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.”