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Wednesday, Oct 4, 2023

With the Spirit

When James Amos was in junior high, he fell in love with the girl who would later become his wife.

When he was in high school, he fell in love with the U.S. Marine Corps.

In college, he fell in love with business.

And fortunately for Amos, neither his wife, the Corps nor business has ever broken his heart.

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Amos is still married, he has a record of distinction with the Corps, and he’s loving life as the president and CEO of Mail Boxes Etc.

His journey from a saxophone player with a crush to the leader of one of the country’s biggest companies is filled with what many would consider lucky opportunities.

Amos sees it differently. His chances weren’t the result of luck, but rather the result of his own plan to succeed, and succeed well.

He has that plan on paper in fact, somewhere in his office.

“I have a belief statement from years ago that said, ‘I want to run a billion-dollar company.’

I had no idea how that would happen, or what it would be, but that’s what I said,” says Amos.

Born in Missouri, Amos had a normal, all-American childhood.


When he was 14, he played alto sax in his junior high school band, and sat next to a pretty girl named Micki.

Amos was smitten, and warned all the other boys “that if they challenged me for my (band) seat, I was going to beat them up.”

He and Micki began dating in high school, married six years later and have been together ever since.

While in high school, Amos joined a Marine Corps program that allowed him attend school during the academic year, and go to Quantico, Va., for pre-training in the Marine Corps during the summer.

He stayed with the program through college.

It was designed to train future officers, and after he graduated, Amos joined up but not exactly the way he’d planned.

“When I graduated (from college), it was during the 1968 Tet Offensive, so it was perhaps not the best moment.

“It was ‘go directly to ‘Nam, do not pass go, and do not collect $200,'” Amos says, laughing.

Remembrance Of War

Aside from the obvious worry of going to war, Amos served his duty without complaint.

Ten years later, he’d made two combat tours of Vietnam, achieved the rank of captain and been awarded (among other commendations) the Purple Heart.

Thirty years later, it still quiets Amos to remember the turmoil he witnessed and experienced during the Vietnam War.

He is a quiet man, intense, polite and soft-spoken, and he doesn’t get upset even when remembering how he was called a baby-killer when he returned to the States.

“People don’t remember the intensity of that time and the Vietnam impact. The first time I came home, I landed in St. Louis and I had my uniform on , and I was spit on. It was pretty difficult.

“I loved the Corps, and still do, but it was a difficult time.”

Amos settled down to domestic family life with Micki and daughters Holly and Heather, and tried to figure out what he wanted to do with his life.

Fascinated By Franchising

Veterans he knew had gone into the franchising business and invited him to join them. Amos was caught between staying in the service or moving into the private sector.

“I didn’t know for sure what I was going to do. At the time, there was an amphibious warfare school, and a select few were chosen to attend. They’d invited me to it twice, I’d refused twice and that’s generally frowned upon.”

Amos had refused because it meant re-enlisting for another four years, and he wasn’t sure he wanted to do that.

It was a bad time to be in the service.

“We were told not to wear uniforms I had a couple of friends who were shot to death in Georgetown, sitting in a restaurant, just for wearing their uniforms.

“I really had a decision to make, whether or not to spend 20 or 30 years in the Corps.

“If I had to go back, I’d make the same decision and get out at the same time.”

He left the Corps, proudly, moved the family to Washington, D.C., and went into business.

Amos got a job at a career counseling company in 1973, and within six months had broken every sales record in the history of the firm.

Started Counseling Firm

Afraid that his best talent was lying dormant, Amos quit the firm, opened his own career counseling company, ran it for a few years, expanded, made a wad of money and ended up being bought out by his former employer.

He made four times his original investment with the sale, and he never looked back.

“Why do I like franchising? Because it’s entrepreneurial, it’s people-intensive and it’s a very exciting business to be in.”

Amos loves talking about the industry and its impact on business.

“The success of franchising is because you would open exactly the same kind of business wherever you went , that’s what made it grow. It’s a trillion-dollar industry , one half of every retail dollar is spent in a franchise.”

When he was running an Arby’s franchise, Amos said he was asked by a friend if he considered himself to be in the “hamburger business.” He said no, that he was in the distribution business.

“It’s not a guaranteed success, but it’s a guaranteed opportunity, and one that’s worked thousands of times. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel to run a franchise.”

Amos may be matter-of-fact about business, but the respect he receives from other business leaders is impressive.

Firm Leadership

Zic Ziglar, founder and president of Ziglar Training Systems in Dallas, has known Amos for seven years.

“Well, he married a redhead, and you’ve got to admire a man with taste like that,” says Ziglar, laughing.

He has a lot of admiration for Amos.

“He’s firm in his leadership and management capabilities, and he’s also a good listener.

“When he has to tighten the ship, he does it with compassion and gentleness. He’s consistent, and he’s also able to recognize that he doesn’t have all the answers, so he surrounds himself with those who do.

“He’s a man of integrity.”

About five years ago, Amos decided to take a year off to relax. It lasted a week.

He got bored, started looking around and put the word out that he wanted something to do.

He and Micki had been living in Dallas for 12 years by then, and after much sifting of offers, narrowed it down to either Mail Boxes Etc. or the Applebee’s restaurant chain.

Amos says Applebee’s offered a better compensation package, but that many of his ideas for improving upon a franchise were already in place at the company.

After a four-month debate, Amos and his wife called Mail Boxes Etc. to accept its offer.

He’s going into his fourth year as chairman and CEO and has watched the company explode onto the global small office/home office market.

‘Greatest Potential’

“When I looked at MBE, I really felt it had the greatest potential of any franchise system in the world, because one, there seem to be no limitations on the number of expansions for the company, and two, there’s tremendous vision here to perhaps becoming the largest network system in the world,” says Amos.

Optimism is an integral part of Amos’ personality.

His office is filled with what he describes as the American symbol for renewal and strength , the bald eagle.

Paintings and fine sculptures fill the room with a symbol whose significance dates back to Amos’ time in the Corps.

“My eagles? It dates back to the Marine Corps, it’s just about country. I’ve used it in business to represent renewal, and the process of renewal comes after being helpless but then growing in strength.”

All Mail Boxes Etc. employees wear eagle pins on their lapels, and Amos freely gives the pins out to guests.

He’s also not embarrassed by the two-foot-high brightly clothed stuffed bear that sits on a chair in the corner.

The bear represents the MBE Foundation for Children’s Initiatives, a program that solicits “dreams” from organizations that help abused children and those at risk.

The company recently paid for computer literacy courses and gave a new computer system to a teen-ager in a foster home who wanted to become computer literate.

“That’s what we do; we deliver dreams,” says Amos with a smile.


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