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Danvers native Brian Kelly is steady at the wheel of his homegrown auto empire, within which top-quality products-and family-matter most. By Lauren Carelli

Often in popular culture, car salesmen and dealership owners aren’t painted in the most favorable light. Hollywood would have us believe that these savvy businessmen fit snugly within a well-known stereotype: booming voice, warp-speed sales pitches, slick hair, and a shirt unbuttoned just enough to reveal a tuft of chest hair and chunky gold chains. But then there’s Brian Kelly, president of the eponymous auto empire, who promptly dispels those age-old assumptions. Kelly-at six feet three inches tall and clad in a perfectly tailored suit- is the antithesis of the caricatured car salesman. Some might even say Kelly cuts an  intimidating figure, but as we sat down with the Danvers native we learned there’s much more to the man than meets they eye: he’s had a passion for cars since high school, he enjoys a bike ride more than buying expensive yachts, his big purchase of the year is buying a new pair of docksiders, and you won’t find a single gold chain in his home.

Kelly was brought up in the car business thanks to his father, Roland, who opened a used-car lot after working at a Buick dealership for 23 years. At the age of 13, the younger Kelly did everything from washing and cleaning vehicles to going on coffee runs-standard duties of any teenager in a workplace. After years of observing his dad, Kelly realized he had what it took to be a car dealer himself. He bought his father’s Datsun dealership in 1981 (two years before the brand became Nissan), thereby introducing the North Shore to its first Kelly Automotive dealership.

Since then, Kelly has expanded his company at a rapid pace, even setting a considerable precedent: in 1989, after having effectively and successfully served on the Advisory Board for Infiniti’s parent company, Nissan, he was appointed the first Infiniti dealer in the country and, by default, the world. Momentum carried Kelly to the 1992 opening of his Jeep Chrysler lot, followed by a Buick dealership the next year. In 1996, Kelly took on new Nissan and Honda dealerships and even opened the doors to a Harley-Davidson dealership, which he ran until March of this year, when he sold it to his son-in-law, Brian Heney.

Kelly prides himself in the fact that he is active in each of his dealerships, whether looking at a new car, editing a Kelly TV commercial that’s about to air, or interviewing a new employee. It’s a stretch for many owners of large companies to be so active in every property, but Kelly helps himself by limiting all of his locations to the North Shore. However, being involved in every dealership makes it a tough for Kelly to pinpoint a favorite. “They’re all special in their own way,” Kelly says. “They are like kids-even though they are all different, you love them all. But I did start with Nissan, so that one is always near and dear to my heart.”

One thing that makes all the dealerships special to Kelly is how involved his employees are in the community. Whether donating cars or motorcycles for hole-in-one golf tournaments or sponsoring one of many Little League and football teams, Kelly is only happy to lend a helping hand to local charities.

Kelly also holds that providing reliable and economical transportation is important to people in the community, and he trusts all of the cars that he sells. “I believe in driving the product that I sell,” he says. “I trust all of the cars [on the lots], and I wouldn’t sell something that I didn’t believe in.” In case you’re curious: Kelly himself drives an Infiniti M.

Kelly says taking care of his employees not only makes his business successful but also plays a part in maintaining the good reputation the company has established on the North Shore. “If you take good care of your employees, they will take good care of your customers and business will flourish.”

Many long-term employees have been with the company for more than 20 years and are now close friends of Kelly. He also employs nine family members in various positions throughout the company. At one point, this included Kelly’s own father. After selling that Datsun dealership to son Brian in 1981, Roland Kelly went on to buy a Buick/Oldsmobile outfit with his other son/Brian’s brother.  (“My father wasn’t fond of imports,” Kelly says.) Roland Kelly sold his purchase after just five years and went on to work for Brian, at what is now Kelly Automotive, for 20 more years.

But whether or not the employees are blood related, Kelly sees everyone as family. He credits that family environment, as well as his employees’ dedication and his customers’ loyalty, as being what helped keep the Kelly business strong through the economic downturn of the past few years. Kelly says that while, in general, the auto industry’s sales had been off by 30 percent to 40 percent, his company’s overall sales were off by just 20 percent-a success story, relatively speaking.

But what about retirement? After 40 years in the business, is it time to let someone else take the wheel? Not any time soon, Kelly says. Originally, Kelly thought he would be retired at 50, but now, at just shy of 60, he can’t imagine being anywhere else. “I have been in the business since the beginning,” he says. “Everything keeps changing. I have seen the changes, and it is exciting.”

Just for fun, and to shift away from shop talk, we asked Kelly, who’s surrounded on a daily basis by beautiful vehicles, what his dream set of wheels would be. “Well, every guy likes a Ferrari,” he says. “How can I not say Ferrari?” But the flashy nature of a Ferrari doesn’t necessarily suit Kelly’s laid-back lifestyle.

Being on the go every day from lot to lot is a tall order, so Kelly grounds himself with a religiously maintained morning ritual. He begins each day at the gym, then enjoys a cup of coffee and reads the local newspapers. During his free time, Kelly enjoys riding his bike (the conventional kind, that is), reading, and going to the beach. “It’s the small things in life that I find most relaxing,” he says.

But most important, Kelly says, is family. Having a family of employees at work makes life a little easier, but spending free time with his kids and grandkids, be it at the beach, playing ball, or doing simple things around the house, brings him the most joy.

Presently, Kelly Automotive is in its prime. It is a successful company with an active owner and employees who all want the best for each other and the business. There are numerous relatives who, within the next several years, will take over and continue to grow the Kelly name in the car industry. One thing, however, will stay the same: the Kelly Group’s goal to provide good-quality automobiles to people in the community.

“It is a big company. We do a lot of business,” says Kelly, “but we do it in a family way. It isn’t all about numbers and profitability. It’s about providing a good work environment for my employees, and if my customers are happy, then I put that before dollars and cents.”


Founded: 1965. Products: Kelly Nissan of Beverly (and Kelly Collision body shop), Kelly Infiniti (Danvers), Kelly Jeep Chrysler (Lynnfield), Kelly Nissan of Lynnfield, Inc., Kelly Honda (Lynn), Kelly’s House of Harley-Davidson (Billerica; sold in 2010).  Total number of employees:  350. Contact: Kelly Infiniti (Corporate Headquarters ), 155 Andover Street, Rt. 114, Danvers,  978-774-1000,