Gene Markley has passionately wound family, community and business into a long and successful career.
“I love the business,” he said. “The auto business has been my life.”
But Markley did not intend to take on the automotive business founded by his father, Ferd. After earning his civil engineering degree from Colorado A&M – now Colorado State University in 1947 – Gene traveled to Montana to work in highway construction. Returning to Colorado a year later, he tried his hand at entrepreneurship, co-founding a concrete company. At the time, it was the only mobile ready-mix company in the region.
Even as a business owner, he didn’t completely escape the draw of Markley Motors. “On rainy days, I’d work at the dealership because we couldn’t pour concrete,” he explained.
When Ferd Markley decided he would try his hand at politics, it was time for his son to dedicate himself to the family business. He and his partner sold the concrete company and by 1950, Gene Markley had made Markley Motors his full-time focus.
In 1959, Markley expanded the company through a purchase of a Chrysler-Plymouth dealership, adding it to the existing Dodge line housed at 330 S. College Ave. Within a few years, Markley Motors enveloped most of the 200 block of North College Avenue.
“We had to (move),” Markley explained. “We were showing cars out in the street.”
Son Doug Markley, who now serves as president of the company, recalls his duty of moving the vehicles every few hours to avoid parking tickets.
The 1973 move to 3401 S. College Ave. proved to be a wise one. Less than a year after Markley closed on the property, plans for the Foothills Mall were announced.
Bringing on Honda
The move also allowed for an expansion that Gene Markley says was the best business decision the company made. He had been hearing from other dealers about the Honda line – all raving about the brand – but the Japanese auto maker was not immediately interested in a franchise in Fort Collins, reckoning that the town did not have the right demographics. At the time, the brand wasn’t well known here.
“I thought that Honda didn’t even make a car,” Doug Markley said. ” I thought they only made motorcycles.”
But Gene Markley persisted, finally securing the Honda franchise at the end of 1974. The following year, the country experienced its first major fuel shortage, and people were lining up to trade in their Lincolns and Cadillacs for a more fuel-efficient means of transportation.
“We had a waiting list,” Markley remembered.
Judi Payton, an employee since 1956, added that the dealership kept the waiting list hanging on the wall that ran all the way to the floor. “All you had to do to sell a Honda was be able to answer the phone,” she said.
Today, Honda represents 60 percent of the dealership’s new car sales.
Another major decision for Markley Motors came a few years later. In 1979, the company decided to split from Chrysler in order to sell the General Motors line.
“We thought it was a better franchise,” Markley said.
Doug Markley remembers the trip to Denver to tell the Chrysler executives that they would not be selling the brand anymore.
“Dad said it felt like asking for a divorce,” he recalled. Despite the feeling of separation, it’s a decision Gene Markley said he has never regretted.
A new generation
In the late 1980s, father made way for son, again – somewhat. Doug Markley took over the title of president of the dealership, with Gene Markley becoming chairman. The change was made more concrete in 1991, when Doug Markley was listed as the dealer in charge of the company’s newest line – Saturn.
But the title change didn’t alter the dedication and amount of time Gene spent at the dealership – he says he only just got used to not showing up every day about a year ago. While he only visits the dealership a few times per week, he calls Payton every day to check in.
Gene Markley said he didn’t anticipate that his family would follow in his footsteps, taking over the family business.
“I never made that overture with (Doug) when he was in school,” he said. “I was just glad to get him out of here.”
All joking aside, Gene Markley cannot hide the pride he feels for his family, especially now that his granddaughters – Carrie Baumgart, a dealer in training, and Cindy DeGroot, marketing specialist for the Saturn dealership – are taking a hand in the business.
“I had no idea that it would come to where it is today,” he said. “It’s in our blood, apparently.”
The pride flows both ways. For Doug Markley, his father’s legacy lives on in his honesty, integrity and philanthropy, improving the community through donations of time and money. His volunteer positions included serving on the Poudre Valley Hospital Board of Trustees, Poudre Valley Hospital Foundation board, past president of the Fort Collins Rotary Club, past president of the Fort Collins Area Chamber of Commerce and past president of the Colorado Auto Dealers Association.
The impressions he has made on his family have also seeped into the business. Baumgart said she has learned much from “Papa.”
“He’s always strived to keep all the employees happy,” she said. “That’s something that has carried down to me.”
The elder Markley admits to being embarrassed about receiving the Bravo! award. Despite his modesty, this isn’t the 85-year-old’s first honor.
In 1971, he received the Time magazine Dealer Quality Award – only the second Colorado dealer to be so honored. He has received the “Hope Award” from the Multiple Sclerosis Society, a Torch Award from the Better Business Bureau, and in 2007 received the Community Foundation of Northern Colorado’s Founders Award.
His passion for family, community and business will perhaps leave one of the largest gifts – as the Markley name promises to continue to make a difference in Northern Colorado.