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Leadership

Meet Brad Beckham, O'Reilly Automotive's New CEO

Learn about how Brad Beckham worked his way up from sweeping floors at an O'Reilly Automotive store in Oklahoma to becoming the company's fourth CEO.

by Jennifer Swenson

Jan 2024

Brad Beckham, O'Reilly Automotive CEO

Every so often, Brad Beckham drives down North Sherman Parkway in Springfield. He passes Hammons Field on the east side of the street and looks out at the Creamery Arts Center on the west. Today, the Creamery is the headquarters for 30 community organizations, but back in 1957, it was the site of O’Reilly Automotive, Inc.’s  first store and distribution center. “I drive down Sherman to see O’Reilly’s humble beginnings,” Beckham says. Back then, the business had just 13 employees, including its first two chief executives—President Charles F. “C.F.” O’Reilly and Vice President Charles H. “Chub” O’Reilly. Sales totaled $700,000 in its first year, and eight years later, the company opened a second store in Springfield.

Since then, O’Reilly Automotive has grown exponentially, expanding from the Midwest to both coasts and, in recent years, into international markets in Mexico and Puerto Rico. On January 31, when Brad Beckham takes the helm as the fourth CEO in O’Reilly’s history, he will lead a company valued at $56 billion, comprising 88,000 team members, 29 distribution centers and more than 6,000 store locations. It’s a role he is well-prepared to assume, having worked for the company for 27 years. In many respects, Beckham’s story is the story of O’Reilly Automotive, Inc. itself. It’s the story of a business leader—and a company—whose growth and success have been rooted in a distinct corporate culture.

Brad Beckham's O'Reilly Career Timeline

July 1996
Oklahoma
Started at the Wagoner, Oklahoma, store sweeping floors and putting stock away.

1996–1997
Oklahoma
Parts Specialist, Night Manager, Assistant Store Manager

1998–2001
Oklahoma & Texas
Store Manager

2001–2005
Texas & Kentucky
District Manager

(continued below)

Floor Sweep to C-Suite

Beckham was just 17 years old when he took a job at an O’Reilly Auto Parts store in Wagoner, Oklahoma. He had graduated from high school only two weeks earlier. “I didn’t think college was for me,” Beckham says, “but I had a ‘68 Camaro and a dirt track car, and I loved DIY projects. O’Reilly had the best parts people, and I assumed it would be a really cool job.” The company typically hired at age 18, but Beckham begged the manager to hire him. His official title was “parts specialist,” although at 17, that really meant sweeping floors and organizing stock.

Once in the role, Beckham was humbled pretty quickly. “I realized I didn’t know as much as I thought I did,” he says. “I started working with veteran parts people and saw how much they knew about cars. I enjoyed the fact that I had so much to learn; it was very motivating to me.”

It was so motivating, in fact, that Beckham became the store manager just two years later. In his mid-20s, he became district manager in Texas and Kentucky, and by the time he was 30, he was a regional manager in Atlanta. From there, Beckham advanced into new responsibilities, finally relocating to Springfield’s corporate headquarters in 2013.

During his career, Beckham has been on the front lines of some tough expansion markets. In a competitive industry, he has been savvy at identifying competitors that would be an excellent fit for the company, “putting them in an O’Reilly shirt instead of the one they were wearing,” says Greg Henslee, Chairman of the Board and former CEO. According to Henslee, Beckham has developed a cadre of professional recruiters who are excellent at hiring people who know auto parts and adhere to O’Reilly culture.

Over the years, Beckham has tackled significant challenges that have confronted O’Reilly Automotive. For example, when health care laws changed during the Obama administration, the self-insured company faced unprecedented cost increases. In response, Beckham developed recommendations for increasing the part-time team members in the stores while the company implemented the new health care requirements. Gradually, O’Reilly adapted to the yearly expense, and they were able to increase the full-time roster. “Brad adapts well to adversity,” says Henslee. “He is willing to put a smart team together and develop a strategic plan. Being CEO will be a new test of his skills.”

C.F. and C.H. “Chub” O’Reilly, 1957

In 1957, prior to the founding of the company, C.F. and C.H. “Chub” O’Reilly (father and son) were working for Link Motor Supply. Link decided they wanted C.F. to retire (he was 74), and they wanted to relocate Chub to Kansas City. C.F. wasn’t ready to quit, and Chub didn’t want to move, so they decided to start their own business.

Red Hale, Wayne Schuler, Paul Ankrom, Jewel Sechler, C.F. O’Reilly, Chub O’Reilly, Ann Drennan, Bob Bach, Hubert Cox, Tony O’Reilly and Paul Branson

With 11 other employee-owners who had also worked for Link Motor Supply, C.F. and Chub opened their first store on December 2, 1957. It was located on North Sherman Parkway, in the space now occupied by the Creamery Arts Center. Pictured here are Red Hale, Wayne Schuler, Paul Ankrom, Jewel Sechler, C.F. O’Reilly, Chub O’Reilly, Ann Drennan, Bob Bach, Hubert Cox, Tony O’Reilly and Paul Branson. Not pictured from the original 13-person team are Vic Semmelback and Chris Bridwell.

Photos courtesy O’Reilly

Promote from Within

When Beckham was serving as Division Vice President, he began to realize that the O’Reilly family and the company’s executive leaders—who were nearing retirement—needed people to step up and take full ownership of the future. Beckham wrestled inwardly with two realities: first, his advancing career was pointing strongly toward major leadership roles, and second, the stakes would be high for future executives, thanks to the company’s rapid growth.

Beckham was well-versed in the company’s “promote-from-within” culture. It started with the O’Reilly family, who wanted to help people to advance their careers by giving them opportunities. “We hire a lot of individuals at the entry level, mold them early on and give them responsibility,” says Jonathan Andrews, Senior Vice President of Human Resources and Training. “If they put in the time and energy, they become confident in their skills, and [their entry-level position] probably won’t be what they are doing in 365 days.”

Like Brad Beckham, countless O’Reilly team members have been promoted from within throughout their careers, including managers, corporate administrators, vice presidents and two of the company’s former CEOs: Greg Henslee and Greg Johnson.

For practical reasons, “promote from within” has been fundamental to the company’s stability. “Somebody from outside would think we are just a normal retail company,” says Beckham. “But when a customer walks into a parts store, it’s a consulted visit. The majority of our parts are behind the counter, and it takes a professional parts person—someone who understands cars—to help the customer troubleshoot.” It also takes professional parts people to manage the wholesale accounts—to work with the shops, garages and municipalities who rely on O’Reilly Automotive for the supplies to operate their own businesses. “You can’t take somebody out of another retail sector and put them in charge,” says Beckham. “They don’t have the credibility or respect to lead when they’ve never worked the parts counter or been in a shop, when they don’t understand that people’s livelihood is dependent on having the right part at the right place at the right time.” Simply put, promoting from within facilitates outstanding customer service, and for the O’Reilly Automotive team, their commitment to customer service is what sets them apart from the competition.

In recent years, even amid its rapid expansion, O’Reilly continues to fill management positions from the inside. “When you promote someone from a store manager to a district manager [who oversees 10 stores], they already know how to run a store, so they replicate themselves 10 times,” says Beckham. Currently, each of O’Reilly’s 602 district managers were promoted from within.

Critics of the approach would argue that a company becomes stagnant without outside perspectives. It’s a criticism that O’Reilly leadership takes seriously. “How do we make sure we are not sniffing our own fumes?” asks Beckham. “There’s always going to be a strategic area where we need to bring someone in to help us make sure our eyes are wide open.”

To foster fresh ideas, O’Reilly executives also prioritize frequent, robust communication with team members. “We reach out to find out what’s going on,” explains Andrews. “It’s the people working daily in the trenches who get to tell us what they need to serve customers better.” Every August, store managers participate in a detailed survey; the findings become a critical component of the company’s strategic plan for the following year. Similarly, during the height of the pandemic, corporate leaders surveyed 40,000 team members, and the results of that survey yielded changes in some company policies. This year, O’Reilly leadership plans to survey each of its 88,000 team members.

This growth-minded, team-oriented culture has been pivotal to O’Reilly Automotive’s success. “It’s hard to quantify the value of promoting people from within,” says Henslee. “Team members are extremely loyal. It’s like abandoning family—they just can’t do it. We’ve taught them how to run a business and how to be successful.”

“In 1997, I fell in love with the parts business. But when I look back, I realize I fell in love with O’Reilly Auto Parts. I went to work with a group of people that cared about Brad as a 17-year-old kid. They put their arms around me. They taught me about the business and about life. I was shy, and veteran parts people brought me out of my shell and taught me how to take care of customers.”
— Brad Beckham, incoming O'Reilly Automotive CEO

Brad Beckham's O'Reilly Career Timeline (Continued)

2005–2007
Atlanta, Georgia
Regional Manager

2007–2012
Atlanta, Georgia
Division Vice President – Atlanta, Georgia & Southeast U.S.

2012
Atlanta, Georgia
Promoted to Vice President, Eastern Store Operations & Sales

2013
Springfield, Missouri
Relocated from Atlanta to Springfield in 2013

(continued below)

Servant Leadership

Ironically, early in Beckham’s career, it was a failed promotion that taught him the most about leadership in O’Reilly’s corporate culture. As a 23-year-old store manager, he was passed over for a promotion to district manager. “I was too focused on Brad, on my timeline, and I was missing everything I needed to learn in the present,” Beckham says. “Instead of worrying about getting promoted, I should have been focused on getting other people promoted.”

In his failed promotion, Beckham learned the hard way about O’Reilly Automotive’s culture of servant leadership, and as the soon-to-be CEO, he still takes that lesson to heart. “Getting passed over for that job was probably the best thing that ever happened to me,” he says. “A lot of people these days want a mentor. They want to be trained and developed. I always turn it around and say, ‘Whatever you want, you have to give. If you want to be developed, develop people. If you want to get trained, train your people.”

Beckham often reminisces about the retired delivery drivers who worked for him when he was a young store manager. The drivers had had full professional careers in other sectors, but “they just wanted to get out of the house a few days a week,” he says. Officially, Beckham was their boss, but with their wealth of experience, the drivers showed him that to be an effective leader, he had to listen to and care for his team.

In the intervening years, Beckham has continued to polish his leadership skills. At corporate headquarters, Jeff Shaw—former O’Reilly co-president and chief operating officer—showed Beckham some tough love. “If I did nine things right, Jeff would pick out the one I did wrong,” Beckham says, “but he was preparing me for the future.” From corporate mentors like Shaw to those retired delivery drivers, Beckham is a proponent of surrounding himself with smart, capable people and always being willing to learn from anyone.

Today, when Beckham visits a store, he listens to team members, notepad in hand. If the store gets busy with customers, he jumps behind the parts counter to pitch in. When he walks the halls of Springfield’s corporate offices, he knows names and asks questions. And when Beckham himself asks for personal feedback, he is ready for “the brutal truth.” Henslee says, “Brad has been in all the roles, and he’s an encyclopedia. He knows all of our field leadership [personally]. People love to work for him. If you can get a lot of people behind a leader, it’s a very powerful thing.”

O’Reilly Auto Parts HQ in Springfield MO

The first O’Reilly Auto Parts store was located on North Sherman Parkway, where the Creamery Arts Center is now. Today, the growing Fortune 500 company has 6.000 locations around the world and a headquarters building (above) in Springfield.

Brad Beckham, O'Reilly CEO

Today, when Beckham visits an O'Reilly store, he listens to team members, notepad in hand. If the store gets busy with customers, he jumps behind the parts counter to pitch in.

Photo courtesy O’Reilly [left], by Brandon Alms [right]

Brad Beckham's O'Reilly Career Timeline (Continued)

2016–2018
Springfield, Missouri
Senior Vice President, Central & Eastern Store Operations & Sales

2018–2022
Springfield, Missouri
Executive Vice President – Store Operations & Sales

2022–2023
Springfield, Missouri
Executive Vice President & Chief Operating Officer

2023
Springfield, Missouri
Co-President & CEO-elect for 2024

2024
Chief Executive Officer

“I am so proud that [Brad Beckham] is going to be our next CEO.”
— Greg Henslee, Chairman of the Board and former CEO

The Road Ahead

As Beckham becomes CEO, he is wholly dedicated to realizing O’Reilly’s mission statement, which is “to be the dominant supplier of auto parts in our market areas.” But with O’Reilly Automotive occupying just 10 percent of the total addressable market, there’s plenty of room for growth. Each year for the next five years, the company intends to open 180 to 200 stores, both inside and outside the United States. “We have the reality, not the goal, of being an international company,” says Beckham, who cites potential for expansion in Mexico as well as an ongoing search for strategic acquisitions. The company is part of an industry that Beckham refers to as “recession-proof.” Yet even as O’Reilly’s executive leadership develops strategic plans, they maintain an underdog mentality: “We want to compete like we are 0 and 6, not 6 and 0, and never take our success for granted,” Beckham says. In a company made of hard work and high expectations, ego takes a backseat.

While the company has its sights set on growing internationally, it will remain close to its Midwest roots. “Being in the center of the country is a good demographic,” says Beckham. The region is full of DIY customers, and the company stays in proximity to its long-time professional accounts. “Southwest Missouri,” Beckham says, “is part of O’Reilly Automotive’s DNA.”

Since they moved to Springfield, 417-land has become part of Beckham and his family’s DNA as well. Beckham and his wife, Megan, feel fortunate to have made a home in this area; they love the people, the schools and the beautiful outdoors. Beckham is grateful for Megan’s unwavering support of his demanding job. “Megan is basically an O’Reilly team member,” Beckham says. “She cares so much about the company.” Together with their five children, the Beckhams are very involved in their church community, and they enjoy traveling to new places or relaxing at Table Rock Lake.

When he reflects on almost three decades with the company, Beckham honors the many people who have impacted his career. “In 1997, I fell in love with the parts business,” he says, “but when I look back, I realize I fell in love with O’Reilly Auto Parts. I went to work with a group of people that cared about Brad as a 17-year-old kid. They put their arms around me; they taught me about the business and about life. I was shy, and veteran parts people brought me out of my shell and taught me how to take care of customers.”

Beckham has been a recipient of the O’Reilly family’s legacy. “We sell a lot of auto parts,” family members regularly said, “but we are in the customer service and people business.” As he leads O’Reilly Automotive into the future, Beckham knows that team members across the company will need to continue to embrace the culture that has fueled it since 1957. Yet with fewer young people gaining hands-on experience with cars, Beckham is determined to make the company and its culture attractive to the rising generation, “because frankly, it’s an amazing industry.” To front-line team members today, Beckham’s journey sends a powerful message: With hard work, humility and dedication, they can rise to the positions of CEO or chairman of the board, says Greg Henslee. “I am so proud that [Brad Beckham] is going to be our next CEO,” Henslee says.