In short be trusting, patient and non-judgmental. Encourage your employees to stir up dust, to do something they’re excited about. Give them a clear well-defined job description and then stand back and let them to do it. Make sure they’re not afraid to fail. Let them know that screwing up is normal if you make any consistent effort to do anything. As they say, experience is something you get by doing something wrong. You usually figure out whether your approach is right or wrong after you’ve done it. Personally, I have most often sought advice after I needed it. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. The leaders I respected the most understood that and didn’t beat me up for my mistakes. No one in our management team would stay here very long if they didn’t adhere to that philosophy.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Sam and Cherrie Scheinberg, co-founders of SAM Medical. SAM Medical designs, develops and distributes life-saving products that provide solutions for some of the most difficult problems in the emergency medical industry. In 1984, Sam and Cherrie opened their business in the kitchen of their Oregon Coast ranch. From that modest beginning, SAM Medical has become a globally recognized brand used by EMS, fire rescue teams, the military, as wilderness medicine and even for Urgent Care.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Sam: In 1965, as a young intern in Oakland, California, I walked into a fancy San Francisco party and immediately asked a girl to dance. She took one look at my $6 pawnshop sport coat and clip-on bowtie and responded with a very loud and definite “no.” That’s when I saw the most beautiful girl I had ever or have ever seen, gliding across the dance floor in a beautiful green satin dress. I immediately walked up to her and played my sympathy card, saying “that girl won’t dance with me. Would you dance with me?” It was Cherrie, who looked at my poorly dressed-self and said, “Well, this is a charity function — is it not?” We have been dancing together ever since!
Cherrie: We married in December 1967 shortly after Sam was drafted into the U.S. Army as a trauma surgeon in the central highlands of Vietnam.
Sam: I recall my first patient was a victim of a blast injury. He came to me with a broken arm that was burned and numb from an over-inflated air splint. When I removed the splint, all of the patient’s skin peeled off. I immediately knew that splint should have never been used. At the time, that splint was common practice, but I was certain better options were available. As it turned out, there were not. This was in my mind, when years later while relaxing with Cherrie after a 24-hour stretch of surgery, the “a-ha moment” came. Cherrie had handed me a stick of gum. I wrapped the aluminum foil around my finger and noted the curved foil wrapper suddenly became a rigid splint.
Cherrie: The next day we went out and purchased a large gum wrapper and a thin piece of aluminum foil. We then covered it with surgical tape and produced our first product — the universal SAM Splint. That tape-covered gum wrapper has now become the most commonly used splint in the world.
Sam: From my orthopedic practice to my medical device business, Cherrie and I have done everything together. If you love someone, why would you not want to be around them as much as possible? To quote Lincoln, “I fell in love and never fell out.”
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you in the course of your career or campaign?
Cherrie: We started our business in our kitchen and then moved to a small green shed, before finally moving to a modest unit in an industrial park. We placed a sign over the front door that read “World Headquarters” and one over the back door, which read “World Hindquarters.” A Frito-Lay distributorship was located directly across the driveway from our unit. Every Friday, they would place their outdated chips in a dumpster. We watched this quite closely and as soon as they drove away we would stealthily creep over and retrieve those outdated chips. At that point in time, our company was operating in the red, so the standing joke was our only profit consisted of outdated Fritos. I still like Fritos today.
What do you think makes your team stand out? Can you share a story?
Cherrie: Like any group, the personality types in SAM Medical are extremely diverse. If there is one commonality or glue binding everyone together and reinforcing our effectiveness, it is a lack of narcissism or ego. The individuals in our group are generally respectful of one another, supportive and kind. I believe in business, as in any other aspect of life, kindness trumps everything else. It takes varying amounts of time for people to self-select themselves into or out of that group. It goes without saying that the default trait putting them in position to self-select is competence.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
Sam: In short be trusting, patient and non-judgmental. Encourage your employees to stir up dust, to do something they’re excited about. Give them a clear well-defined job description and then stand back and let them to do it. Make sure they’re not afraid to fail. Let them know that screwing up is normal if you make any consistent effort to do anything. As they say, experience is something you get by doing something wrong. You usually figure out whether your approach is right or wrong after you’ve done it. Personally, I have most often sought advice after I needed it. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. The leaders I respected the most understood that and didn’t beat me up for my mistakes. No one in our management team would stay here very long if they didn’t adhere to that philosophy.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Sam: My wife and life partner, Cherrie, was and remains my main source of help. Like many entrepreneurs, we were initially joined by a number of friends and acquaintances who promised to do all sorts of things for a small percentage of ownership. Of course, they did nothing but collect dividends for many years until we eventually bought them out. I believe they were well intentioned, and the fault lay not with them but in our own inexperience. Cherrie and I understood without fail that we could always count on each other. There were also many times we each felt like throwing in the towel and quitting, but fortunately we never quit on the same day. My advice is to find someone like that — someone you can absolutely count on, who has your best interest at heart 110 percent of the time. If you can’t, it is better to do it alone. Alternatively, buy two dogs so when one turns on you, you’ll have a spare.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Cherrie: First of all, for us the word “goodness” is very subjective. What one person considers being good, like decreasing the burning of fossil fuels, another person may feel is bad. On a personal real-time basis, we prefer to use the word “kindness,” which connotes or implies being helpful in improving someone or something’s well-being. In that sense, we moment to moment ask ourselves and affirm if we are truly being kind to ourselves, to our fellow creatures, and to the environment. In a public sense, we do the best we can to ensure our products relieve pain, save lives and do not waste money or harm the environment. The feedback we receive on a regular basis suggests we are at least to some degree succeeding. Of course, we can always do better and will always try to.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
Cherrie: Many, if not most, people will take a job wherever is offered even if they hate the location. It’s an understandable imperative, especially when you have a family to feed. However, think about it: do you really want to spend the majority of your life in a place you hate, so by the age of 65 you can finally retire and move to a place where you really want to live? I would suggest, to the extent possible, to begin where you want to end. Live where you want to die.
Sam: There was absolutely no welcome for us when we moved to the Oregon coast. There were no specialists in our county and the previous orthopedist had left after only two weeks. The general practitioners were extremely hostile. They didn’t want any specialist. I suspect they knew if one came that others would follow, and indeed they did. For six months, some of these doctors passed me in the hall without even speaking and they certainly made no referrals. No matter, Cherrie and I very much wanted to live by the mountains and the ocean — and the Oregon coast fit the bill perfectly. To this day, we feel it’s the most spiritual place in America and we continue to be in awe of its beauty. To say it was hard doesn’t scratch the surface, but we made it and still have the same ranch and continue to sleep outside under the stars every night. Starting where you want to finish was the best decision we ever made in our lives, and it might be yours also.
2. If your relationship is work, find a new job:
Sam: I absolutely adhere to the lyrics and spirit of the Jule Styne/Stephen Sondheim song:
Together, Wherever, We Go.
“Through thick and through thin,
all out or all in,
And whether it’s win, place, or show,
With you for me and me for you,
We’ll muddle through whatever we do,
Together, wherever, we go.”
Relationships mean many things to many people. Regardless, having someone to love and who loves you back unconditionally absolutely dwarfs everything else. I am not at all attached to the concept that a good relationship requires hard work. Work to most people implies slogging effort — which is not always fun. Sure, relationships require effort, but if you find yourself not having that special feeling of joy and delight when you first see your companion’s face — or that excitement and motivation to go to work when you wake up every morning- you need to rediscover your passion for the relationship.
3. You can be as “lucky” as you want to be.
Sam: Everyone wants to know the secrets of success. The main secret is not really a secret at all, and I am not sure anyone actually wants to hear it. It is the willingness to get up every day, day-in and day-out, and do what most people are generally unwilling to do. This may be cold calling, encouraging people to come to your tradeshow booth, or speaking to large crowds. It could also include studying hard enough to get into a professional school. Cherrie and I ran a large orthopedic surgery practice and simultaneously built our medical device business. For us, sleep was a real luxury. When someone asks if our success has to do with luck, we say that we are lucky that we are have the mental toughness and perseverance to do hard work. I, myself, tell people I inherited a “trust fund” from my parents. My parents said, “we trust you’ll work your ass off,” and I did.
4. You will make you work interesting if you want it badly enough.
Sam: “Do what you love, and you’ll never work again.” When I first heard that as a young person, I wanted to put my finger down my throat. Really, how would I know, just starting out, exactly what I wanted to do for the rest of my life? At best, I could only make an educated guess. In addition, it was already clear to me that most people didn’t love their jobs and in fact they often hated them. Now, with the benefit of decades of experience, I can see that I never worked at a job I didn’t enjoy. Whether mowing lawns, delivering furniture, planting trees, replacing hips or developing emergency medical devices, I enjoyed them all!
Cherrie: The same goes for me. I was a dental hygienist, orthopedic office nurse, and medical device sales person. I loved and excelled at them all in various aspects. So that’s our point: every job is interesting to the degree you seek out what is most interesting about it. You dignify your work; it doesn’t dignify you. When you do, the earth moves, things happen, and people notice. All I can say is Sam and I are in our mid-70s and our landing lights are not on. We are proud of the work we have accomplished — separately and together — but we also strongly believe our most interesting work is still ahead of us.
5. The goal is not to become rich, but to become enriched by enriching others.
Sam: I am a thoroughly scientifically-oriented guy. If you can’t form a testable hypothesis to encompass your views, I will be attentive, respectful and patient, but not deeply interested. Despite me knowing this about myself (that I like data to back up a theory) there also appears to be magic in doing the right thing — doing good for others, enriching the lives of others without making a big deal of it. This somehow comes back and enriches your own life. You don’t have to think about it, and in fact while you are in “the doing,” you’ll never have time to reflect on it. It just does our lives — Cherrie’s and mine — have been unbelievably enriched with many friendships, experiences, and insights; far too many to count.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
If it’s going to be, it’s up to me.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Sam: Oprah. We were raised in the same part of the country, so I think we share some feelings and experience that would be fun to compare. Plus, Cherrie has the same personality. She could strike up a conversation with a lamppost.
Originally published at medium.com