April 1 2005 12:00 AM

Some kids, when they?re in sixth or seventh grade, dream of being a policeman, a fireman, an actor, a nurse. As they grow up, dreams turn into reality and by the time they get into high school they begin to think of what they really would like to do with their future. And as one enters college, even more students begin to target in on a career. Not Chris Hammelef--ever since he was 12 years old, all he ever wanted to do was lead a company.

Growing up in Michigan, Hammelef attended the University of Michigan, where he graduated in 1981 with a degree in electrical engineering and computer engineering. Armed with these degrees, he set about looking to find an industry that afforded him growth opportunities.

While attending the university, Hammelef went into various part-time businesses; although he didn?t realize it then, he was preparing himself for the business world.

Hammelef?s father was in the electrical business and, like father, like son, Chris entered the electrical business. Upon graduating, he took a job with Siemens Energy & Automation. Hammelef stayed with Siemens for fifteen years, gaining experience along the way. He received the highest awards in sales and sales management during his tenure there. Hammelef was the only manager to ever receive the gold medal award for sales and sales management at Siemens Energy & Automation.

To fulfill his dream of leading a company, Hammelef knew he needed to broaden his experience, and so he moved on. When he was offered a position as regional vice president for Lightolier, a Genlyte company, he jumped. Four years later, he moved to Hubbell as vice president of sales, for a two-year stint.

Success does not come without sacrifices, and Hammelef is driven. To gain experience that would help him succeed, in the 22 years that he has been married to his wife Janet, they have moved 15 times.

Some people find excitement in the sciences; others fulfill their expectations in fields of accounting and law. But Hammelef loves the idea of running a business. ?The challenges really keep you on your toes,? he said.

Hammelef realized at a very early stage that it all started with the customer. Sure you had to sell a quality product, but developing relationships, and marketing of the product brought in the sales. As in any company, if you continue to bring in the sales, your company grows, and you grow with it.

In 2001, he returned to Genlyte as vice president and general manager for Hadco. He had been polishing his skills for his entire career, looking for the chance to run a company, and Hadco afforded him that opportunity. Hammelef had something to prove. It?s one thing to feel that you can lead a company; it?s another to actually do it. This was an opportunity of a lifetime for him.

He wanted to prove that there is a way to run a company where the people can grow and not fear their mistakes. ?We learn by our mistakes,? Hammelef said. ?I?ve got the best job in the world. I?m in a position to help people grow, help them reach their dream and in turn, it helps the company grow.?

?Chris has created an environment at Hadco that leads to forward thinking, not only in sales and marketing but in every departmental discipline from engineering, new product design and procurement to IT and manufacturing,? said Lew Waltz, vice president of marketing for Hadco. ?He is a great leader because he encourages thinking "outside of the box," and provides the resources to get the job done. He holds his team accountable for their decisions and rewards them for excellence. That?s being fair and honest. And, he has a sense of humor, too. No one could ask more of their leader.?

And the company has grown. He led the team to double digit increases, entered new markets and expanded those markets they were already in. Equally as important, Hammelef has not lost his enthusiasm or drive.

A very personable fellow, Hammelef exudes confidence. ?We like what we do and that makes our job more fun,? quipped Hammelef. ?There?s lots of good competition out there, so in today?s business climate, you have to work harder and smarter.?

About 60 percent of his time is spent traveling to the factories, vendors, and visiting with customers, as well as attending many industry trade shows. Hammelef makes himself very visible to his customers. ?I want our customers to know that we cherish their business,? he remarked. ?I want them to know that from the sales person up to the general manager, our job is to make their job easier and more profitable by working with Hadco.?

He and his wife, Janet, and their daughter Kate, 17, reside in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Kate is a junior in high school and is preparing for college. Kate rides competitively in Maryland and Pennsylvania, and was one of the top riders in 2004. So what does a busy guy do in his leisure time? Chris and Janet like to travel, play golf and scuba dive.

The experience Hammelef has gained through the years has helped polish his skills and prepared him to lead a company. Running a company offers many challenges. In addition, he had to learn about the different markets Hadco serves. Landscape lighting is only one part of their business; Hadco also serves the commercial lighting market, the municipal market, as well as underwater lighting. Hammelef also heads up Bronzelite, a Hadco subsidiary that is a leader in underwater lighting.

?If you?re lucky enough to find someone you can emulate, and that person takes the time to mentor you, you are indeed blessed,? said Hammelef. ?I was fortunate to have been mentored by Larry Powers, CEO of the Genlyte Group. He has been the most influential person in my business career. His philosophy of continuous improvement permeates all aspects of his personal and professional life. He has prepared me well for the top job.?