As a John Jay Scholar majoring in Comparative Literature at Columbia University, Tim Kelly ’85 didn’t harbor a burning desire to return to Chattanooga after graduating to take the helm of his family’s car dealership. “But I was glad to come back on a provisional basis,” he said, “and the car business got under my skin.”
At that time, the family’s holdings were comprised of Kelly Cadillac and Kelly SAAB. Kelly added a Subaru dealership his first year back. In the next few years, Kelly Cars added GMC Truck, Hummer, Mitsubishi, and later, Infiniti.
In 2001, Kelly put a new spin on the business when he entered the Powersports business, founding Polaris of Chattanooga, and in 2003, opening Southern Honda Powersports, now the country’s largest Honda dealership by sales volume. He has since ventured into more revolutionary territory by creating Zipflip, an app that makes it easier to buy and sell cars online, and SocialBot, which enables dealers to market cars via Facebook.
Baylor set the table for my years at Columbia and the years after. It doesn’t matter what the nature of the work is if you can think critically.
Kelly’s community involvement has grown alongside his business ventures. He is the co-founder and chair of the Chattanooga Football Club, chair of the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga, chair-elect of River City Company, and a trustee of both the Benwood Foundation and the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce.
Asked where he thinks the future will take Baylor students professionally, Kelly admits he doesn’t know. But he’s sure Baylor will prepare them if they get what he did from the school. “Baylor did a good job of keeping the spirit of inquiry alive. Baylor set the table for my years at Columbia and the years after. It doesn’t matter what the nature of the work is if you can think critically.”