Metro Atlantans, drawn by the usual pomp and ceremony, braved cool temperatures Saturday to pay tribute to America’s veterans at area events.
It’s a special kindness that veterans can depend on at least one day out of the year, but for father and son Lowell and Scott Hester, the day isn’t particularly special.
“To us every day is Veterans Day,” Scott Hester said. “For everybody else is a day to give thanks for our service.”
That doesn’t mean, the Hesters said, that they don’t appreciate the show of gratitude. They do.
Indeed, on any given day this father-son duo, Mr. Transmission franchise owners who between the two have then spent more than a decade in the Air Force and Navy, is reminded of the sacrifices veterans are called to make in service to our country.
But it isn’t just that. The way they see it, and statistics bear this out, their service to country makes them a special brand.
For one thing, military experience uses strong leadership skills that easily translate to successful business practices, such as improving processes and accomplishing a defined mission.
And for another, according to business experts, military training teaches skills used to carry out very specific tasks, which enables the Hesters and other veterans to enter a new field and still be successful.
The Hesters are part of a growing number of veterans who own franchises across the country. According to the latest Census Bureau Small Business Owner survey, there are more than 66,000 veteran-owned franchises, about 14 percent of all franchises in the United States.
Not only have the Hesters made the sometimes difficult transition from military service to civilian life, they are thriving as successful business owners.
Both Lowell's and his son Scott's shops are part of the Moran Family of Brands, an active member of VetFran, an initiative that provides a $5,000 franchise fee discount and mentorship to honorably discharged veterans.
While neither of the Hesters were beneficiaries of the grant initiative, they say that next to joining the military, buying a Mr. Transmission franchise was the best decision they ever made.
After graduating high school in 1964, Lowell Hester’s only ambition was to own a Chevy, so he went to work in the mills of Tifton where he grew up.
He got his Chevy – a white one with black interior – and as soon as 1966 arrived, he also got a draft notice.
Hester was off to the Lackland Air Force Base for basic training. By that summer, he’d been shipped off to Eglin Air Force Base in the Florida Panhandle, where he spent the next 18 months and where met his first wife and Scott’s mother.
He gave the Air Force three years, rising to the rank of staff sergeant and monitoring the systems and repairs for one- and two-engine jet aircrafts. Near the end of his time, he was the crew chief on a F-4 Phantom jet while serving in Cam Ranh Bay in South Vietnam.
Twice, Hester said, he thought he might die there. Once was during the Tet Offensive when the Viet Cong tried to overrun the base.
“I took off to the bunker but when I got there, it was full of spiders and rats,” Hester recalled. “I ran out and they hit another mortar and I ran back in.”
He survived, he said, only because South Korean forces killed the Viet Cong before they could kill him and his comrades.
Hester returned to the states soon thereafter and remained at California’s George Air Force Base until he was honorably discharged on May 23, 1969.
The family moved to Coatesville, Pa., where Hester supported his family selling Singer sewing machines before moving to Orlando and then back to Georgia, where he earned a degree in business administration at Massey College in Atlanta.
In 1986, after 12 years of selling real estate, Hester tried his hand as a mortgage broker. When a friend suggested he come to work at Mr. Transmission, Hester rejected the idea. He didn’t like getting his hands dirty.
But one day when that friend drove up in a red Corvette, Hester changed his mind.
That was in November 1994. He still doesn’t care much for getting his hands dirty but, well, now he’s the boss. In 1998, the Roswell resident bought his business in Sandy Springs.
After traveling the world for eight years with the Navy, Scott would join him there. The father of two has worked as an electronic technician, repairing and maintaining air search radar systems aboard the USS Jack Williams.
He could use those skills to help his dad build his business or his own.
In 2000, Scott, who lives in Snellville, again followed in his father’s footsteps and purchased a Mr. Transmission franchise in Decatur.
Not surprising, they’ve discovered they get along better separate.
Twice in the last six years, Lowell Hester, 71, and his wife, Cindy, have been the recipient of the Mr. Transmission Franchisee of the Year award.
And every year since becoming owners, Lowell and Scott, 48, each has received the Award of Excellence honor in recognition of their outstanding customer service, satisfaction and loyalty at their respective shops.
That’s an honor, too - a reflection of the training they received all those years serving their country.
A few days ago, they sat in Lowell Hester’s office, decked with flags and a wooden plaque inscribed with America sandwiched between “Land of the free” and “Home of the brave,” remembering those years and contemplating yet another Veterans Day.
They hadn’t planned anything special, but they expected to keep an eye out for fellow veterans. After all, they said, they’d hate it should either of them lose the chance to show their appreciation for any vet whom they might run across.
“They laid their life on the line,” Lowell Hester said. “It’s important to say thank you.”
Article written by Gracie Bonds Staples and published on The Atlanta Journal-Constitution