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April 16, 2014

MOSS: Local businessman is a shining example

SAMTEC’s founder loves his business, the outdoors

NEW ALBANY — A knee balky, the oldest man in the break room at SAMTEC shuffled to a far table. Not everyone seemed to recognize him but Betty Smith sure did.

Smith is soon to celebrate 20 years in maintenance there, a long time but pretty typical at SAMTEC. Why? Smith mentioned the free coffee and candy, even tissues and, of course, routine bonuses when the company does well. She then nodded toward the man — the Sam of SAMTEC.

“I love him,” Smith said. “He made this world for us.”

Sam Shine smiled a bit, joked about having bribed Smith’s kudos. Shine is more comfortable being Smith’s friend than her hero.

New Albany-based SAMTEC most recently claims $565 million in annual sales, beyond admirable success traceable to Shine’s long-ago decision to chuck the steady paycheck.

Fifteen years retired as SAMTEC’s chief executive — son John Shine now handles that — Sam Shine cannot stay away from his creation. He enjoys noticing the changes, how his baby flourishes beyond imagination.

“I have to be busy, doing something,” he said. “I never could just sit with my feet up, watching TV.”

SAMTEC globally produces and sells connectors — really small pieces that, of course, make engineers forget glue and tape. Chances are a SAMTEC connector is hidden somewhere in the electronics in our homes and cars. SAMTEC’s first catalog, in the 1970s, was but eight pages. “And I had to make up half of that,” Shine said.

SAMTEC’s latest offerings fill almost 400 pages for perusal by 50,000 accounts.

Privately-held SAMTEC last borrowed money long ago and it grows as it can afford. Employees — about 1,200 locally and another 2,000 elsewhere — share in profits. And while some were offered buyouts as SAMTEC struggled through the recent recession, none was laid off, according to Shine. “We got it back, plus more,” he said of business.

Shine is surely as wealthy as he is modest and unassuming. Worst comes to worst, Shine could return to someone else’s workforce should SAMTEC splat instead of soar, he had figured.

“I had to try,” he said of going out on a limb that more often breaks. “Or at least I always felt that way.”

When SAMTEC instead found its niche among batches of competitors, when it grew and grew and grew some more, Shine needed no time at all to decide how to parlay his good fortune.

He thought back to childhood.

Sam Shine grew up on a farm on land donated to and used by Purdue University off Charlestown Road in New Albany. He hunted and fished and stayed outdoors all he could. These days, too few kids do that. Besides, little by little, land is claimed for other purposes.

Shine fights back. He buys land, commits or recommits it to a preserved, natural future. He gives some, resells some, both in Southern Indiana and in Northern Florida. The day we chatted in that break room — a space alone the size of some businesses — Shine owned 1,200 acres locally and about 10,000 acres in Florida. Plus, he talked excitedly about possibly acquiring 470 acres not too far from Salem, land he ultimately could turn over to The Nature Conservancy.

“It is some of the most beautiful country, natural country,” he said.

And instead of becoming perhaps the site of a subdivision or a trailer park, it might ultimately serve as an addition to Spring Mill State Park.

Shine brings up hopes of helping establish a nature school and of his role in helping advance the Ohio River Greenway, He certainly likes SAMTEC’s not-coincidental environmental friendliness. Shine prefers to act, to show by example and not to preach.

“I’m going to do what I can do,” he said. “And that’s all I can do. I will have an easy conscience. I gave it my best shot.”

Dad appreciates the chance to do good and this way suits him ideally, son John Shine said.

“It’s a way to be outdoors yet try to do some good for things in the long run,” John Shine said.

Sam and wife Betty Shine live most of the year near Starlight, in a home Sam Shine stocked with exercise equipment. He works out, eats right, stays active even when a knee won’t cooperate. He keeps his age to himself along generally with a smashing success story.

“I’m very blessed, very thankful,” Shine told me.

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