FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Indiana’s NewsCenter) – Tom Kelley, of the Kelley Automotive Group, was surprised by employees, family and friends on his 60th birthday.
Kelley, who turns 60 on Tuesday, August 21, was greeted with cheers of “surprise!” as his granddaughter and grandson were the first to greet him upon his entrance into the Buick-GMC store at the 14/69 Auto Mall.
Kelley, who sold his first Buick at his father’s store in 1974, hugged and kissed his employees, family and friends. In addition to celebrating Tom’s 60th birthday, those in attendance were also celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Kelley Automotive Group. Kelley's birthday and the beginning of the Kelley Automotive Group share the same day: August 21, 1952.
On a day when his father, Jim, was signing the papers to become a dealer, Tom’s mother called Jim to alert him that Tom’s birth was imminent.
“My dad was actually signing the paperwork to become a car dealer August 21, 1952, and my mom was in Michigan and she called and said, ‘Hey, I’m going to have a baby early.’ I was a month early. He said, ‘I’m done signing the papers. Get to the airport. I’ll fly up, pick you up soon.’ He flew up, picked her up and brought her back. It’s easy to remember when the company was started.”
Kelley says he was four or five years old when he first stepped onto a showroom floor. He says it was at a young age when he first fell in love with automobiles.
“My dad would take me into the dealership with him. As I got older, 10, 11, 12, I loved to go to the new car shows with him and look at all the new products. So I was always enamored with the car business.”
While he cannot recall the first car he sold when he entered the business in 1974, Kelley says the second or third car he sold was a Buick Electra 225.
In his more than 50 years of being on showroom floors, whether as a toddler, salesman, general manager or dealership owner, Kelley says the biggest change he has seen in the car business is the technology within the vehicles.
“You can talk to the car and tell it to change the radio station and it memorizes the numbers in your phone and just the technology in these cars is unbelievable.”
Today, the Kelley Automotive Group is comprised of 550 employees. Kelley says it is a family-run business, and he is ready to see his family grow and continue the legacy in the future.
“It’s been great. I have my son and my daughter, my step-daughter all involved in the business. And I’ve got a fourth generation running around here. You might have seen them. So, we might be secure for another generation or so.”
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