hotels;
travel agencies; and various other things in which we have special
interest. I really think my inability to see well bothers me more now
than having to get around with a cane or a wheelchair or sometimes with
Bob Korba, however, believed Charles Sammons’ claim of poor eyesight
was only partially true. Mr. Korba explained that Mr. Sammons had a keen
sense of humor, which went unseen except by those who knew him best. Mr.
Korba was convinced that Mr. Sammons could see more than he let on. He
described a scenario that took place just months before Charles Sammons’
death: “We were down in the Dominican Republic at a Jack Tar Hotel
we owned, one in Puerta Plata. And late in the afternoon, he said, ‘You
know, do you mind? Let’s go out to the beach and let’s visit out there.’
He always liked to visit in the afternoon and talk business. He was in
his wheelchair, and I rolled him out to the beach, and there was a
concrete spot before we got near the sand where we could actually stop.
The water was only thirty feet away. And so as we were sitting (I had my
back to the beach, and he was looking out at the water) all of a sudden I
noticed he was distracted, and I said, ‘Is there something distracting
you?’ And he said, ‘Bob, you’ve got to turn around and look at this.’ So I
turned around, and there were two women walking, and they were
unbelievably scantily clad. And I said, ‘Mr. Sammons, you know, you’re not
supposed to have very good vision.’ And he says, ‘You know, most of the
time I don’t.’”
A Visionary Passes, but Leaves Sammons in Capable Hands
Charles Sammons died on November 12, 1988, at St. Paul Medical Center
in Dallas. His passing left a void in the community, and in all the lives
he so personally touched. It did not, however, leave Sammons Enterprises
in disorder. He was actively involved in the company until his very last
days, and Charles Sammons was too thorough a businessman to leave without
securing leadership and strength at the top of his company. On January 1,
1988, Charles Sammons appointed Bob Korba, the company’s general counsel,
to be his successor as CEO. (Mr. Korba’s role continued to evolve in
January 2009, when he became chairman.)
Mr. Sammons had actually broached the idea of becoming CEO to Mr.
Korba as early as March 1987. Never having been trained to run a
business, Mr. Korba balked at the notion. “The closest I’d come to doing
that was managing a legal department. I had a handful of lawyers and
support staff working for me. And I just felt I wasn’t qualified to do
the job,” Mr. Korba explained.
But Mr. Sammons’ determination eventually wore away Mr. Korba’s
uncertainty. “I think, on reflection, the reason why he wanted me to do
it was not because I could run a business, which I couldn’t. He thought I
would do two things for him after he had passed away. One was to take
care of his family, and the other was to keep the organization together
and not let it be sold off a piece at a time,” Mr. Korba said.
It was always about more than
business for Charles Sammons. He cared about the people involved, and
chose a successor who would uphold all of his priorities. Another key to
Sammons’ ongoing success was Elaine Sammons. Named to the company’s board
of directors six years prior to Charles Sammons’ passing, she became
chairman of the board after his death. Though she had taken an active
role within the company for years, as chairman she worked with Bob Korba
to approve major company decisions.
“She reminded me a lot of Mr. Sammons,” noted Bob Korba. “He was very,
very active and knew everything that was going on in the company. She was
the same way.” Also like her husband, Mrs. Sammons was an avid reader,
combing through the Dallas Morning News, USA Today, and the
Wall Street Journal every day. “On a regular basis I received
articles from her that she cut out with a note on them, ‘Have you seen
this?’ or ‘How does this affect our businesses?’” Mr. Korba said.
Given her breadth of knowledge and interest in the business, it is not
surprising that Mrs. Sammons and Mr. Korba didn’t always agree. “We had
very lively exchanges. We could discuss a particular business investment
or an issue or a personnel matter for several weeks,” Mr. Korba said.
“And she always had questions. And they were good questions. We worked
through all of them. And there were times when I thought something was a
good idea and she didn’t, and we didn’t do it. Based on our track record,
her judgment’s probably been better than mine on a lot of things. She had
addition to Bob Korba as CEO and Elaine Sammons as chairman, the final
piece of security Charles Sammons put in place for his company was Vester
Hughes, his longtime attorney. Mr. Hughes was named Special Trustee of
Charles Sammons’ estate. In this role, Mr. Hughes was to ensure Mr.
Sammons’ wishes for his charitable remainder trust and his enterprise
were being carried out. In the years after Charles Sammons’ death, Mr.
Hughes worked diligently to carry out his wishes.
Mr. Korba and Mrs. Sammons: Laying A Foundation for Future Generations
The business relationship Mr. Korba and Mrs. Sammons forged when they
led the company centered on their dedication to extending the vision of
Charles Sammons. The principles of that vision were clear: Perpetuate the
company and its success for future generations through employees who would
do the right thing and apply Sammons’ value system of honesty and integrity
in business; transition to an ESOP-owned organization where every employee
thinks like an owner; continually make a positive difference in the community;
and enhance the value and viability of the organization through strategic
and sustainable growth.
In the two decades that Mrs. Sammons served as chairman of the board,
from 1988 to 2008, she and Mr. Korba, as CEO, weighed every major decision
in light of Mr. Sammons’ personal and business principles.
This ranged from
strategic investments, such as the decisions to sell the cable business and
invest in North American Company for Life and Health, to philanthropic
initiatives that encouraged employees to volunteer their time and talent
in local communities.
Mr. Korba and Mrs. Sammons worked diligently to remove an obstacle
inhibiting Mr. Sammons’ desire to, ultimately, leave the company in the
hands of its employees. In 1997, Congress amended the Internal Revenue
Code to permit an ESOP and its related trust to be a beneficiary of a
charitable remainder trust (CRT) without a taxable event. This paved the
way for the ESOP ownership of Sammons. Mr. Sammons created a CRT a decade
earlier with this goal in mind.
Mr. Sammons believed a company’s worth was based on more than its
profitability. The worth of his company was also based on its contributions
to society. The establishment of the Sammons Dallas Foundation by Mr. Sammons
served as a reminder of his commitment to improving education, supporting
medicine and the arts, and extending a helping hand to improve the quality
of life for people in the community.
His vision of sustained community involvement became reality on
December 31, 2009, with a historic $100 million gift from the Sammons Dallas
Foundation to six charitable organizations in Dallas. The resulting endowments
perpetually honor Mr. Sammons for his generosity and commitment to creating
a better place to raise our families and to conduct businesses.
Together, Mr. Korba and Mrs. Sammons continued to build on Mr. Sammons’
commitment to the communities where employees work and live by formalizing
the Partner Program in 2006. The company has contributed millions of dollars,
and the men and women of Sammons have donated tens of thousands volunteer
hours for worthy causes in their communities.
Celebrating the company’s 70th anniversary and Mrs. Sammons’ 20th year
as chairman in 2008, the men and women of Sammons Enterprises made a
generous $15 million gift in the form of a 10-acre park in the Dallas
performing arts district. They named it the Elaine D. and Charles A.
Sammons Park in honor of the Sammons’ enduring influence on the company
and the community.
In their effort to extend the vision of Charles Sammons, Mr. Korba
and Mrs. Sammons followed a path of collaboration and consensus.
“We did this for more than 20 years,” Mr. Korba said. “Unless we both
agreed to a particular decision or initiative, it wasn’t done. We had
to be unanimous.”
The spirit of this partnership led Mr. Korba and Mrs. Sammons to
discuss an organizational guide for future leaders, one that reflected
the steadfast business principles and values-based culture the company
had established during its first 70 years.
Developing the Sammons Constitution
Today, this guiding document is known as the Sammons Constitution.
It was shaped with the knowledge that Sammons would become a 100 percent
ESOP-owned company. Retaining the values-based culture inspired by Mr. Sammons’
leadership would be central to Sammons’ success and growth.
“We needed a document that was both a legal part of the company’s
governing documents and a resource for future leaders and employees
who will not have experienced the leadership of Mr. Sammons, Bob Korba
and Mrs. Sammons firsthand,” said Heather Kreager, President of Sammons
Enterprises since August 2009. “Our goal was to provide guiding principles
for how to run the company by memorializing the intent of the founder,
identifying those things that made the company successful in the past,
and documenting a philosophy to preserve and perpetuate that mindset
and culture into the future.”
Ms. Kreager, who has been with Sammons since 1985, partnered with
Mr. Korba in drafting the Constitution. Like Mr. Korba, she has a legal
background and served as general counsel for many years.
Mike Masterson, who was appointed CEO of Sammons Enterprises in 2009
and retired in 2011, was among many other leaders who contributed thoughts
and ideas during the three-year process of writing and revising the
Constitution. He praised the decision by Mr. Korba and Ms. Kreager to
scrap any in-depth bylaw language or revenue numbers and statistics in
favor of a focus on the foundation, values and vision of the company.
“This is what makes it a document that stands the test of time,”
he said. “This way it actually helps leaders of the future apply its
guiding principles to the company as it continues to grow and evolve.”
“Over the years, the people of Sammons have successfully acted on the
intent of an agreement rather than simply the letter of the agreement.
We took the same approach writing the Constitution,” Bob Korba said.
“We know Sammons people will live up to the spirit and intention of a
principle, so there wasn’t a reason to put ‘rules’ in the Constitution.
Using principles provides more flexibility as times and situations change.”
The Sammons’ Board of Directors approved the Constitution as a working
document in early 2008 to enable a trial run of the new governance model.
When Elaine Sammons passed away on January 14, 2009, she had confidence
that Charles Sammons’ vision would endure.
A Conversation in Heaven
At her funeral, Bob Korba remembered the sharp, adventuresome woman
who traveled around the world three times and refused to be called anything
other than chairman. “She didn’t waste a breath,” Mr. Korba recalled.
“She knew only one speed: wide open. I think she would agree that it
was a great ride.”
In bidding her a final farewell, Mr. Korba imagined that Charles and
Elaine Sammons were reunited in heaven, and he surmised about the
conversation they might have. “First, Mr. Sammons would ask her why
her salary as chairman was so much greater than his.” Admitting that
she would have to charm her way through that question, and perhaps
tiptoe around why she sold some of his favorite companies, Mr. Korba
reached the heart of their exchange. “And then I believe Mr. Sammons
would thank her for furthering his vision and dream of perpetuating
the company and creating ever-increasing value for the benefit of
current and future generations of employees.”
back to top
The Sammons Board of Directors declared the Constitution effective
on September 1, 2011. You could say the Constitution’s inspiration stems
in part from the ESOP that Mr. Sammons established in 1978, which
provides the vehicle for stable ownership and introduced the concept
of employees sharing in the value they help create at Sammons. An
excerpt from the Constitution’s Preamble helps characterize the
significance of Mr. Sammons’ visionary gift:
The history and (future) ownership of Sammons set it apart from
all other corporations today. This uniqueness requires a Constitution
that sets forth principles that respect Mr. Sammons’ wishes, embody
Sammons’ past, and create the framework for its perpetuation and
The Sammons Constitution lays out a governance model that is unique
in the corporate world. The Sammons governance model is grounded by
four complementary pillars: the Executive Committee, which takes
the place of a traditional CEO; the Independent Directors; Key Officers;
and an ESOP Trustee. The Executive Committee and the Independent
Directors comprise Sammons’ Board of Directors.
The Executive Committee, active since 2008, consists of at least
three members who define the holding company strategy with specific
attention on preserving the values-based culture, ensuring the right
people are running the operating companies, allocating capital and
overseeing the existing businesses. Modeled after the leadership of
Mr. Korba and Mrs. Sammons, it requires unanimous consent.
“In the public company model, where board members typically don’t
know what’s going on within an organization, board authority gets
delegated back to the CEO,” Mr. Korba said. “In our model, the Executive
Committee has the power to fundamentally run and direct Sammons’ business.”
While the business units have a strong CEO governance model, the
holding company’s Executive Committee breaks from the classic strong
CEO concept and adheres to a unanimous decision-making process, instilling
a collective leadership and long-term perspective. Mr. Masterson, who
served as the Executive Committee’s first chairman, views this governing
body as particularly advantageous to a decentralized and diversified
organization. The committee approach also provides thorough knowledge
of business issues and the benefit of differing opinions and perspectives.
“For us, consistency drives organizational direction, and the Executive
Committee engages leaders and fosters stability,” said Mr. Masterson, who
joined the Sammons family of companies in 1995 and served as president and
CEO of the Sammons Financial Group, among other roles. “But, to manage for
the long-term, to have the stability, to be unwavering in our values and
principles, is not just about one thing. It is about all of the pieces
While the Constitution gives the Executive Committee decision-making
powers, the three remaining complementary pillars of the governance model
provide checks and balances to ensure the Objective is met. The complementary
pillars include the Independent Directors, the Key Officers and the ESOP
Trustee. Each has a fiduciary duty to the organization.
The Independent Directors serve on the Board with the Executive Committee.
Beyond traditional board responsibilities, their primary responsibility is
as guardians of the employees’ interests, the culture and the Constitution.
They support the Executive Committee providing a non-Sammons perspective on
business and cultural issues.
The company’s general counsel and CFO make up the Key Officer category.
Their role includes providing advice, information and service to help the
Executive Committee and Independent Directors meet their constitutional obligations.
In this series of checks and balances, the fourth governance entity is
the independent ESOP Trustee. The ESOP Trustee elects and monitors the Board
of Directors, which includes the Executive Committee members and the
Independent Directors, to ensure they are meeting their Constitutional
obligations. Additionally, the ESOP Trustee determines the fair market
value of the Sammons’ stock through an annual appraisal and votes Sammons’
shares held in the Trust.
The most critical ingredient for this governance model to work is knowledge:
knowledge resulting from full-disclosure, free-flowing information, and candid
and collaborative discussions about relevant issues with open access to everyone
within the organization. In order for the Key Officers, Independent Directors
and the ESOP Trustee to provide checks and balances, they must understand the
business and know what is going on within the company. If these groups do not
have a thorough understanding and knowledge of Sammons, its companies, its
culture and ESOP ownership mentality, they cannot evaluate whether the Executive
Committees’ decisions and the strategy fulfill the Objective of the Constitution.
Consequently, if any or all of these groups do not stay informed, Sammons’
governance could revert to that of a traditional public company with the same
risks to employees and shareholders. The Constitution ensures each group has
access to information about the company and is well informed.
While the Sammons governance model is unique, like the success of any
business, it ultimately depends on the people.
“The heart of the Constitution is the values-based culture,” Mr. Korba
said. “It is mentioned a number of times throughout the document in addition
to the section that is devoted to it. And where it is mentioned, it is in
terms of people, business, the standards of business, and it really goes
to the overriding behavior that we expect from the leaders and employees
“A company’s culture can change dramatically with a new CEO,” said
Ms. Kreager, who serves as a member of the Executive Committee. “With
the power to run the company residing with an Executive Committee,
retirements and transitions at the top should be seamless, with very
little risk of a radical change in direction or values. Sammons’
values-based culture has driven its success over the past 75 years.
The Constitution is a way to preserve the company’s standard and
culture of success, while providing guidance to current and future
leaders in making decisions, whether those decisions relate to the
company’s financial capital or its human capital. It’s an alternative
to the traditional corporate governance that we’ve seen fail so many times.”
Business, Leadership and Social Responsibility that Stand the Test of Time
Being privately owned has been instrumental to the company’s ability to cultivate a long-term perspective on growth. Insulated from the short-term performance pressures that public companies often contend with, Sammons Enterprises has exercised foresight and flexibility to manage changes in its core businesses. Charles Sammons believed in decentralized and diversified investments to spread risk, and the Constitution incorporates these business principles, along with the principle of less volatile investments.
Tubular goods and other oil and gas products were the biggest part of Sammons’ business at one time. Hospitality and travel was a key investment for 40 years, and Sammons once oversaw one of the country’s largest cable television companies. Today, its dominant business is financial services.
Sammons is willing to make a major investment in a new industry for future growth in the value of the enterprise. While this reflects a long-term strategic view, it takes agility to act on such opportunities. Few have a better grasp of this than Dave Bratton, who was named CEO of Sammons Enterprises in 2012. Mr. Bratton, who joined the Sammons companies more than 20 years ago in the materials handling business, rose to President and CEO of Briggs International in 2007. He is also a member of the Executive Committee.
“Our adaptability over time and our flexibility to move very quickly are also advantages of being a private company,” said Dave Bratton, who was part of the 2012 decision-making that saw Sammons divest one business and purchase two others. “We don’t have a quarter-to-quarter mindset, and at the same time, we do have a collection of business leaders coming together to make these major decisions.”
Mr. Bratton’s international business experience includes guiding the global growth strategy of Briggs International. In this pursuit, he works closely with the business leaders of material handling operations in the United States, Mexico and the United Kingdom. Mr. Bratton makes clear that Sammons works hard to nurture its culture across its businesses, and by virtue of the Constitution, the business units have their own levels of autonomy and accountability.
As a company that values and respects the contributions of employees, Sammons has long made a commitment to developing the skills of its work force and promoting from within. Mr. Bratton is one of many who have built a career inside of the organization. He ensures that the company’s training programs effectively prepare new employees and enhance the strengths of veteran employees.
“It’s much better if you can grow from inside the company, because you know the people you’re promoting, you know the values they have and you know what the culture means to them,” Mr. Bratton said.
Esfand Dinshaw is an example of a Sammons leader who has risen through the ranks of the organization. Named chairman and CEO of Sammons Financial Group in January 2012, Mr. Dinshaw joined Sammons Annuity Group in 1999 and was a key contributor on the team that built the annuity business from a startup to a business with $3 billion to $4 billion in annual sales in less than 10 years. He was promoted to president of the Sammons Annuity Group in 2006 and promoted again in 2010 before serving in his current position.
Mr. Dinshaw also serves as a member of the Executive Committee. Contributing to strategic decisions that center on culture, people and capital for a company with a diverse mix of businesses can present exciting challenges. His committee partners and the Constitution help chart a clear direction, but he also sees the ESOP as an instrument supporting decisions that follow the company’s conservative, long-term growth strategy.
“Every employee benefits from the long-term growth and value of the company, whether through the ESOP or some other retirement program,” Mr. Dinshaw said. “The ESOP is a material benefit, but it’s more than that. The inherent message is that this company is about people, ethical people who also care about people in their communities. They take their responsibilities seriously; they have an ownership perspective and work to further long-term benefits for themselves and generations to come. This philosophy creates a sense of pride and a work environment that is an intangible but valuable benefit for all employees.”
Celebrating 75 Strong Years and Creating the Future
Sammons Enterprises continues to make great strides in all areas of it business. In 2011, the company’s market value exceeded $4.6 billion for the first time in its history. Many Sammons companies produced record revenue and earnings.
The company’s growth is evident in more than just its financials. In the years since Charles Sammons’ death, Sammons Enterprises has maintained his vision of creating value through diversified and decentralized operations. If Charles Sammons were to evaluate the business today, he would see his original business philosophies, concepts, operations and strategies still hard at work. Innovation, another of Charles Sammons’ business characteristics, is also still central to each company’s operations. Existing businesses are evolving to maintain their competitive edge. Compatriot Capital was established in 2011 to execute Sammons’ real estate strategy. Sammons Retirement Solutions was established in 2012, taking advantage of the Sammons brand in the financial services businesses and offering consumers transparent retirement solutions that address the complex needs of investors.
Sammons continues to focus on its people. It took roughly 15 years, but by 2008, the company had created an extensive career development program. Each senior executive has both a personal and professional development plan, including external professional coaches as well as internal mentors. Career development has moved into the mid-management level, and it’s working its way into the line staff. And the focus on people grows every year.
In celebration of the company’s 75th anniversary in 2013, the 4,000 men and women of Sammons Enterprises will spend time and energy making a positive difference in their communities and contributing $7.5 million to worthy organizations.
The company’s stock value has increased sixfold since Mr. Sammons’ death 25 years ago because of a strong ESOP ownership mentality and the application of the same business principles Mr. Sammons followed. With the Constitution firmly in place, Sammons Enterprises has started new chapters in its enduring story of success. Guided by Charles A. Sammons’ vision and legacy, the men and women of Sammons are determined to create increasing economic value for current and future generations, employing their values-based culture as their guiding principle.
back to top