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2024 Dynamic Dozen Dynamo Award: O’Reilly Automotive Inc.

O’Reilly goes international with values steeped in family

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Dynamo is a machine that produces electric current, and Springfield Business Journal’s first Dynamo Award is intended for a legacy company that has given a sustained jolt of electricity to the community.

O’Reilly Automotive Inc. (Nasdaq: ORLY), established in 1957 by Charles Francis “C.F.” and Charles H. “Chub” O’Reilly with just one auto parts store and a team of 13 in Springfield, is just such a company. Today, it is an international corporation with more than 6,100 stores in the United States, Mexico and Canada and 90,000-plus employees.

In its first year, the company amassed revenue of $700,000 – equivalent to $7.9 million in today’s dollars, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics online inflation calculator. The company has outpaced itself, with $15.8 billion in gross sales recorded last year.

The company’s success is rooted in a set of standards that it refers to as its culture values, according to CEO Brad Beckham.

“Our work and success are based on the culture values that began with the O’Reilly family,” Beckham says. “They weren’t written down when the business was founded, but everyone understood they needed to be honest, work hard, be respectful and provide excellent customer service.”

Beckham notes the company now has 12 culture values written down, but these don’t get dusty in a frame on the wall – they are lived.

“We talk about them in meetings, we recognize team members for living them and we teach them to new hires,” he says. “Our founders, our culture and our team get the credit for our incredible growth.”

Team is a big word for O’Reilly, which Beckham says embraces a promote-from-within philosophy.

“To perpetuate our culture into the future, it is critical that we are attracting, hiring, retaining and developing our team members,” he says. “To continue our long-term financial success, we have to invest in taking care of the people who take care of our customers. Our shareholders understand that.”

Part of the company culture is to embrace philanthropy, Beckham notes.

“This really started at the very beginning of the company. Both C.F. and Chub O’Reilly felt that it was very important for us to give back to the community – and now communities – that are responsible for our success,” he says.

Locally, the O’Reilly family name graces facilities ranging from the C.H. “Chub” O’Reilly Cancer Center at Mercy Hospital to the O’Reilly Family Event Center, home to the Drury Panthers and Lady Panthers basketball and volleyball programs, to the O’Reilly Center for Hope, which provides services to the unsheltered population in Springfield.

Janet Dankert, president and CEO of Community Partnership of the Ozarks Inc., which operates the O’Reilly Center for Hope, said she can’t imagine what Springfield would be without the company.

“O’Reilly Automotive is an incredible community partner with a huge heart for philanthropy,” she says. “Their entire team is engaged in supporting our nonprofit community, and we have been so blessed to have their support at CPO.”

Dankert says the company’s investments make a huge impact every year, not just through financial gifts but through its volunteerism.

“They’re a company that not only talks the talk but walks the walk as a role model for other businesses,” she says.

A history
Charles Francis O’Reilly and his son, Chub, were working for Link Motor Supply when a consultant recommended two cost-saving measures: inviting 74-year-old C.F. to retire and moving Chub to Kansas City to replicate the success the company had experienced in Springfield, according to the official company history.

The idea of retiring didn’t sit right with C.F., and Chub didn’t want to move, the history states, so together they recruited 11 of their fellow Link employees to start their own business. That first O’Reilly Automotive store opened on Dec. 2, 1957, in the North Sherman Parkway building that would later become the Creamery Arts Center.

The company formed Ozark Automotive Distributors Inc. in 1961 to specialize in wholesale distribution to independent parts stores. Chub’s three sons – Charlie, Larry and David – joined the company in 1963, 1969 and 1971, respectively. The last of Chub’s children, Rosalie O’Reilly Wooten, joined the company in 1980.

The patriarch never did retire, according to the company history: C.F. continued working with the company until his death in 1974 at the age of 91.

Also in 1974, Ozark Automotive Distributors broke ground on a 52,000-square-foot warehouse, which is still in operation beside the company headquarters. In 1978, Chub O’Reilly formalized a dual-market strategy, serving both do-it-yourself retail customers and professional repair shops.

The O’Reilly family took the company public in 1993 with shares opening at $17.50 on the Nasdaq stock market. Today, company shares trade at more than $1,000 each.

A series of acquisitions helped the company to grow, and in 2013, Greg Henslee was hired to the role of president and CEO, having started as a parts specialist at the original store in 1984. He remains as executive chair of the board. Greg Johnson rose to the CEO  role in 2018, also promoted from within, retiring in 2024.

In 2019, the company became international with the purchase of a Mexican auto parts chain, and in 2024, it acquired a Canadian company to expand international offerings further.

Beckham was named CEO in 2024. He began his O’Reilly career at a local store in Wagoner, Oklahoma. At the same time, Brent Kirby was promoted to president.

More than fixing cars
Asked what advice he has for Springfield-area companies that aspire to Dynamo status, Kirby says the key is providing excellent customer service.

“We’ve also talked internally about constructive dissatisfaction – being grateful for our success, but also continually looking for ways we can improve and grow,” he says. “It’s a growth mindset and it’s really about serving more people who need our help, whether it’s our retail customers or our professional customers.”

He notes a lot of people come to an O’Reilly store when they’re having a bad day because of a vehicle failure.

“It’s about more than fixing their cars. It’s about getting people to work, school, church – wherever. It’s about helping our professional customers do that for their customers. When you focus on helping people, it sets you up for success,” he says.

Rob Fulp, a longtime family friend and banker, said the Dynamo Award is a testament to the family’s unwavering commitment to the community.

“All team members’ dedication and contributions have undoubtedly made a significant impact for decades, and this honor is well deserved,” Fulp says. “I think it’s magical how they have developed this culture that is so much a part of their success. They have team members who truly care about the company.”

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