When asked to shed light on his company’s success, President Tom Kelly of Neil Kelly Company says, “I have a competitive personality.” That personality has grown Neil Kelly to become the Northwest’s largest remodeling company and remain at the forefront of industry changes.
“If I see one of our competitors doing something that’s interesting that we haven’t adopted, I’m sure gonna look into it,” says Kelly.
After 43 years at the helm, Tom Kelly will retire this June. He will remain as owner, chair of the company’s board of directors, and in a consultant role, with current CFO Dan Watson taking the position of CEO.
Neil B. Kelly with Tom Kelly in 1983. Courtesy Neil Kelly Company
Neil Kelly Company’s theme of leading in innovation began with namesake Neil Kelly, who was an early pioneer of the design-build model in the 70s, then propelled further by second-generation leader Tom Kelly. Neil Kelly opened up shop in his basement with just $100 and a whole lot of grit. Today, the company has more than 200 employees and $55 million in revenue across its offices in Portland, Eugene, and Bend, Ore. and Seattle.
Leading Through Change
From the early days, Kelly says he likely expressed the most interest in being a part of the company than his seven siblings, even signing a buy-sell agreement with his father around the age of 15.
During his 43-year run as president, Kelly has been integral in new company initiatives, one of which was introducing a handyman service in 1995, which is expected to generate $9 million in revenue this year. A large focus for Kelly has been sustainability.
Tom Kelly began working for the company in his teens doing labor work. Photo courtesy Neil Kelly Company.
Under his leadership, Neil Kelly Company built the first LEED-certified home, received a B Corporation certification for its social and environmental performance, Kelly served as founding chair of the Oregon Business for Climate, opened a home performance division in 2007, and introduced solar services in 2010, expanding the division in 2013.
Outside of the business, Kelly has served on the boards, and as a member, of the Oregon Business Association, Volunteers of America Oregon, Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University, NAHB Remodeler Council, Portland Meals on Wheels, and others.
The greatest change to the industry overall in his time has been its growing complexity in all facets, from products to operations. “It has caused a remodeling contractor to just have a lot more expertise and variety of expertise,” says Kelly.
Neil Kelly’s Future
Kelly took over as president in 1979, and by the late 1980s, had led the company through a “hellish” recession and its first acquisition of a local remodeler in Beaverton, Ore. He again led through the 2008 recession, and that same year, earned Pro Remodeler's Remodeler of the Year award. Photo courtesy Neil Kelly Company
“[Watson] has a really strong financial background, he’s very bright, and we’re a mature organization. Having somebody who’s got that financial background at the helm is a pretty good thing,” says Kelly. Controller Emily Porter will take over as CFO as Watson moves into the CEO role.
Kelly will remain engaged in the company’s charitable giving, sponsorships, new employee orientations, and plans to transition ownership to the third generation, his son Garret Kelly, current VP of production, in the future.
Between a competitive hunger and remaining ahead of the curve, Kelly says success in this industry comes from those you surround yourself with and the opportunities you seize.
“Hire good employees and don’t grow faster than you can find good employees. This business is all about people. If there’s anything that’s most important, it’s hiring,” he says. “And I would advise remodelers to avail themselves to all the training opportunities they possibly can.”