May 04, 2015 // Franchising.com // DALLAS - 7-Eleven, Inc. hit a triple in Operation: Take Command, the contest to award a U.S. military veteran a 7-Eleven® store. Although one finalist was expected to emerge in the last round of the competition, all three finalists were selected as winners.
Active-duty Active Duty U.S. Army Captain Robert Kemna of Miami (currently stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C.), Army veteran Salil Gautam of Chesapeake, Va., and U.S. Navy veteran Mark Anthony Page of Granbury, Texas, will all become business-owners of their own 7-Eleven franchise.
As the last step in the almost six-month long contest, the three finalists interviewed with 7-Eleven President and CEO Joe DePinto, an Army veteran himself, last week at the company's home office in Dallas. So impressed was he by the caliber of the three Operation: Take Command finalists that DePinto made an on-the-spot executive decision.
"How can you pick just one winner when you have three?" DePinto asked. "I was extremely impressed by each one of them – for overcoming adversity, serving their country selflessly, having a heart for service and demonstrating outstanding leadership qualities. These are the kind of folks we want in the 7-Eleven system. They are all too deserving not to win.
"7-Eleven is a franchise-centric company focused on how we can best support our franchisees," DePinto added. "We are proud of our independent franchise business-owners who love Brand 7-Eleven and tirelessly serve the customers in their communities every day. I look forward to welcoming these three new franchisees to the 7-Eleven family."
Salil Gautam of Chesapeake, Va. – Gautam joined the Army just a year after he moved to the United States and served for 4.5 years, with deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. "I wanted to give back to the country that had done so much for me."
Before enlisting, the Nepal native's first job was with a 7-Eleven store in northern California. After leaving the Army in 2011, he used the leadership skills and work ethic learned in the military to establish a small corporation and turn a failing gas station and convenience store into profitable businesses. As a franchisee, his goals will include mentoring and telling other veterans about the business opportunities 7-Eleven offers.
"I couldn't believe that I had won," Gautam said. "7-Eleven already does so much for military veterans. Then they decided to give all three finalists a store, which is way above and beyond what I expected from the contest. Everyone in 7-Eleven's franchising group has helped so much in the process; it almost feels like family."
Mentioning the devastation in his native Nepal from the recent earthquake, Gautam said, "Words can't express my feelings. It is so very sad. I just pray to God that there will be no more casualties or damage."
Gautam and his wife, Radhika, have a 5-year-old son, Shrish. Salil holds a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering.
Favorite 7-Eleven product: 7-Eleven coffee
Mark Anthony Page of Granbury, Texas – After a tough start in life that included two years in foster care, Page moved in with his grandmother who had 16 children of her own. Page said he enlisted just days after graduating from high school, seeing it both as a way out and a way up. He served in active and reserve duty with the Navy. While in the reserves, Page attended college, earning a bachelor's degree in communications and a master's in kinesiology. He taught and coached in secondary schools before taking a position that required him to be away from his home and family. Believing a 7-Eleven franchise could be the ticket to be closer to home, Page heard about the Operation: Take Command contest and entered.
Saying winning was "unbelievable," Page added, "This is life-changing. It's very rare that you know someone who wins something big; you mainly see that on TV. As I moved through the levels of the contest, I started thinking maybe I had a chance. Seeing people from here and even other countries who didn't know me, but voted for my video on Facebook was very humbling. My wife was my biggest cheerleader. I couldn't have done it without her."
Mark Anthony and his wife, Diona, live in Granbury while Page has been commuting to West Texas. Their family includes a son, Dominic Dean, 16; 4-year-old daughter Zaniyah and infant twins, E'lyn and Mark-Anthony. With three small children, they hope to franchise a store that is minutes away from their home, in place of a job that is hours away.
Favorite 7-Eleven product: Slurpee® drink
Robert Kemna of Miami, Fla. – Born in Iowa, with military assignments around the world, Capt. Kemna said he is ready to settle down in Miami when he transitions from active duty this fall. After all, that's where his wife, Liliana, lives. The newlyweds, who were married in January, have lived apart since their wedding, with Kemna currently serving at Fort Bragg, N.C. Kemna has 15 years of service in the Army Reserve, 10 of those on active duty, including one tour in Afghanistan.
When he began looking for civilian jobs to pursue after completing his service, the decorated captain found that his officer status and management skills did not guarantee him the same level position in the private sector.
"I knew I didn't want to start over with an entry-level job," Kemna said. "I Googled military-friendly franchisers and 7-Eleven was at the top of every list. I found out about the Operation: Take Command contest right before the deadline to enter and barely got my paperwork in after my wedding and honeymoon."
That wasn't Kemna's last challenge during the contest period. He was on active duty when he was selected as a top-10 finalist, requiring him to make a short video and campaign for Facebook votes.
"Your success can depend on the people you surround yourself with. In the contest, I needed help and found it amazing that so many people were supportive," he said. "My wife edited my video from a hotel room while on a trip to Italy, and my entire family took the lead in campaigning for votes."
Kemna has a bachelor's degree in sociology and a master's degree in environmental management.
Favorite 7-Eleven product: 7-Select cookie dough ice cream
The veterans will be reporting for duty soon – at their own 7-Eleven® stores. Their first assignment, however, is to select their stores. Gautam, Kemna and Page are looking for stores near their homes – in Chesapeake, South Florida and North Texas, respectively.
As contest winners, each veteran will receive a waiver of the franchise fee, valued at up to $190,000, to franchise any of the company's 7-Eleven convenience stores available in the continental U.S.
The three finalists were flown to Dallas for one-on-one interviews with DePinto as the final step in the competition. To reach the ultimate showdown, the three received the most votes in a Facebook video competition between 10 Operation: Take Command semi-finalists.
"I can think of no one more deserving of this extraordinary opportunity to win a 7-Eleven franchise than our military veterans who have given so much for our country," DePinto said. "7-Eleven is a winner, too, because veterans bring top-notch leadership skills, a can-do attitude and a mission-oriented focus to their business. Our experience has shown that U.S. veterans have the desire, ambition and core values needed to be successful 7-Eleven franchisees."
More than 1,700 veterans and soon-to-be vets from all branches of military service applied for the competition that ran from Veterans Day last November through Jan. 25. Some 300 were qualified and from those, 10 were selected for the video competition whereby the public could vote for their favorite, resulting in the three finalists chosen.
"Some of the veterans who entered but didn't win were so enthusiastic about starting their own 7-Eleven business that they already are going through the franchising process to select and acquire a store," said Greg Franks 7-Eleven franchise system vice president.
Since 2009, the world's largest convenience retailer has offered a 10 percent franchise fee discount to all military veterans who meet the company's franchise qualifications. Last year, they increased this to a 20 percent discount on franchise fees to retired veterans who have left the service in the last five years. The company instituted the incentives for qualified retired and separated veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces to help them achieve the American dream of owning one's own business.
The Operation: Take Command franchise giveaway was a multi-phased competition that included meeting 7-Eleven's franchising qualifications, interviews, a Facebook video contest among the 10 preliminary finalists and the final interview with DePinto for the three finalists.
To qualify for the contest, entrants had to be 21 years of age or older, a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, an honorably discharged veteran, have excellent credit and at least three years of leadership, retail or restaurant experience. Contestants went through the same qualification process as all 7-Eleven franchise applicants including interviews, credit evaluation, a leadership test and preparation of a business plan and budget.
7-Eleven has been recognized by veterans' organizations and publications for its military-friendly business opportunities, hiring practices and philanthropic support for military families. Military veterans serve in every level of the company from store sales associates to headquarters personnel.
The retailer also has supported numerous military assistance organizations including Hire Heroes USA, the USO, Operation Homefront, Warrior Gateway, Reserve Aid, and the Johnny Mac Soldiers Fund offering college scholarships and grants. 7-Eleven is also a founding and sustaining partner of the Military Service Initiative at the George W. Bush Presidential Center.
For more information about the winners, go to www.VeteransFranchiseGiveaway.com.
7-Eleven, Inc. is the premier name and largest chain in the convenience retailing industry. Based in Dallas, Texas, 7-Eleven operates, franchises or licenses nearly 10,500 7-Eleven® stores in North America. Globally, there are more than 55,800 7-Eleven stores in 16 countries. During 2013, 7-Eleven stores generated total worldwide sales close to $84.5 billion. 7-Eleven has been honored by a number of companies and organizations recently. Accolades include: #2 on Franchise Times Top 200 Franchise Companies for 2013; #1 on Entrepreneur magazine's 2014 Top Global Franchise list; #10 spot on Entrepreneur magazine's Franchise 500 list for 2015, and #3 in Forbes magazine's Top 20 Franchises to Start. 7-Eleven is No. 3 on Fast Company magazine's 2013 list of the "World's Top 10 Most Innovative Companies in Retail." 7-Eleven places among Top Veteran-Friendly Companies for 2014 by U.S. Veterans Magazine and is among GI Jobs magazine's Top 100 Military Friendly Employers for 2014. Hispanic Magazine named 7-Eleven among its Hispanic Corporate Top 100 Companies that provide the most opportunities to Hispanics. 7-Eleven is franchising its stores in the U.S. and expanding through organic growth, acquisitions and its Business Conversion Program. Find out more online at www.7-Eleven.com.
SOURCE 7-Eleven, Inc.
On behalf of 7-Eleven, Inc.
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