By Maureen N. Maratita
Thomas G. Shimizu is a member of a family and a group that have been one and the same for decades. Ambros Inc. and the Shimizu name have been synonymous with 50 years of growth, diversity, and support for island communities.
Even so, Shimizu initially wanted to be a lawyer.
“But I realized I had to take a lot of history courses, which I had no interest in. So I pivoted and thought the family business would not be a bad deal,” he says.
After graduating from Father Duenas Memorial School, Shimizu duly studied business administration with a concentration in sales management at St. Louis University in Missouri, graduating with a bachelor’s of science in 1991.
He also participated in a review of the Anheuser Busch St. Cloud Minnesota distributor as a Partners in Productivity intern in 1990. While there, he recommended changes to increase productivity – a sign of potential he’d later live up to back home.
At the Ambros Group, Shimizu began building his own career path. He told the Guam Business Magazine in 2016 he had washed trucks as a teenager. He was paid in all-you-can-eat lunches.
“I started from the bottom, and pretty much rotated through every job in every department except for accounting. I did everything from washing trucks, deliveries, warehouse operations, even IT. When you know the day-to-day operations from the front line, you know what it takes to get those tasks done, and you can make informed decisions based on experience, and not just rely on feedback from others,” he says.
There are additional benefits, he says. “It also helps an executive gain respect, because people know you’ve done that job, and weren’t just handed your management position.”
Shimizu was appointed as manager in IT and operations — implementing change as he went and in 1993 became branch manager of Marianas Pacific Distributors in Saipan.
“I was running MarPac, when August Busch and two airplanes worth of Anheuser Busch management committee executives were on Guam,” he says. “I presented a brief on Saipan’s beer market and MarPac’s performance. Later that evening, I was informed that the AB management committee recommended that I be promoted to run the beer business for the entire company, and not just MarPac.”
In 1995, Shimizu became general manager of Ambros. From the helm, he led the growth of the group, increasing revenue from $35 million in 2001 to $70 million in 2020. He implemented a growth strategy for the company via the addition of new products and the expansion into new territories for various suppliers in Polynesia in 2010 and the establishment of branch operations in American Samoa in 2014.
The brands that Ambros represents in the North and South Pacific now stretch from beverages through essential products that support commercial businesses and households.
Shimizu also oversaw the planning, design and completion of the Ambros headquarters in Harmon, which would open in 2014, and the planning/design and completion of the American Samoa Facility in 2017.
Along the way and as his career progressed, Shimizu took in any guidance he was given.
“When making business decisions, my dad (Frank S.N. Sr.) taught me that the sky is never falling, you just need to take a deep breath, assess the situation and use the information you have to make the best of the situation at hand. My Uncle Joe (S.N. Shimizu) taught me that while our business is very social, and requires you to play hard after hours, if you’re going to ‘hoot with the owls at night, you need to soar with the eagles in the morning.’ My (late) Uncle Paul (S.N. Shimizu) taught me the art of compromise — when dealing with sensitive situations in the family business.”
Aside from devoting his time to Ambros, Shimizu was elected a director of the board Guam Chamber of Commerce in 2019 and sits on its Executive Committee. He also is a director of the board of BankPacific since 2021, a director of the board of Notre Dame High School since 2017, treasurer of the Father Duenas Memorial School Class of AD7 Inc., and a member of the Parish Council – Social Committee/Building Capital Improvements of St. Francis Catholic Church in Yona since 1997.
He previously served as a director of the board of the Northern Marianas Asset Acquisition Inc. from 2019 to 2020, a director of the Guam Hotel & Restaurant Association from 2004 to 2005, and as a consultative board member for Academy of Our Lady of Guam from 2002 to 2005.
As a leading corporate group, Ambros supports multiple community organizations, events, and endeavors. Among them are the Guam Football Association, the Harmon Industrial Park Association, the American Red Cross chapters in Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and Palau and iRecycle. Shimizu says he’s proud of helping to start iRecycle.
He’s also particularly proud that “we did not have to lay off a single employee during the duration of the pandemic,” he says.
Shimizu is aware of the need to look to the future and growth. Aside from his responsibilities in Guam, he is also general manager of Marianas Pacific Distributors Inc., which does business in the Northern Mariana Islands, and Shimbros International Inc. and South Pacific Distributors Inc., which does business in American Samoa.
In 2016, he told the magazine that Ambros is always looking at how to assist the islands throughout the Pacific through its development. “Another area is to grow product opportunity, so if we see a product there is a need for, we look into that.”
As well, he’s aware of the broader picture of assets. “The third arm — whether we like it or not — we’re in the real estate business. … In the future, I can see us needing to expand and formalize our real estate holdings.”
Joey Salas, wine and spirits manager at Ambros; says he and Shimizu were friends before they were colleagues. “The first time I met him, we were in elementary school.”
The pair also were at high school together.
“We were teammates on the football team,” Salas says. “He always had an air of leadership about him.”
People gravitated to Shimizu, he says. “He’s very likeable and friendly.” Coming from a family with three older brothers among his four siblings, Salas says, “He learned a lot. … There were a lot of expectations of him — being the fourth boy.”
Salas joined Ambros early in his own career. “I came onboard shortly after college and then he was my boss.”
As to the experience Shimizu has gained, Salas says, “He still shares that knowledge with everyone.” And while decisions are left with managers, Salas says, “He always shares his ideas. … He sees things I don’t see.”
Salas says Shimizu interacts with all employees. “He’ll give them encouragement; he totally understands that everyone is important, and everyone is a piece in the puzzle.”
The two can separate business and friendship, Salas says, but the relationships meld well. “It just makes me more in tune. I’m trying to support his success and in doing that, I become successful.”
While Ambros is a family-owned business, Salas says, “They really treat employees like family.”
Shimizu is focused on growth and working towards that, Salas says. “I know that’s what he leans to and what he believes.”
But the strength of the group through the generations is part of that, Salas says. “I think that vision is still there and with Tom’s leadership guiding the third — and the fourth generation already, it will continue.”
Shimizu and his wife, Lynn C. Shimizu, have three children: Tamara, Thomas and Isabella-Rose.
Lynn Shimizu says, “Tom travelled a lot and worked late while the children were young, but … they knew the time away from them was because he was working hard to provide for the family. When he was home and available, he made every effort to be active in their lives. He was supportive of their involvement in school clubs and sports teams in school and community leagues.”
Lynn Shimizu says each of the children have their own unique relationship with their father.
“Throughout their lives, Tom has always supported and encouraged the children to take whatever path will lead them to enhance their personal and professional experiences and growth. Whatever decisions they choose, he stresses they do their absolute best and remain humble and respectful in everything they do.”
His stories of growing up in the family business and working from the ground up help the children to realize that they should not take things for granted and act entitled, she says. “Tom taught them that to achieve their goals they must be willing to work hard.”
Working with the family is very important to him, she says. “He looks up to his parents and always is thankful for what they have provided and instilled in him growing up, in a family with four sons and one daughter. Tom is definitely a family man. He has strong relationships with both his mom and dad’s side of the family, and my family as well.” He will do whatever he can to help his family when they seek out his help, she says.
In addition, Lynn Shimizu says her husband applies a firm sense of organization and the knowledge he accrued at Ambros in more ways than one.
“Getting the job done is what drives him. He is dedicated and works very hard, because there is a lot at stake working for the family business, and he knows his decisions will affect not only the legacy of his family’s business, but just as important, the livelihoods of all his employees.
“When we take vacations, he still engages with the office and the various boards he is on, in order to maintain his commitments,” she says. “While his work and community commitments keep him very busy and many times away from home, I admire his dedication and the example he sets for our children.”