Ending on a high note: A true rags-to-riches story
Marvin Samson, founder and CEO of Samson Medical Technologies, shared a lifetime of lessons on November 5 with hundreds from the WVU community.
“I have truly lived the American dream more than once,” Samson said before explaining his backstory.
His parents immigrated to a poor Philadelphia neighborhood from Eastern Europe, and they did the best they could in bad economic times. Not long after his younger brother was born, the family became a single parent household. With his mother working outside the home to support the family, Samson and his siblings spent time with their grandmother, who spoke little English.
Samson had his first job (a paper route) at age seven and got his start in the pharmaceutical industry at the ripe old age of ten. He assisted a pharmacist named Mickey, and it was a major turning point in his life.
Mickey, who was warm, compassionate and educated, became Samson’s first mentor. He wanted to be just like him.
“Mickey taught me to listen. Mickey always said ‘God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason.’ I think he was right,” Samson recalled.
To follow in Mickey’s footsteps, Samson would need to go to pharmacy school. Unfortunately, he couldn’t afford full time school, and pharmacy wasn’t offered part-time. So he did the second-best thing: he studied chemistry. While at school, Mickey introduced him to a friend who owned a small pharmaceutical company who made cough syrup. Samson’s interview for that job was pretty weird.
“I walked in for an interview. The interviewer told me to stand up and he starts feeling my muscles, feeling my leg. I thought, ‘What kind of interview is this?’” Samson recalled. “I asked him, ‘What kind of job am I applying for?’ ‘Oh, you’re an assistant compounder,’ he said.”
In case you didn’t know, every gallon of cough syrup takes seven pounds of sugar to make. So Samson’s first job here entailed carrying 100-pound bags of sugar up a ladder, cutting it with a razor blade and pouring it into a tank. One batch took 4,000 pounds of sugar. That’s 40 physically grueling trips for just one batch.
But saying that the hard work paid off would be a gross understatement. His days of sugar schlepping by day and studying chemistry by night led to amazing success. Samson worked his way up through the industry to become plant manager of Philadelphia Laboratories.
In 1967, he helped found Elkins-Sinn, Inc. (today it is West-Ward Pharmaceuticals) and for 18 years he served as its president and CEO. After that, he founded and served as president and CEO of Marsam Pharmaceutical Inc., an organization he built from scratch to about $100 million in sales. In the late 1990s, he founded Samson Medical Technologies. He went on to serve in executive positions at SICOR, Inc., Worldwide Injectables, and Qualitest Pharmaceuticals, Inc. Over the years he’s established five U.S. patents for pharmaceutical manufacturing.
One of the most important things to Samson is the act of giving back. He serves communities through support of educational institutions, hospitals, healthcare R&D and children’s programs. He encouraged the audience members to do the same, and don’t delay.
“If you achieve success, you have a responsibility to pay it forward. It really does feel good to give (back),” he said. “It’s never to early to get involved. If you don’t have the money, give your time.”
The B&E Distinguished Speaker Series, sponsored in part by Wells Fargo, will resume in Spring 2015. Stay tuned for an announcement of the line-up!