Greg Hamer, Sr. grew up working in his father's Louisiana oilfield service business. But in 1982, he began to put time and money into growing a franchise business that has since grown to 50 locations.
After he sold the oilfield business and barreled into the franchise fast-food business full-bore, Hamer never lost sight of the importance of family in his life and business. All three of his children have worked for his B&G Food Enterprises company in Morgan City, La. His son, Greg, Jr., is an executive with the company. His daughters, now retired, both worked for B&G, and their husbands remain on board as executives. The whole clan lives in houses scattered just minutes away from Hamer and his wife of 42 years, Brenda.
Hamer brings the same set of values that drive his personal relationships directly into his business. "I like people to treat me like I try to treat them," he says. If he keeps his end of the bargain, he believes he can help inspire the staff at his 50 KFC and Taco Bell units in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas to serve his customers the way he'd want to be served.
For his family, that philosophy has also meant spending extra time with the kids and grandkids. "My time was always split between business and family," says Hamer. "I never got into a lot of clubs, or spent a lot of time hunting or fishing." And when he does take time away from business and family, you can usually find him lending it to civic groups.
"I was in politics for many years, so that took a lot of time, working at the local level in Louisiana," he says. Hamer spent time as a county commissioner and was once mayor pro tem for his town. Now in his early 60s, Hamer isn't keeping the same full schedule at work as he did in his younger days, but there's still plenty on the CEO's to-do list.
The last two years Hamer has been the National Restaurant Association's liaison to the Canadian Restaurant Association, which keeps him on the road several times a year. And he's just been appointed a Trustee of the University of Louisiana system.
Aside from his civic and family activities, you'll still find Hamer driving potential sites for new locations or reviewing the company's books and policies. "I get copied on a lot of stuff," he says. "There are probably a 100 emails a day that come in."
Hamer starts each day with a prayer and a look in the mirror. "You've got to be happy with the guy you look at in the mirror every morning," he says. From where we sit, he looks just fine.
Name: Greg Hamer, Sr.
Title: President and CEO
Company: B&G Food Enterprises
No. of units by brand: 38 Taco Bell, 6 KFC, and 6 KFC/Taco Bell 2n1
Family: Married 42 years to wife and business partner, Brenda. Three children: Greg, Jr.,
Tracie Hover, and Valerie Leblanc. Sons-in-law John Hover and Jay Leblanc work for the company.
Years in current position: 25 years
Years in franchising: 25 years
Key accomplishments: My wife and I live in a small town. Our children went to college and all stayed in town. I have nine grandchildren, all within five minutes of the house. They have all worked in the business. Valerie came up as a restaurant manager and worked in the office doing advertising for 15 years. Tracie was CFO and basically retired. Their husbands work in the business now. Greg does administrative work.
Biggest mistake: It's always a big mistake when you have to close a restaurant. That happened just about the time I thought I knew what I was doing--and then it's a rather humbling experience. I've probably closed 4 or 5 over the years.
Smartest mistake: Probably getting into Taco Bell. I knew nothing about it. I sold my oilfield business and had money burning a hole in my pocket. It was purely an accident that I stumbled into Taco Bell.
How do you spend a day, typically? I get up, make coffee, and spend a couple of hours on the computer. Then I go to the office at 9:30 or 10 in the morning. I've usually been up since 6. I try to discipline myself to get up with 15 minutes of prayer. We need to thank someone for all the benefits we have. Then all hell breaks loose. I'm typically on the road two days a week, sometimes more, mainly for our business, inspecting restaurants and looking for sites. At this stage of my life, I am turning more and more over to the boys, who are running more of it on a day-to-day basis. I do make a lot of meetings and serve on boards.
Favorite fun activities: LSU football. I like to swim, read, and travel. I like to travel, thank God, because I do travel quite a bit.
Exercise/workout: I'm terrible about that. I try to swim, but I lack the patience to do anything else. Every now and then my wife and I will go walking.
Favorite stuff/tech toys: None, really.
What are you reading? I just finished one of Oliver North's books. I found it entertaining. I like history and I like fiction based on something that could happen. W.E.B. Griffith is probably my favorite author.
Do you have a favorite quote or advice you give? You've got to be happy with the guy you look at in the mirror every morning.
Best advice you ever got: My father impressed on me to never bring ill on your family name. I suppose that's something I've always tried to do.
Formative influences/events: Watching my father, he was pretty much consumed by his business. I think I inherited some of that, but I'd like to think I did a better job of putting aside more family time.
How do you balance life and work? We still spend a lot of time with family. The kids may think it's too much. Brenda and I have the best time with our kids and grandkids.
Business philosophy: Try to treat our people as best we can and hope they treat the customer the same way. We're always trying to upgrade our people and keep them motivated.
Would you say you are in the franchising, real estate, or customer service business? It basically comes down to customer service. We're a franchisee, but at the end of the day, it's all customer service. There must be 25 ways to get there and I think we've tried them all. At the end of day, you're trying to get better service to the customer.
What gets you out of bed in the morning? Usually there's something on my desk I need to go do.
What's your passion in business? Customer service. That's what it is all about.
Management method or style: I try to be fair. Tell people they have a job to do, make sure they understand what it is, and stay compassionate. At the end of the day we still want to get the job done. You'll get someone that does more than their share and others that don't, and you tend to work with those people too long. We err on the side of working too long before we pull the plug on someone.
Greatest challenge: I think now the greatest challenge is trying to make sure we can survive the economic challenge we have. Stay wise. Don't get too overextended. I have watched most of my retirement funds go away and I'll be working a lot longer. Most people my age have been putting aside things, and they got hit pretty hard. I'm more fortunate than most. At least I still have a business.
How close are you to operations? I'm still very involved in development. And I'm very involved in looking at the financials, things like that. Basically I've given up the day-to-day thing. I stay informed and talk to the boys about it. I get all the electronic complaints. I want to see what they are and we chat about that.
Personality: I would hope I'm pretty predictable. I feel I am. People usually know how I'm going to react and I try and stay on an even keel.
How do others describe you? I think the kids probably think I meddle around too much in what they're trying to do. And I think I'm not.
How do you hire and fire? I don't do that anymore.
How do you train and retain? I still watch it. I work with the bonuses. The boys make recommendations and we'll sit down on that. Ninety-nine times out of 100 I'll do what they want to do. I look more at what the company can afford to do.
Annual revenue: $55 million
2009 goals: We're going to open a couple of new units. So I would say over $60 million.
Growth meter: How do you measure your growth? I would think we look at it more in terms of a dollar amount and keep our eye on the bottom line. We don't get too transfixed by sales growth. You have to maintain the bottom line. A lot of our growth has come from the ticket average going up, not from higher customer counts. But you want to make sure the customer counts are going up.
Vision meter: Where do you want to be in 5 years? 10 years? Still alive. I kind of think I'll stay involved.
How is this economic cycle affecting you, your employees, and your customers? Taco Bell has come through it pretty well, I think, because of our price points. People have traded down, given what they're paying for gas and food. We've lost some business off the bottom end, where people just don't have the money, but we've picked up from the top side. The KFC side hasn't been so good. They're more expensive.
What are you doing different in this economy? We're watching things closer. We're concerned about the economy. With the development we have planned, we're concerned about where we're going to get the funds. And that's never been an issue before. I think as of now we've secured financing but it's still a concern. They might tell you one thing and then you read the next day they might be out of business.
Where do you find capital for expansion? A lot of the lenders are gone. Our main line was with Citigroup. They sold to GE and now GE is basically talking like they don't want to do any business in it. So we're looking to some of the other lenders and we're talking to local banks. They seem to be making networks of small local banks, where they are working together. So there is still money out there.
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