7-Eleven Crowns Three Winners in Operation: Take Command

DALLAS — Three military veterans will all become business owners of their own 7-Eleven franchise.

Although Dallas-based 7-Eleven Inc. was expected to name just one winner in its "Operation: Take Command" contest, the retailer felt three contest submissions were so strong that all three veterans needed to be name winners.

"How can you pick just one winner when you have three?" 7-Eleven CEO Joe, DePinto — himself a military veteran — 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."

Receiving a waiver of 7-Eleven's franchise fee, valued at up to $190,000, are U.S. Army Captain Robert Kemma of Miami, Fla.; Army veteran Salil Gautam of Chesapeake, Va.; and Navy veteran Mark Anthony Page of Granbury, Texas.

Kemma, a newlywed, has 15 years of service in the Army Reserve, 10 of those on active duty, including one tour in Afghanistan.

"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."

Gautam joined the Army a year after he moved to the United States. He served for more than four years, with deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

"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."

Page enlisted in the Navy days after graduating from high school. While in the Navy Reserve, he enlisted in college, earning both a bachelor's and master's degree.

"This is life-changing," said Page. "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."

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