2018 40 Under 40
Dan O'Brien, 33
President, Dan O'Brien Kia
Achievement: Took control of a store that averaged 25 new-vehicle sales per month last year and turned it into a leading Kia store with 137 new Kia vehicles sold
Dan O'Brien's swift rise in the car business began with him selling cars as a 20-year-old college student.
It took him just 12 years from that point — immersing himself in every facet of dealership operations along the way — to become dealer principal of a Concord, N.H., Kia store last September.
If his plans work out, he'll soon add second and third stores. And he's not stopping there.
O'Brien, a first-generation dealer, wants to own as many dealerships as he can.
He worked in sales, finance and fixed operations on his way to becoming an operating partner at Greenway Auto Group in Orlando at age 29. With his success over the years, O'Brien saved enough cash to achieve his ownership dream.
As he continues his journey, O'Brien wants to take others with him. He is looking to develop leaders who can help his organization grow.
When hiring, O'Brien seeks those without experience in the car business. Instead, he's drawn to those who have refined their retail skills in other avenues such as waitressing.
"We want to groom people to keep moving up in the business," O'Brien said in June.
"We're about to add our second and third stores here in 90 days. We have a Kia store opening in mid-August and another import store I'm about to wrap up and close on. So what I'm doing with those is my [general managers] are going to be able to earn ownership in the dealership. Not buy it, not sweat-equity it, just earn it."
O'Brien added: "The way I envision the business is that all the [general managers] who become partners, the only time they've worked in the car business is in my group."
His store, Dan O'Brien Kia, is flourishing under his command. The store averaged 25 new-vehicle sales per month when he got there. O'Brien said that within five months, in February, it was the leading Kia store in the eastern region with 137 new Kia vehicles sold. O'Brien said he turned a net profit of more than $1 million from a store that routinely lost money.
During his ascent, O'Brien recalled seeing general managers and principals in offices obscured by tinted windows. He vowed then that if he ever got a shot to run a store, he'd never do that.
So he doesn't have an office. Neither do other leaders in his store, except for his finance manager.
O'Brien spends his time at the sales desk or in the service drive. He said it's critical to be on the ground with his staffers and in front of his customers so he can "feel the whole dealership."
"Everybody's out with everybody," he said. "That's what you need to have."