1970 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"Success is a quality of the journey."
Born in 1934, Sam Wyly began working at an early age, helping his father and mother publish a weekly newspaper, the Delhi Dispatch. Delhi, Louisiana is a small town near Vicksburg, Mississippi. Wyly's father had been a cotton plantation owner, but when the Depression caused cotton prices to plummet, he realized he had to do something else. He became administrator at the state penitentiary, but had always wanted to be a writer and soon bought the small weekly newspaper. Wyly and his brother did everything for the paper, including writing stories, selling advertising, and folding and addressing the finished papers.
During his senior year of high school, Wyly, who helped lead the football team to a state championship, served as student body president. He worked his way through Louisiana Tech selling class rings. Following graduation, he won a scholarship to the University of Michigan's graduate school, where he took the first course ever offered there in electronic data processing. After receiving his MBA in 1958, he moved to Dallas to work with IMB's Service Bureau Corporation. In less than four years, he became area sales manager for Honeywell, establishing their computer business in Dallas and Oklahoma.
At age 28, with $1,000 and three customers, Wyly founded University Computing Company (UCC), which provided computer services to engineers, scientists, and researchers with Sun Oil Company, Texas Instruments, and others. It was located on the campus of Southern Methodist University. He sold stock in UCC and began investing in other companies, including Bonanza Steak Houses. He became chairman of Bonanza and executive committee chairman of Earth Resources Company, another business in which he had invested. Twenty years later, Wyly sold the Bonanza Steakhouses to concentrate his efforts more in computer services.
Wyly became chairman of Sterling Software, which he acquired in 1980. He also owns and serves as chairman of the board for Michaels Stores, Inc., an arts and crafts retail chain. He has served as a director of several corporations, including Gulf Insurance Company, LTV Corporation, and First National Bank in Dallas. He contributes to schools and churches and helped start an educational TV channel in Dallas. The Charles Wyly, Sr., Tower of Learning, built on the campus of Louisiana Tech in memory of his father, was funded by Sam and his brother, Charles. The building includes a computer center and the university library.
In 1967, Wyly was recognized by the Texas Jaycees as one of Five Outstanding Young Texans. A year later, after setting up the Sam Wyly Foundation to help minority businessmen, he was selected as one of the U. S. Jaycees' Ten Outstanding Young Men in America. He has also served as a trustee of Southern Methodist University, which named him their first ever Entrepreneur of the Year in 1970.
Of all his successes, Wyly says he is most proud of his six children. The advice he gave them is what he would say to all young people today: "Learn to listen."