Kelly Wolf walked into Mercedes-Benz of Houston North as part of a ruse to placate his father.
In the summer of 2000, the recent college graduate was back at home living in his old bedroom. A few months in, Wolf's father pressed his son to go out and find work.
"So I put a suit on, got into my car, and like any unemployed college graduate, I went to go look at a new Mercedes-Benz," Wolf recalled.
A car fanatic since he was a boy, Wolf had no intention of actually selling cars. The drop-in was a lark, meant to kill time when he was supposed to be out job hunting. But then Wolf saw a new SL500 parked in the spot reserved for the salesperson of the month. Maybe there was money to be made. He approached a sales manager and, after a brief interview, was offered a job on the spot.
Wolf earned $72,000 his first year selling cars, "a mountain of money" for a fresh college grad back then. He moved to another store and rose through the dealership ranks by exploiting the oft-ignored world of Internet sales. Today, as COO of indiGO Auto Group, Wolf, 38, oversees seven dealerships in three states representing 12 luxury-brand franchises, employing 230 people and selling nearly 3,400 vehicles last year.
After lengthy stints working for dealer Ricardo Weitz and publicly traded Sonic Automotive Inc., Wolf got what he calls a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in 2010 when indiGO founder and new dealer Todd Blue wooed him to become general manager of his Porsche of North Houston dealership. Blue needed a seasoned operator with a vision for growth. Wolf made the leap.
The Porsche dealership went from a "failing store" selling 120 new cars a year prior to Blue's purchase to selling more than 600 new vehicles annually today, Wolf said. Wolf credits the turnaround in part to investments in the facility, inventory, staff training and compensation programs.
Blue promoted Wolf to COO in 2013 as the company expanded through acquisitions; indiGO now operates dealerships in Houston; Rancho Mirage, Calif.; and St. Louis.
The company's growth -- and Wolf's success -- has erased the doubt Wolf's father expressed that day back in 2000 when his son came home and announced he'd taken a job as a car salesman.
"He said, "You went to four years of college to become a car salesman?' The disappointment in his eyes was unmistakable," Wolf said. "But he's since changed his mind. He's OK with it now."