Andy Almaui’s office is quite a conversation starter. As he sits at his desk, a shelf to his left is covered with bodybuilding trophies. The wall behind him displays photographs of his past as a professional wrestler and bodyguard to the stars. The wall he faces bears certificates honoring his work designing physical fitness programs for everyone from the Maywood Police Department to the United States Marines.
Instead of basking in his past accomplishments, though, Almaui is fully focused on his current work as president and owner of the AMA Financial Mortgage Corporation, 547 Desplaines Ave., which is currently celebrating its 10th anniversary. Out of all the memorabilia decorating his walls, the one plaque he is first to show off to visitors is a certificate from the Better Business Bureau honoring his company for a decade free of complaints.
The company has steadily expanded since its inception as AMA Home Improvement Authority, since adding its mortgage division and, more recently, AMA Realty, to its list of services. Though the square life has certainly been a change of pace for Almaui, he does not see it as a step down.
“I realized that in life you reach a point where you’ve got to take it easy,” says Almaui, who holds a degree in business administration from the University of Southern Illinois. “I love the real estate business. What we’ve accomplished in 10 years, you have to give yourself credit for that.”
As much as Almaui likes to talk about his work as an entrepreneur, he knows that there is no way of avoiding the curiosity that his memorabilia evokes. After a little prodding, a gleam appears in Almaui’s eyes and the stories begin pouring out.
“I don’t like to brag … I don’t want people to think I’m cocky,” he says.
“But if you want to go crazy, we can go crazy.”
Crazy is a bit of an understatement when describing the rollercoaster of a life Almaui lived in his pre-AMA days. As a supervisor for several Bally’s Health and Fitness locations, Almaui caught the workout bug. Soon, he was snatching trophies left and right in bodybuilding competitions all over the Midwest. His titles have included Midwest Police and Fireman Bodybuilding Champion, won while working as a Maywood police officer in 1994, Mr. Illinois and Mr. Europe.
“Bodybuilding is my first love,” said Almaui, now in his early 40s. He retains his sculpted physique today despite spending much of his time behind a desk.
“Working out, it’s for life,” he says.
Before bodybuilding, he went through a stint as a professional wrestler, fighting under the name “The Super Wild Samoan,” and even endorsed a line of pinball machines themed after his wrestling tag team. He quit wrestling due to the low pay at the time, though he admits he sometimes wishes he had stuck around for the explosion in popularity that pro-wrestling enjoyed after his departure.
One of his few failures was a tryout for the Chicago Bears. Almaui, who played defensive tackle in his college years, said the team was impressed by his strength and his vertical leap, “but I slipped during the 40-yard dash, and I didn’t make it.”
The tryout wasn’t the end of his affiliation with the Bears organization, appearing in a Bears uniform in a natural gas company’s magazine ad which appeared in several national publications. He has similarly kept his hand in the world of professional wrestling, capitalizing on his resemblance to wrestling and movie star The Rock by competing in several look-alike contests.
His athletic career and the Hollywood connections he built while serving as a bodyguard for stars like Raquel Welch, Heather Locklear, Sheena Easton, Cher and Don Johnson during their visits to Chicago led to several bit-parts in major motion pictures. He played an FBI agent in The Day of the Jackal, a limo driver in My Best Friend’s Wedding, and a cop in Home Alone 3 and The Fugitive.
“Me and Harrison Ford really clicked,” he said. He also speaks highly of Mel Gibson, whom he worked with in the movie Payback.
Observing Almaui at work, it is easy to see that his past continues to influence his demeanor. A whirlwind of energy, he still moves more like an athlete than an executive. Staying in place simply is not part of his repertoire.
Some might think a natural mover and shaker like Almaui would be attracted to the big city, but he says Forest Park has served as the perfect base of operations for both his home and business lives.
“It’s close to downtown, but there’s a small-town mentality. Everyone knows what everyone’s doing,” said Almaui, who bought his first home in Forest Park in 1989 after living in Oak Park as a teenager. “I spent four years of my life at SIU, so I’m kind of adapted to the small-town mentality.”
Like many Forest Park veterans, Almaui said he marvels at the changes the village has undergone over the past few years. “I’m a close friend of the mayor’s, and I admire what he’s done to the town,” he said.
“The more the town is productive, the more I’m productive.”
He has recently expanded his horizons by taking advantage of Forest Park’s residential development boom, recently completing a townhouse project on the 300 block of Elgin Avenue. Though new townhouses have been the subject of much controversy in Forest Park, Almaui said he has managed to avoid such drama through sensible planning and a willingness to work with other stakeholders.
“You have to be able to compromise … they’re your neighbors,” he said.
He takes pride in the tight-knit atmosphere of his businesses, which he said attracts clients in much the same way he was attracted to Forest Park, drawing people in with its friendly but professional feel. His goal, he says, is for his employees to look forward to coming to work each day and his clients to feel like part of the family.
As a thank you gift for his first decade in business, he said, he is offering a $500 credit per customer toward one business transaction in any of the AMA businesses.
“Service, personal attention, honesty”that’s the name of the game,” he explains.
Though his superstar days are behind him, Almaui said the discipline he learned through bodybuilding and police work as well as the confidence instilled in him by his acting and wrestling careers continues to influence his current endeavors.
“I learned from all the aspects [of my past],” he said. “I learned patience, being confident, and just looking at the future in a positive way.”
More information about Almaui’s businesses is available at www.amafinancialcorp.com.