Sam O’Krent: A Man with Heart
By Bonny Osterhage
Photography by Nina Padilla
After losing both his grandfather and father to heart disease Sam O’Krent not only devoted himself to the family’s flooring business, but he also devoted his time and resources to the American Heart Association (AHA), serving as Chairman of the Board in 2000-2001. He, along with his wife (and childhood sweetheart) Margie established the Arthur O’Krent Golf Classic in 2003 in honor of his late father. To date, this tournament has raised more than $1.3 million for the AHA and its various programs, solidifying O’Krent’s reputation as a San Antonio philanthropist and business leader with a heart for his fellow man.
You joined the board of the American Heart Association in 1997, the same year that you lost both your grandfather and father to heart disease. How did you evolve from chairing the board to chairing the annual charity golf tournament?
My father was only 62 when he died from heart disease. It is the number one killer, and it affects so many people’s lives. And the AHA was a natural fit because of my personal experience. When I became Board Chairman in 2000-2001, the organization already had several strong, successful fundraising events in place. Then 9/11 happened, and the fundraising began to dry up in its wake. We realized that we couldn’t afford to continue with some of our events, including the annual golf tournament. That’s when Margie and I decided to chair the tournament ourselves and donate all of the proceeds to the AHA. We hold it every Columbus Day at the La Cantera Resort and it’s always a big success. The $1.3 million we’ve raised since 2003 has gone to a wide range of initiatives, including the purchase of AEDs, CPR training and equipment for elementary schools, and the F.A.S.T. program for stroke awareness. This past year we included food prescriptions for people with food insecurity. Although it goes beyond the heart, it still relates to health, and keeping South Texans and San Antonians healthy is paramount.
How did you handle the tournament during COVID?
We had to get very creative. Instead of putting the tournament out there, we decided to sell sponsorships instead. As a sponsor, you bought a tee time and then went out and played on your own. La Cantera gave people gift certificates for food and beverages while they played, and we held our “Super Raffle” via Zoom with one lucky winner walking away with his or her choice of a prize valued at $5000.
You are the fourth generation to run the family flooring business. What are some of the biggest lessons that you have learned over the years?
Our family has passed down through the generations that any success we have in business is a direct result of the community and we should always give back. That’s why philanthropy has always been the focus of what I do. I serve on several boards, including Methodist Health Care Systems, Methodist Healthcare Ministries, and the South Texas Blood and Tissue Center Foundation Board. I am the past president of what was at that time the world’s largest rotary club, and I serve on the Mays Cancer Center Board of Governors in support of Margie, who is a breast cancer survivor. In addition to community, we believe that our success is dependent upon our employees. It is a team effort and our employees are like family. Many of them have been with us for several decades. We know that our employees spend more time here every day than they do with their own families, so we have to create an environment that they will enjoy. That includes everything from involving them in the hiring processes to installing an on-site gym, to the addition of our office dog Kai, a five-year-old Lhasa Apso rescue. Lastly, we don’t believe in resting on our reputation. “Continuous learning” is one of our core values, and we take pride in evolving and staying relevant by incorporating technology, keeping the showroom fresh, and eventually moving to a paperless system.
What is your business philosophy?
My life is in the people business, but it doesn’t matter what you do; you have to care for your fellow man. When I leave this earth, I want to know that I’ve touched someone’s life and made it better. Anything I can do to put a smile on someone’s face is worth it.
What puts a smile on your face?