Felice Friedson
The Media Line (Interview)
November 8, 2009 - 12:00am
http://www.themedialine.org/news/news_detail.asp?NewsID=27032


FAROUK SHAMI is Palestinian-American immigrant who invented an ammonia-free line of hair care products which he parlayed into a fortune. Passionate about his adopted United States, Shami recently made news by turning his Farouk Systems into an all-American operation, building a state-of-the-art manufacturing plant in Houston, Texas, creating thousands of jobs for the local community. Shami is running for the office of Governor of the State of Texas. He was interviewed by The Media Line’s Felice Friedson.

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For a journalist looking for interesting stories, Farouk Shami is just that. Born and raised in what will become the state of Palestine, Shami not only immigrated to the United States but became a major entrepreneur in the state of Texas, bringing billions of dollars in sales and jobs for thousands. His BioSilk and Chi hair products defy the norms with American manufacturing, in a field so often outsourced to offshore plants. Farouk Shami embraced his adopted state with a passion. He is deeply involved in politics and is considering a run for the state’s highest office.

THE MEDIA LINE: Mr. Shami, 40 years ago you left your home for America. What drove you and what were you seeking?

Shami: I came to the U.S. in 1965 to seek my education and go back to help my people, but I love America. I love living in America. I love the freedom, the democracy and the opportunity that the US gives to people. So I decided to stay in the US and be here since then.

TML: Was your foreign birth ever an obstacle to you as you created your business empire in America?

Shami: Actually, the U.S. has equal opportunity for all citizens and that’s what I love about America: the freedom, the liberty and the opportunity it gives to all citizens regardless of origin, race or faith. That’s my dedication to live in the U.S.

TML: What made BioSilk and the Chi products worthy to compete so successfully against so many other product lines?

Shami: Actually, the BioSilk or the Chi and the Sunglitz are all innovative products, products that did not exist in the beauty industry before. So innovation is the key to success and that’s what spread through being environmental, educational and ethical. So all of our products are environmental, that provide a safer workplace for the beauty workers around the world. That’s really very important -- harmless chemicals, so our workers can breathe fresh air, safer workplace environment. Upgrading the industry through education is our key to success. We have over 2,000 trainers across the U.S. and thousands more in 106 countries that we do business with. So education and innovation is our key to success.

TML: Farouk, you had an allergy to some of the products that you were using, and overnight you came up with a very unusual success story. What happened?

Shami: I would not say an ‘overnight success.’ As a hair dresser specializing in hair color, and hair color across the world contains ammonia and ammonia fumes are very harmful with long exposure. So I became allergic to ammonia and my doctor suggested that I really have to quit this profession and seek something else. I did not want to take defeat. I did not want to stop there, so I researched and I studied until I came up with the first ammonia-free hair color products for the whole world. It was such a great breakthrough in the beauty industry. That really put us on the first step to success. Innovate and coming up with a new idea to replace hazardous chemicals like ammonia and replacing it with organic and natural products as much as possible. That’s how we started the business.

TML: Farouk, in the middle of the economic turndown, you defied the conventional wisdom. This year, you opened a brand new state-of-the-art manufacturing plant and gave jobs to thousands of Texans. How did you decide not to outsource to less expensive places?

Shami: Well, with the current situation in the U.S. and the economic recession in the U.S. and around the world, I feel that it is the responsibility of every citizen to participate in that. That was my participation and my responsibility as a manufacturer that we need to help the economy in the U.S. The easiest and fastest way was to bring jobs back. I had outsourced at the very beginning of the tools to make them in Korea and China. So I brought these jobs back to start with, and now we created this year one thousand jobs in Houston, Texas, and we will be expanding more. So when we make products in Texas and the U.S., the money stays here, and instead of exporting our jobs and exporting our money, that is ‘buying in U.S.’, and ‘made in U.S.’ guarantees jobs and guarantees money and that is the way to stimulate the economy. It is the responsibility of every citizen to participate in that.

TML: I recently had a tour of your plant and I was most amazed that 90 percent of the people employed by you are women. Why is that?

Shami: Well, we are an equal opportunity employer. We don’t differentiate between a man and a woman, but somehow it looks like that women pay more attention to details. I remember when the people on the assembly lines and running machines were men. Now, if you notice, it’s mostly women. Women have more determination and [pay] more attention to details. We are very proud of that. We did not design it that way, but that’s how it turned out to be: that almost 90 per cent of employees of Farouk Systems are mainly women. We are very proud of that and the success of women. Women are the greatest thing that happened in human life!

TML: Throughout your years in the U.S.,, you’ve stayed active with the land of your birth and have become known for your philanthropy to both Israeli and Palestinian causes. Should we be surprised that your feelings extend to both sides of the conflict?

Shami: Both sides, whether Palestinian or Israeli, are all human beings and deserve human rights, equal rights. Communication, I feel, is the key to success and breaking barriers between the two citizens. Why should we fight with one or the other? We are brothers; we are sisters, if not cousins, and both deserve the same rights. I believe in supporting both sides and opening communication with both sides. I have as many Israeli friends as many as I have Palestinian friends. I always think of my birthplace and the people I love and admire; while being proud of my American citizenship and the American people, I always think highly of my roots, definitely, and I’d love to see communication continue between the people because it looks like governments are unable to achieve peace and we need to turn to the people. Those are the people who make a difference. We need communication lines to stay open and meeting with each other and supporting each other, we both deserve the rights to equal and independent states. And maybe we will be one state even. I look at it like the U.S.: here we have people who come from all over the world. Particularly, I’d like to mention that lots of my distributors and lots of my friends are Jewish people, or Muslim people, Arabs, all nationalities, Chinese, name it. We are equal in front of God and below. Why can’t we do that in Israel and in the state of Palestine? We are people and why can’t be equal in front of God and below?

TML: In 1999, you opened a science high school for girls in Beit Ur. In 2009, you sponsored an information project with USAID. What are you trying to achieve back home?

Shami: Real economic justice is really needed on both sides. When my father passed away, he was a man who believed in peace, who believed in education and I feel educating people is the key to success to peace. Women were denied, in my birthplace, Beit Ur, as you call it. We needed a high school there, in sciences, for girls. So I was glad, in the name of my father’s foundation, the Muhammad Shami Foundation for Human Services, we built a school that services, we have more than 500 or 600 girls who were denied high school. If we educate the girls, they become the future mothers of the future generation and education will lead us to peace. Peace is needed more than anything else and it starts with education. For that reason, I opened the school. There were no sidewalks, no streets—young people had gotten killed on the roads with cars going so fast. We widened the streets. I worked with USAID. I contributed and they contributed; we put the money together so we opened up the streets there: sidewalks, and also lights for the town. I like to help where charity starts at home and that’s what I’d like to continue doing. At the same time, I’d like you to know that I contributed to the Peres Center, for example. I give them money because a few years ago they brought students, or children -- about 13, 15 years old; Israelis and Palestinians -- they were in Dallas and I sponsored that. I continue to work with Dr. Ron Pundak to support the Peres Center. Helping our children, Israelis and Palestinians, work together and to get to know each other, communicate with each other, build friendships, build love and build peace. This is essential for the future of our children and grandchildren. I continue to work on peace. For example, last year in Cancun, we had 5,000 people attending Farouk’s Conference, for Love and Peace. It was titled “love and peace.” I had Israeli hairdressers, Koby and Oren, young beautiful hairdressers. I love them like my children. I also had Palestinian hairdressers working onstage. We had Miss Palestine for Miss Universe, and we had Miss Israel onstage so they worked together, they got to know each other, they got to kiss each other. You should have seen 5,000 people standing, giving them a great ovation and crying for love and peace. Peace can come through people, not governments. I am convinced of that.

TML: On the Israeli side, you have an Israeli-Arab representative who is head of the department of coordination with both the Palestinians and Jordanians. What do your Muslim friends think of that? Here’s an Israeli-Arab representing you here in the State of Israel?

Shami: A few years back, I invested more almost $2 million in open Chi Israel. The aim wasn’t to make money, but to build relations with the Israelis and Palestinians. I found one of the finest people who had worked for the police in Israel, in Jerusalem in particular -- Mr. Anton Ayoub, a great man -- who understands security. He had worked with the Jordanians; he had worked with the Palestinians; works with the low; he had worked as head of the police department in Jerusalem. And now he is head of Chi Israel there. He is a fine man and he understands the relationships and he’s always working on bringing people together. We’re proud of him being our representative to work with both of our people there.

TML: It’s not a secret that you have a passion for politics. Are Texans willing to elect a governor who was born in another country?

Shami: Well, this is the land of opportunity. This is the land of liberty and this is the land of equality. I am a proud Texan, a proud U.S. citizen. I am bringing people together. I am the first immigrant who runs for the highest position in the state of Texas. I am running for the governor of Texas and I am very optimistic I will be the governor of the great state of Texas, to bring better economy, better education, better healthcare, green jobs and home security for all people. I am very motivated to serve. This is the land that gave me the American dream. It’s made it possible for me and I want to make that possible to every citizen of the state of Texas. So I am proud to be American, proud to be a Texan, and proud to be the next governor of the great state of Texas.

TML: Texas has a strong active Jewish community as well. How will a Palestinian Muslim candidate fare with the Jewish community?

Shami: We are all citizens. We all to serve the state of Texas and the U.S. -- Jewish, Muslims, Christians, it doesn’t matter. That is no difference to me and I hope it’s no difference to the Jewish people or the Christian people. We want to serve the state. We don’t have racism, we don’t have discrimination — we are over that. We will serve together and we will work together and I am looking forward to meet with the Christians, the Muslims and the Jewish people and form more committees that work together. We can achieve all of that success, hopefully very soon.

TML: Farouk, your high profile has not been without risk. Recently, a conservative columnist attacked you, accusing you of being anti-Israel and hinting that you donate to front groups for terrorism. How do you respond to that sort of attack?

Shami: I laugh about it, because you’re going to have fanatics in any group of people: it doesn’t matter whether it’s Israel, Palestine or America. You always have fanatics. I brush them off and I think they will be jealous of my success; that’s how I look at it. Those are people who are a minority, who don’t really stop me. They make me more determined that we can bring love and peace together. So I brush that off. I will never stop working for love and peace, whether it’s the U.S., Israel or Palestine or any place in the world. These are minor. I had challenges in business and I will have challenges in politics as well. It doesn’t matter to me. It just makes me more determined and gives me more energy to work harder to achieve that peace that we all want.

TML: It’s rumored that no Palestinian in Texas has more cowboy boots than you do. And your favorites are red boots. What do you like most about life in Houston?

Shami: What I love about Houston are the people of Houston, the people of Texas. It’s a melting pot of all kinds of people from all around the world. And that is the truth, that people, when they have a common goal, we can work together. It doesn’t matter if it’s Palestine or Israel or Texas, or any place in the world. We are people. We are human beings. We need to look at what gets us together and what we have in common, not differences. We need to focus on positive efforts. That’s how I look at it.

TML: How does Farouk Shami want to be known?

Shami: Farouk Shami wants to be known as the best governor in the state of Texas. That is what I want to be known as and I am determined to do that.




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