Sponsored by Oregon Business

The consummate Oregonian

| Print |  Email
Articles - April 2012
Thursday, March 22, 2012


Tom Kelly, an avid sailor, and his crew aboard the Anam Cara during the 2011 Van Isle race around Vancouver Island.
// Photo courtesy of Sean Trew

On a slushy January morning in the Pearl District’s Bridgeport Pub, Kelly is participating in a panel on family business, sponsored by OSU’s Austin Family Business program. “There’s a word — entropy; if you don’t grow, you fall in on yourself,” Kelly told the audience. “If you don’t have vitality, you don’t have opportunity for your employees.” Growth, he concluded, “is one of our core values.”

Even in good years, 30% of all contractors go out of business. In bad times, such as the Great Recession, the industry “gets slammed,” says Kelly, whose own low point came in 2010 when Neil Kelly had 118 employees, down from 170 in 2008.  Fueled by the condo boom, the company’s downtown cabinet business, which drove the $4 million division, “almost totally went away.”

As bad as things got, the Great Recession was not the worst downturn Kelly had experienced. That honor goes to the severe economic malaise that gripped the country in the early ’80s, a few years after Kelly took over the company at age 29. The succession coincided with what John Kelly, Tom’s fraternal twin and a Portland urban planner, describes as a “double whammy” on the company: the withdrawal of a line of credit from U.S. Bank and the elimination of a veterans home loan program that had also been a major source of financing. Kelly managed to pull the company through, and along the way learned about more than the harsh realities of the business cycle.

In a highly personalized sector like remodeling, most contractors are small, one-office operations, with a geographical reach that is often limited to the neighborhoods in which they are located. An anomaly in the industry, Neil Kelly has five locations, more than any other residential remodeler in the country. It’s an expansion- and acquisition-based business model that Kelly, who has a tendency to hedge when referring to his accomplishments, describes as “kind of pioneering, kind of groundbreaking.”

His first buyout, of Portland’s Kitchen Kitchens, occurred in 1988 as the country was climbing out of that first recession, followed by acquisitions in Eugene (2005), Bend (2008), and most recently Seattle (2011). “There’s no better time to expand than in an economic contraction,” says Kelly, citing as a key reason the availability of good employees. The company’s team-based management model, in which the same group of employees work together on projects, allows Neil Kelly to retain the feel of a small firm while enabling it to grow, Kelly adds.

Kelly’s management style has played a critical role in the company’s growth, says Tony Leineweber, a Neil Kelly board member and executive director of the Portland State University Foundation. “He has a very participatory approach that builds the confidence of his employees. So when he embarks on new initiatives, there’s a spirit of camaraderie that this is something we are all in together. In my view, Tom is one of the best performing managers around.”


More Articles

The Cover Story

The Latest
Tuesday, October 06, 2015
100515-cover1015-news-thumbBY CHRIS NOBLE

As we worked on the October cover, it became evident that Nick Symmonds is a hard man to catch — even when he’s not hotfooting it around a track.


Aim High

September 2015
Thursday, August 20, 2015

We get the education we deserve.


The God complex

Linda Baker
Wednesday, September 30, 2015
093015-zydellren-thumbBY LINDA BAKER | EDITOR

The media coverage about Pope Francis must have put me in a Biblical frame of mind. Because after touring the latest phase of the South Waterfront development, a mind boggling 1.5 million square feet of office and retail space that will spring up north of the aerial tram over the next few years, I couldn’t stop thinking about the massive project as a modern day creation story.


New green wood building product takes off in Oregon

Thursday, September 10, 2015
091115-cltjohnson-thumbBY KIM MOORE

Oregon is set to become a hub of a new type of wooden building design as a southern Oregon timber company becomes the first certified manufacturer of a high-tech wood product, known as cross-laminated timber, or CLT.


Social media transforming sports business

The Latest
Thursday, September 24, 2015

The traditional model of sports teams using paid media to get their message across is disappearing as teams look instead to social media to interact with fans.


Cutting Edge

October 2015
Monday, September 28, 2015

“There wasn’t a reason shaving with a straight razor should have been taken over by shaving with disposable razors.”


5 takeaways from the rural Oregon economic report

The Latest
Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Oregon Office of Economic Analysis released a report on the vitality of rural Oregon this week.  Media reports focused on the number of Californians moving to the "Timber Belt," but the document contained other interesting insights regarding regional challenges and successes.

Oregon Business magazinetitle-sponsored-links-02