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|Articles - April 2012|
|Thursday, March 22, 2012|
Page 3 of 5
Kelly’s cooperative ethos springs in part from his father, a larger-than-life figure whose story, as relayed by Kelly, sounds like founding myth. A Minnesota farm boy, Neil Kelly in the Great Depression “rode the rails” to the Pacific Northwest to work in the Kaiser shipyards, then in 1947 purchased a weatherization company for $100. He and his wife, Arlene, a Quaker converted to Catholic peace activist, worked out of their basement while raising eight children. At once entrepreneurial and socially conscious, Kelly was the first president of the National Association of Remodelers, and the first member of the Portland Development Commission to hail from a neighborhood outside downtown.
The senior Kelly’s business and social responsibility ethic trickled down to their children, six of whom stayed in Portland and collectively form a kind of Kelly dynasty. Kelly’s sister Anne was the former director of Loaves & Fishes; sister Susan was a staffer to Charlie Hales; brother Jim was the founder of Rejuvenation, the lighting fixtures manufacturer now owned by Williams & Sonoma. (A nephew-in law, Bryan Steelman, owns the popular Portland Mexican chain, ¿Por Qué No?) As for Kelly, he says he was expected early on to take over the family business. Of all the siblings, he was “the most enthralled” by the carpenters going in and out of the family home. “I’m not going to tell you that it was all straightforward with no stress,” says Kelly of the succession. “But it was fairly minimal.”
Like many second-generation business owners, Kelly retained something of an Oedipal relationship with his father, who died in 1995. (His mother passed in 2008). “When you are the son of a guy like my dad, everybody who surrounds you wants you to be him, said or unsaid,” Kelly says. “I came to peace with that many years ago, that I wasn’t going to try and be my dad. I think it was one of my better life decisions.”
On a late winter Wednesday evening, Kelly and his wife, Barbara Woodford, are on their houseboat on the Columbia River (remodeled, naturally, in 1994). An avid sailboat racer, Kelly last year won the premier long-distance yacht race on the West Coast, the Swiftsure, which starts and ends in Victoria, B.C. “We kind of took home all the marbles,” he says.
Kelly met Woodford, an attorney at Liberty Mutual Group, while both worked in Washington, D.C., for former Oregon Congressman Les AuCoin. (Kelly was an intern; Woodford, a secretary). Sharper edged than her husband, Woodford seems a perfect foil for Kelly, a man whose greatest strength and greatest weakness, she says, is that he’s “too trusting.” Woodford provides Kelly with “steadfast support,” says family friend and Hood River commissioner Maui Meyer, adding: “If Tom wasn’t married to Barbara, he couldn’t do half the things he does.”
Back on the houseboat, Woodford doesn’t mince words about the challenges of living up to Neil Kelly. “Tom’s dad was an exciting person: he put women into high profile managerial spots when that was very unusual,” she says. Kelly’s father was a groundbreaker in other respects, hiring minority contractors when that, too, was uncommon. “Tom’s done all that, too,” Woodford says. “But now it’s not so special.”
Thursday, February 20, 2014
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BY APRIL STREETER | OB CONTRIBUTOR
Three years ago, PPS set out to begin to convert the 1930s-era boilers from diesel/bunker fuel to cleaner-burning natural gas. Oregon’s largest school district has realized impressive carbon dioxide emissions reductions, setting an example for public and private institutions.
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The 21st annual 100 Best Companies to Work For in Oregon list was announced Thursday night at an awards dinner at the Oregon Convention Center.
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During a recent talk to HR Directors, I asked if they saw leaders trying to solve every problem, instead of delegating to and empowering staff. Every head nodded. Every single one.
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BY ERIC FRUITS
The rapidly rising cost of higher education has left even the smartest researchers and the wonkiest of wonks wondering what’s happening and where’s all that money going. More and more, prospective students—and their families—are asking: Is college worth the cost?
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BY SOPHIA BENNETT
The coastal town of Coos Bay appears poised to land every economic development director’s dream: a single employer that will bring hundreds of family-wage jobs and millions in tax revenue.
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BY MARK BLAINE | OB BLOGGER
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