Salvatore F. D'Amato
July 28, 1928 – March 18, 2011
Sal D'Amato passed away on March 18 at the age of 82. Before he retired a couple of years ago, Sal served as a senior technical advisor for JDSU, a role he assumed following JDSU’s acquisition of American Bank Note Holographics, Inc. (ABNH) in 2008. Sal was not with JDSU for very long, but he has had a lasting influence on the company and the authentication industry.
Sal had helped found ABNH in the early 1980s. Under his leadership as ABNH’s Chairman, the company created the market for security holograms. It may be tough to imagine today, but the holograms that are now used to authenticate everything from bank cards to liquor bottles were the stuff of science fiction until Sal and his team figured out how they could be mass produced reliably and securely. Sal was an engineer’s engineer (he was a lifetime member of the Professional Engineers Association and had over 100 patents issued in his name). The challenge of figuring out a new technology and making it work was the thrill of a lifetime for him.
ABNH, along with American Banknote Company (ABNH’s parent company which Sal helped lead as its president), was sold in 1990 and Sal enjoyed his ‘first’ retirement running a restaurant and enjoying life by the beach. But by the late 1990s, ABNH had been spun out and was struggling in a number of ways. The company needed steady leadership and a means to rebuild confidence. Sal answered the call; there was no one with more credibility and more capability in the hologram security business than Sal D’Amato. He returned as ABNH’s Chairman in 1999.
It was during Sal’s second act at ABNH that I got to know him as a mentor and as a friend. The first thing that had to strike anyone who worked with Sal was his tireless work ethic. Already in his 70s and with nothing to prove, Sal worked at a pace that would exhaust anyone half his age. Supposedly working ‘part-time’ as he would insist to friends and colleagues, Sal usually arrived at his desk before 7:00 am and rarely left the office before 8:00 pm. If a customer had a question or a complaint, Sal would not hesitate to get into his car (a car he liked to drive fast) and engage the customer directly, even if it meant a four or five hour journey. While he drove himself hard, Sal went out of his way to make sure his employees made family a priority; he never wanted to see someone’s work life take away from peace and tranquility at home.
Something else that was outstanding about Sal was his easy way with just about everybody. He was as comfortable on the plant floor as he was in the corporate boardroom (though we all knew that he preferred the former over the latter) and was known to greet employees with hugs as much as handshakes. Outside the office, customers and competitors alike gave Sal a level of deference and respect that you would expect for a head of state, not necessarily a printer’s son from Brooklyn. Sal and I once had a meeting with a procurement officer at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) in Washington, DC. Our meeting ended early and Sal suggested that we should go upstairs to see if the Bureau’s Director was around so that he could introduce me. Few people in the security business ever get to meet the Director of the BEP and there were not too many people in the world who might even suggest that we try to meet the Director without an appointment. But sure enough, not only did the Director see us, but he apologized for keeping Sal waiting for ten minutes in the lobby. The Today Show had just finished filming an interview and they needed time to clear up their equipment.
Sal retired from JDSU and the security business in 2009. We hosted a retirement party for Sal and in speaking to our employees, he reflected on the sale of ABNH to JDSU. In his remarks, Sal said he was happy to see the business he created was in the hands of an innovative and security conscious company like JDSU. But most importantly, Sal felt that JDSU was a company that shared his values. My current boss, Roy Bie, reminded me of something Sal said at that party: “I don’t know if good people are attracted to the security field or if the security field makes good people.” Sal was proud to dedicate his life to the security field and lived by a code that said that if you did good you would do well. All of us touched by Sal will miss him but we can all do well to learn from his example.
March 22, 2011