Thirty-five years later, Inter Pacific Motors is still in the driver's seat
Despite having a stroke six weeks earlier, J.W. “Walsh” Hanley, president of Inter Pacific Motors, was in good spirits during his interview with Hawaii Business last May. His company, a 20-year veteran of the Top 250 list, climbed six notches to No. 115 this year, with gross annual sales of $59 million. His children – Joe, Mary, John and Bob – run the family business. “I have dealer friends who tell me all the time that I’m very fortunate that I have kids who are very professional,” Hanley says (he and wife, Kathy, have two more sons, one on Oahu and another on the U.S. Mainland). “I don’t do much work these days, except check my e-mail,” he admits. The relaxed attitude is quite a stretch from when he worked long hours to keep the company afloat.
Hanley purchased Inter Pacific Motors in December 1968, after relocating his wife and kids to Hawaii from the Marshall Islands, where he had served as the budget and programs director for the U.S. Department of the Interior for two years. Although Hanley had previous experience in the auto industry on the U.S. Mainland, the newly purchased dealership had its own challenges. “It was the pits when I first bought it. I didn’t have a lot [of inventory] to sell,” he recalls. The Big Island dealership was unprofitable for the first three years. With financial backing from business partners in Texas, Hanley rebuilt the company.
All that is history. Today, in addition to auto dealerships on the Big Island and on Kauai, Inter Pacific Motors operates a service and parts shop, a rust-proofing service and an advertising agency. The ad agency is the brainchild of Kathy, who majored in broadcast journalism in the 1950s. “She’s a nurse these days – she takes care of me,” Hanley jokes.
They shouldn’t have to worry, anyway. The company, which has always been a way of life for the Hanley family, is run by the children. Says son Joe, who runs the Hilo and Kona dealerships, “We’ve pretty much done everything in the company, everything from cutting the grass to working in the parts, service and sales departments.”
There is no doubt that Inter Pacific Motors will continue to be one of Hawaii’s highest-grossing companies, as it has been for the past 20 years. But Hanley remains humble and matter-of-fact about the company’s ranking on the Top 250 list: “Part of our growth is that the prices of cars keep going up. When I first bought the place, I could sell a car for $3,000. Now, it’s $30,000.”