After serving in the military for 15 years, Robert Kemna is ready to settle down.
He’s planning to head back to Miami to be with his wife — whom he met while based in Florida — and take on a new career.
“I realized that I wanted to own my own business,” he said, “and owning my own business is a pretty daunting task.”
Kemna, 33, entered a competition open to veterans for the chance to win his own 7-Eleven franchise. And now, he’s one of 10 semifinalists.
“The reason why I entered the competition is because I got married in January,” he said, “and I’m at the point in my life where I’m focused on creating a family.”
He said he adopted Miami as his home when he met his wife, who now lives in South Beach. But the decision to leave the Army was a big one, he said.
“It’s one of those tough decisions I had to make,” he said, “but it’s a decision that I’m at peace with.”
He chose to look into opening a 7-Eleven because the company offers support and opportunities for growth.
Kemna, the only semifinalist from Florida, served as a U.S. Army captain and worked as a civil affairs officer. He also has worked in North Carolina, Texas, Kansas and Missouri.
He said he wants to use his service leadership skills in a new life as an entrepreneur.
“The ultimate goal is to make sure that I’m able to provide for my family,” he said. “The secondary goals are basically to have an ability to work in a way that I’m responsible for what happens or doesn’t happen. That sense of independence is very important to me.”
More than 1,700 people applied for the contest, Operation: Take Command. More than 100 applicants were from Florida.
Voting is now open to the public to decide the favorite story.
The 10 semifinalists submitted a “Why I Should Win Operation: Take Command,” video for 7-Eleven’s Facebook page. The top three contestants will be chosen by the public — people can vote once a day until March 29. The public voting started Monday.
“We have been amazed at the huge interest and outstanding quality of those who have applied for a franchise fee-free 7-Eleven store in our Operation: Take Command contest,” Greg Franks, 7-Eleven vice president of franchise systems, said in a statement. “Choosing a winner would be tough because of the high caliber of these 10 individuals. That is why we are turning to the public to make the decision on who goes to the final round.”
7-Eleven also offered to give $1 for every vote, up to $50,000. The money will be donated to Hire Heroes USA, a nonprofit group that helps veterans find jobs.
Kemna said in his video that he hopes to apply his expertise to a “new endeavor.”
“After 15 years of service, I believe the time is now,” he said in the video. “ It is time for me to pass on what I know and stand up for not just my future but for my family’s future.”
The top three contestants from the public Facebook contest will have one-on-one interviews with 7-Eleven president and CEO Joe DePinto. The winner will be announced in May.
Kemna, who is now in North Carolina training a group to be civil affairs soldiers, plans to move back to Miami in the fall. He said that if he wins the contest, he’s thinking about opening his store in either South Beach or Homestead.
For now, he’s working with his friends and family and using social media to spread the word about the competition.
“I have enough experience and desire and motivation to make this happen,” he said. “But the financial stability of operating a franchise is pretty difficult to achieve and that’s what I need help with and that’s what this competition is about.”