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2016 Men of the Year Honoree: Mike Hamra

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Mike Hamra may sell burgers, salads and noodles, but ask his profession and he’ll say he’s in the people business.

As CEO of Hamra Enterprises, the son of founder Sam Hamra oversees 137 restaurants in five states comprising Wendy’s, Panera and Noodles and Co. Daily restaurant operations are important, but Hamra’s focus is on culture for his more than 5,000 employees.

“In 2013, I went to work on being intentional about our culture and set the stage to develop our charter, which would be a document that spoke to who we are as an organization,” he says.

Through a facilitation process, 48 Hamra Enterprises leaders did the work over six days, engaging in debate, conversation and idea sharing before aligning each word, sentence and paragraph. The effort produced the Hamra Charter and Values that now guides all decision making. As a result, the company doubled in size in just under three years.

Even before the charter was in place, Hamra had a strong focus on his employees. In 2001, he helped create an employee assistance fund, called Hamra Enterprises Reaching Out, or HERO. The fund specifically helps employees offset expenses for unexpected events that can impact a family, such as the loss of a home or emergency travel.

For every dollar an employee contributes, Hamra Enterprises matches it. All money goes into a general pool for all employees to use, regardless of whether they contribute or not. However, Hamra says over 40 percent of his employees do contribute and as of May 3, the fund had raised $910,802. Since 2011, it’s supported 326 employees with $281,386.

“My promise to our employees is that the HERO fund will continue to expand its ability,” he says, noting now with nearly $1 million, support is available for homeownership to employees in the Chicago market. “I worked with the Chicago Metropolitan Planning Council to establish a partnership with the Northside Community Development Corp., which serves to educate and prepare employees.”

Launching the program as a test, Hamra hopes to expand the housing component companywide.

With a bachelor’s degree from Ohio Wesleyan University, his Juris Doctor from the University of Missouri and an MBA from Kennesaw State University, Hamra wasn’t always in the family business.  

Following a stint in private practice, Hamra served the Clinton administration as a political appointee and special council to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, where he assisted in drafting the 1996 Telecommunications Act. From 1994-97, Hamra served as chief of staff and legal adviser for the Federal Communications Commission’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau and in 2001 was commissioned by the U.S. Department of State to represent the United States in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, assisting its new government in rewriting telecommunications law.

For his efforts, Hamra was awarded the Commerce Department’s Bronze Medal for superior federal service.

In recent years, Hamra Enterprises has donated more than $1.2 million to children’s charities, including the Children’s Miracle Network and Make-a-Wish, where it’s helped grant 114 wishes since 2010.


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