By Isabel J. Povey, Summer Times Staff Writer

Charles Hamm, an alumnus of Phillips Exeter Academy, and founder of the Hamm Leadership Program, visited the program students Tuesday morning to tell them about his experiences in leadership, business, and life in general.

This is the Hamm Leadership Program’s eleventh year of Exeter Summer. In the double-session course, students explore leadership traits, followership, situational leadership, power and influence, and the role of inclusivity of genders and cultures in leadership. Mr. Hamm had the idea to start this program fifteen years ago, to give back to his high school in the ways he says he most believes in. “Leadership is worthwhile everywhere,” he said , meeting with students in the Forum. “But here especially so we can get younger students to start thinking in these ways because that is what the world will need when it is the time of this generation.” 

Mr. Hamm describes leadership as “synthesizing what you know about the concept of your own life in an intellectual, spiritual, focused way that will make you the most helpful and useful you can be.” However, according to him, the aim of the program is not to create leaders. It is to simply cultivate an awareness of the many angles of thinking that are necessary to be truly productive. “You can never think ‘I’m a leader’ and just expect it to be true,” said Mr. Hamm. “And you can’t think you’re not and expect that to be how it is, either.” 

He explained that leadership is about more than leading others. He said he believes it is all about advocating for both yourself and for others, it’s about giving, risk management, engagement, and communications. 

Charles Hamm is a business expert with an astonishingly accomplished background. He is currently the owner of eight banks across the country, and worked in them closely, holding positions like CEO, president, and chairman. He clearly is an extremely hard worker, and his advice for managing stress is to make the most of all situations.He says not to over dramatize little things and if you “look at stress with the mindset to overcome it, the outcome will be just fine.”

He also heavily advised the young leaders of the importance of making your own opportunities. He explained that in his banking career, there were times where he felt he’d never be a commercially competitive bank representative, and there were other times when he was dealing with thirty four foreign languages and cultures at a time. He said he believes chances come and go, but success will only stay for those who look to discover and open the doors that lead to it, but then work to make it stay. “The key to success is making every phone call,” Mr. Hamm said. “Call everyone you want to meet and say, ‘hey, you better know me’. It will be scary, that doesn’t matter. If you’re fearful of risk, you’ll never get anywhere. If you don’t follow your guts, you’ll never accomplish anything. If you never speak up, nothing will ever change. That is just how it is.”

Starting the Hamm Leadership Program was not an easy process, even for someone with such recognizable achievements as Mr. Hamm himself. It took three years of logistical planning and contact with Exeter before the course actually became a part of elective curriculum. Before it even got there, it was tested through three summers at here at Phillips Exeter. Of course, the class was a big hit and it became yet another success for him.Then, his dream of a leadership program for motivated, forward thinking students finally became a reality as the criteria was added into the full year program. 

He also shares his insights on the students at this school. He said he believes in one way or another, we are all leaders. “I know plenty of people who are great athletes, intellects, etcetera. Not everyone can be at Exeter, and you all are,” said Mr. Hamm. “There’s different types of leaders who you can find everywhere you go, and especially around here.”  

Although his career is very focused on the banking business, he says leadership is something that has been a value of his throughout his entire lifetime. “It has evolved with me, through my life, careers, and all the growth in between,” Mr. Hamm said. “What I have learned the most about leadership in these long years, is the role of character.” He was very persistent in explaining to the class that there is a difference between good leadership and bad leadership. “It is so, so important to have your set character. A lot will happen when you hold a leadership position. With so much at stake, it is crucial that you have something within yourself to fall back on. If anything at all, you have to, have to know yourself.”

Mr. Hamm said he believes failure is an inevitable part of the journey to success. He said we are all equipped with the tools to overcome it, and it is up to each individual to decide how they use those tools. “Most people overcome failure but the difference between that and a leader is a leader knows to learn and grow from these failures,” he said. “I had some extreme hardships in my career. It was brutal and vicious at times, but I am successful because I persevered.”

Charles Hamm left a legacy not only in the intricate banking world, but also here at Phillips Exeter Academy. His gift of the Hamm Leadership Program is one that will continue giving for ages and ages to come.