Carey Hamilton started working in the automotive industry after she graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration in 1978. She was interested in the industry, but she did
not realize it would become a passion.
The career path, however, seemed in some ways destiny. The former Carey Beardmore was working for the family industry, Beardmore Chevrolet, in the warranty department. Her father, Moe Beardmore, had worked in the automotive industry since 1948. Carey grew up memorizing pieces of business wisdom her father shared at the dinner table. The advice was less often about dollars and cents, and more about sense—about treating people with respect and trying to understand their
points of view.
It’s a philosophy that has carried her through her entire career.
“She always told me that when someone is upset, you have to think about why they are upset,” said Carey’s daughter, Rebecca Hamilton. A man selling a vehicle may be upset about the price he is given, but it may not be the price—it might be that the man’s wife recently passed and he doesn’t want to sell her car. “There’s more to the story. My mom has always considered people’s feelings that way.”
Although Carey’s family owned automotive dealerships, she did not come by the automotive ownership industry easily. Carey was a part-time employee and a full-time mother to two daughters in the early 1980s. Her husband, Brian Hamilton, knew about the trucking industry—first through his family’s business, and then through jobs. The young couple took a chance in 1982, when Carey was 29, and moved away from the area to open Hamilton Chevrolet Cadillac BMW of Grand Island.
“We sold our house and our cars, and cashed in our 401K, and I got loans from my father and General Motors’ Motorholding,” Carey said. (Motorholding was the financial arm of General Motors). “It took six months for [Motorholding] to approve me because I was so young. We moved in with a bachelor friend for several months until we could get approved and move to Grand Island.”
It wasn’t an idea that everyone approved of.
“That’s pretty young to pick up your family,” Carey said. “People kept saying ‘[the auto industry] is so risky,’ but growing up, that’s all I knew. I didn’t think of it as risky, I thought of it as an exciting opportunity.”
The gamble paid off. The couple worked hard and expanded the business. Carey also made sure to become active in the community, and they are still active there today. They have been involved with the Heartland United Way, St. Francis Foundation, and Grand Island Community Foundation,
The Hamiltons ran Hamilton Chevrolet Cadillac BMW in Grand Island for five years, and then purchased the Chevy and Mazda franchises in Kearney. They opened Midway Chevrolet Mazda in February 1987. The move was important as the previous Chevrolet dealership, Kizzier’s, had closed in 1985. That is a large gap in an auto industry that sells more than 2 million units annually, especially in a domestic-auto heavy area like the Midwest.
Kearney was familiar to Carey. It is where her mother, Patricia (Lundeen) Beardmore grew up, and where her aunt Barb (Lundeen) and uncle Max Burroughs still lived.
Today, Carey is the vice president of Midway in Kearney, and Brian is president. The path of being a woman owning automotive dealers has been bumpy. Carey brushes it off, saying it “wasn’t always pleasant,” but she was a groundbreaker. She attended dealers conventions, sometimes being the only woman in the room, and became active in industry organizations such as the National Auto Dealer’s Organization.
“We just sold a lot of cars and we took care of a lot of people,” Carey said.
The family moved back to Omaha in 1995. Moe died in 1992, and her brother Dan Beardmore took over Beardmore Chevrolet. Dan, however, did not have his sister’s passion for the family business. Carey bought the business from her brother, becoming president and owner of Beardmore Chevrolet.
Shortly after purchasing the Bellevue store, Carey and Brian noticed a newer brand that was beloved by their owners and kept their monetary value well. Those values inspired the purchase of the Subaru franchise, adding to the inventory in Bellevue—next door to the Chevrolet dealership.
Two years after moving back to Omaha, Carey was asked to join the board of directors of Bellevue University. Her father previously sat on the board of directors of this university, an outlet for military members and people working to get a leg up in society.
Her business acumen was an important part of her being asked to the board.
“One of the things that is important is that they like people who own businesses, who can really be on the front lines with issues that are important to business owners, and businesses of different sizes,” said Gail S. Seaton, board treasurer. “That, I think, was a key element. When we look at different people, it really is ‘are they a down-to-earth person, are they a hard-working person?’. We truly are a working board.”
Seaton herself was recruited by Carey to join the Bellevue University board, and said although she doesn’t know Carey well as a businesswoman, as a person, she immediately felt welcomed by her.
“She was one of the people who made a point to…talk to me about what she liked about it, why she participated in it, why she thought it would be a good match for me as well,” Seaton said. “She really was kind of a champion for helping to recruit and making sure there were different kinds of voices.”
As a member of this board, Carey has helped establish, and fund, the Maurice Y. and Patricia Beardmore Scholarship. But it isn’t about establishing a memorial to her parents—it’s about helping those who need it. Students attend Bellevue primarily because they are making a move in their life. The board’s job is to look for creative ways to make sure that learning is accessible to people.
She continued to work, with her husband, as a major auto dealer in the area. They purchased the Cadillac and Buick franchises in 1999 in Kearney, and in 2004 purchased Spady Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep in Kearney. After consolidating and expanding those businesses for 10 years, they bought Killion GMC in Kearney.
Her company, Beardmore Chevrolet and Subaru, became more successful. Carey watched the numbers, and her days in the warranty department served her well. Through the years, she has learned every aspect of the business of a car dealership, but her favorite job is crunching numbers.
“She’s still interested in what’s going on with warranties,” said Chris Fasbender, director of operations for Beardmore Chevrolet and Subaru. “She’s in the back with technicians. To this day she looks at the warranty administrator report and makes sure that we’re getting paid and that we’re paying what we’re supposed to.”
Along with keeping up with her local industry, Carey has also been on the Women’s Dealer Advisory Council for GM, and a number of Chevy marketing dealer advisory committees. She was the president of the GMC local advertising and marketing group.
“I was just really proud to have been asked to do these things,” Carey said.
She continues to try and improve her industry, and to do the right thing for the customers, and the community.
“We may be the only dealer in town that doesn’t pay off of commission,” Fasbender said. “We pay off number of cars sold. My job as a salesman is to find the best Subaru for you. Do you have a dog, do you have a family, do you have headroom issues? Our salesmen are not here to make as much money as they can off a sale. We want to make sure every person gets the vehicle they want or need, not the vehicle we want to sell.”
Carey is a problem-solver, whether that is a problem of how to sell cars better or how to garner more donations. She is a member of the board of Women Investing in Nebraska through the NU Foundation, which gives money to education and nonprofit projects. She was the chair from 2017 to January 2019. During this time, Carey recognized that, by asking women to donate $2,400 to join this group, a lot of people were being left out. During her years as chair, she was instrumental in developing a stepped membership to allow women to join for $500, $1000, or $2400. Each member, no matter their membership level, has one vote.
“It was a different way of thinking that created a huge growth, especially with young entrepreneurs and professionals,” said Lori Byrne, executive vice president of advancement at the University of Nebraska Foundation.
“I love it because when you combine our gifts we can truly make a significant impact,” Carey said. “When you pool all our dollars, it’s wonderful to be able to make an impact in a community. It’s wonderful to meet other women who have the passion of education and nonprofit. You learn so much about what’s happening throughout the state through the grant application process.”
She and her husband have been major donors to several academic projects. In 2012 they gave the lead gift to what would be named the Hamilton Academic Excellence Room at UNO. This 5,200 square foot study space for athletes opened in 2013 with updated technology and comfortable seating, and was an improvement over the previous space. It was also a passion project for Carey.
“The athletes studied in this horrible room, and so they moved into much finer quarters,” Carey said. “I love the fact that athletes learn through their teamwork; they have to be disciplined. They really go on to be future leaders. It’s nice to be a part of that.”
It was not their first gift to UNO. They also gave one poignant sum of money in 2010.
“One of our development officers went to Grand Island to meet with [Carey], and was talking about the social work program,” Byrne said. “[Carey] wanted to know more about the school, and they were going to take a tour the next Monday. Unfortunately a tragic car accident happened. The development officer was hit by a teenage driver who was DUI. ”
Although Carey only knew development officer Jessica Bedient for a short time, she and her husband were so moved by her passion for the university they helped create the Jessica Lutton Bedient scholarship, given annually to the Grace Abbott School of Social Work.
“We do a lot of different sponsorships that I am proud of,” Carey said. “We try to be a big part of the community. You give back to the people that take care of you.”
They also keep an eye on what is important to their customers, such as the environment. A 2017 renovation to Beardmore in Bellevue made the company the first GM dealer in Nebraska to earn GM Green Dealer Certification. Eco-friendly improvements made during this $3.38 million, 17,000 square-foot addition included a 14kW photovoltaic system that converts sunlight into electricity, a heating system that uses waste oil for a fuel source with natural gas for backup heat, LED lighting throughout the addition and parking lots, and new fire sprinklers.
Beardmore Subaru includes a dog park and a dog lobby, due to research that Subaru owners are often loyal dog owners. In fact, the company recently added a second dog park because the park is so popular the grass was getting trampled. Subaru owners’ love of pets also keeps the dealership donating to pet organizations. One recent organization to receive their generosity was the Good Life Bulldog Rescue.
While the auto owning industry has been good for her, she said the auto business is great for
A fifth generation Beardmore certainly enjoys aspects of working for the family business.
“I love seeing my grandpa’s picture on the wall when I walk around,” Rebecca said. “It means a lot, how I remember them working here.”
For her mother, it’s one more female face in the door of an industry that she believes in.
“I don’t think women look at it as something that can support their families, and it can,” Carey said. “We have a female technician at Beardmore Subaru, a female in the parts department at Beardmore Chevrolet. There are three female service advisers [people who talk to customers and write service tickets]. There’s some really steady, good jobs. I would like for more women to consider coming into our industry.”
This article was printed in the December 2019/January 2020 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.