The Kelley automobile organization began on August 21, 1952 with Jim Kelley Motors, a Dodge dealership. Subsequently, between the years of 1953, and 1986, Kelley purchased several dealerships in the Fort Wayne area along with Decatur, IN. In Fort Wayne, "Kelley" is synonymous with automobile dealerships, racing teams, airplanes, golf courses, politics and even benevolent entities. Jim Kelley was a visionary businessman known throughout Indiana for his significant contributions to social service agencies while nurturing and maintaining a legacy of fairness & loyalty. It is believed by friends and business associates that he was the kind of man who couldn't help himself when it came to helping others, which is considered to be a large factor in his success of building such a prosperous dealership. Jim's office was stacked with awards, and accolades for his countless contributions to the community and beyond. He enriched the lives of many, but took credit for none of it. He truly cared about people. Rich people, poor people, anybody: he felt strongly that we were all equal and tried to provide better opportunities than he had, whether it was his kids, friends, citizens, or church. He lived that creed and was an inspiration to all.
Although an affluent business man, it's significant to recant that his life wasn't always so affluent. Born on a farm in 1918, he was raised during the Great Depression. He was the oldest son of nine children and was imparted by his father the importance of responsibility, character, and a solid work ethic. Kelley was quoted by Business People as he recalled his family's move to their new homestead, "My dad sold all of his crops for 35 cents a bushel before the move. He put about $1,500 in the bank the day before Roosevelt closed the banks. Those were tough days. It was too early for a garden and there were nine kids in the family who were going to school and needed shoes and clothes, but our savings were gone." The difficulties of those tough times were with him throughout his life including the dealings he had with people, business associates, and employees. That is a rare, notable quality with consideration to the fact that not everyone who starts with humble beginnings and becomes successful remembers those humble beginnings.
Kelley was a can-do businessman with ambitions that would have tested the most courageous men. He would have been the first to admit that none of his successes were entirely his doing. Kelley recalled working on the family farm when he was first approached by a friend who helped him get an apprenticeship making tools for General Electric. Another chance encounter led Kelley to fill the last opening in a flight training school where he eventually obtained a pilot's license. After World War II, Kelley and a business partner, Les Myers, sold their homes, converted and old farm house into a duplex for their families, and borrowed an additional $30,000 to start a fixed base air service which prospered and became Fort Wayne Air Service, it eventually emerged as Fort Wayne International Airports largest aviation service. Along the way, he met an Indianapolis Dodge dealer who was a customer of his airplane service. "I recall that gentleman suggesting to me that I really ought to be a car dealer," said Kelley, "I didn't know a darn thing about selling cars, but 90 days later, I was a Dodge dealer.
A year after purchasing a Plymouth Dodge dealership, Kelley found himself with three trucks in his used car inventory, so he opened Fort Wayne leasing. Desiring to increase his business activity, in 1954 he closed the Plymouth dealership and bought Lincoln Mercury. In 1958, he sold Lincoln Mercury and started Jim Kelley Buick. He purchased what is today Kelley Chevrolet in 1985 and Courtesy Motors in 1986.
Jim Kelley's son, Tom, joined the dealership ranks in 1974, soon after his graduation from Indiana University. Tom remembers entering the car business as it coincided with the beginning of the first oil crunch, "Those tough times taught me the value of persistence and how to make ends meet in lean times – you don't learn that in college." He became a salesman at Jim Kelley Buick and worked in all areas of the dealership for seven years until he was promoted to General Manager in 1981. In November of 1983, Tom purchased the Buick dealership from his father and changed the name to Tom Kelley Buick. For Tom, getting the Buick dealership was the fulfillment of a dream. "I grew up with Buick," he said, "and there was never any doubt about what I wanted to do for a living. When I was a kid I went to new car showings. Sometimes I'd be the only kid there, but I loved it, and I knew I would do whatever it took to become a Buick dealer." Knowing what owning a Buick dealership meant to his son, Jim was more than happy to sell the dealership he had worked so hard to develop, even though it meant giving up many of the customers he regarded as friends. Jim had nurtured his son's interest in the car business, had seen him mature into astute businessman, and knew it was time to let Tom have the thrill and responsibility of owning his own dealership. Jim and Tom Kelley together made an unbeatable team. Jim stated, "He kind of challenged me. I have the know-how and he has the education." Father and son agreed that one couldn't have gotten so far without the other.
According to Tom, many of his successful business practices were learned, or refined, from his father's; particularly when it comes to customer satisfaction. In 1988, Tom Kelley's dealership finished seventh among Buick dealers in the nation in retail sales, earning more than $45 million in sales. Jim Kelley's dealership, Kelley Chevrolet finished 42nd among the nations Chevrolet dealers with more than $96 million. In August of 1986 Courtesy Motors, a full line General Motors dealership was purchased by Jim Kelley and continued operation under the same name. In 1990, when the local Cadillac dealership became available, Tom decided to make it the next addition to his family of dealerships.
Over the past several years the Tom Kelley dealerships have grown both in size and stature due to their reputations earned in their respective communities. Tom Kelley Buick has been the recipient of Buick's customer service "Best in Class" for many years and in 1997 was chosen as one of only two Buick Flagships in the nation. Also, Tom Kelley Cadillac is one of the top 25 leaders in the nation for Customer Service. Tom believes the industry is changing and feels his dealerships must adapt to these changes in order to overcome the constant makeovers the industry brings while impressing upon them his father's simple philosophy, "Never short anyone, be honest and if you do and have the right attitude, you will turn out ok."