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Farouk Shami is a 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 has declared his candidacy on the Democratic line for the office of governor of the State of Texas.
Forty years ago you left your home for America. What drove you and what were you seeking?
I came to the US 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 have been here since then.
Was your foreign birth ever an obstacle to you as you created your business empire in America?
Actually, the US 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 US.
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?
I would not say an "overnight success." As a hairdresser specializing in hair color, and hair color across the world contains ammonia and ammonia fumes are very harmful with long exposure, 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... so I researched and came up with the first ammonia-free hair color products for the whole world.
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?
With the current situation in the US, I feel that it is the responsibility of every citizen to participate in that. My responsibility as a manufacturer was that we need to help the economy in the US. The easiest and fastest way was to bring jobs back. "Buying in US" and "Made in US" 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.
Ninety percent of the people employed by you are women. Why is that?
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. Women have more determination and more attention to details. We are very proud that almost 90 percent of employees of Farouk Systems are women. Women are the greatest thing that happened in human life!
You are known for philanthropy to both Israeli and Palestinian causes. Should we be surprised that your feelings extend to both sides of the conflict?
Both sides, whether Palestinian or Israeli, are all human beings and deserve human rights, equal rights. 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 have as many Israeli friends 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. It looks like governments are unable to achieve peace and we need to turn to the people. Many of my distributors and my friends are Jewish people, or Muslim people, Arabs, all nationalities. 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?
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?
A few years back, I invested almost $2 million in opening 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 - Mr. Anton Ayoub - a great man who worked as head of the police department in Jerusalem. We're proud of him being our representative to work with both of our people there.
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?
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 US 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 a better economy, better education, better health care, green jobs and home security for all people. 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.
Texas has a strong active Jewish community as well. How will a Palestinian Muslim candidate fare with the Jewish community?
We are all citizens. We all serve the State of Texas and the US - 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.
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?
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.
How does Farouk Shami want to be known?
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.