Sean O’Leary is back in Kansas and working for the same Wichita employer he worked for nearly 12 years ago.
Except this time, O’Leary — who grew up in Newbridge, County Kildare, Ireland — is the boss.
O’Leary returned to Wichita to become general manager of Gorges Volvo and Gorges Motor Co., a used car business on South Oliver.
He first worked for the Gorges family and its Gorges Volvo dealership starting in 1991, originally as a sales trainee.
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Nine years later, he decided to return to Ireland, to acquaint his children with the country in which he was raised and whose economy in 2000 was set to boom.
“Ireland was getting ready to take off as a country in the European economy,” O’Leary, 44, said. “And I think my wife (Stephanie, a native of Sylvia) wanted to try it as well, a different culture.”
And then the bottom dropped out of Ireland’s economy. For instance, the house he said he bought there in 2000 for $140,000 skyrocketed in value during the boom to as much as $400,000. He said its value today is probably about $100,000.
While on vacation in Kansas visiting his wife’s family, he said he reconnected with the Gorges family, which led to his new job.
“We started talking, and I wanted to find my kids a better opportunity,” he said. “I met with Scott, Marc and Fred. I’ve always had a great relationship with them. They also figured out I learned a lot while I was away.”
Q. What brought you to Kansas originally and how did you meet your wife?
A. I came to Kansas originally (in 1987) on a soccer scholarship to Sterling (College). I met my wife during college. She was at Hutchinson Community College.
Q. Who did you work for when you went back to Ireland?
A. EP Mooney Ltd. It was the largest Nissan franchise in Ireland. And then that exploded and went into huge numbers, (selling) close to 6,000 cars a year with nine franchises. For a small country that’s a big dealer.
Q. And then you decided to be a dealer instead of a sales director, right?
A. I decided in the middle of the worst recession the country has ever seen to open my own dealership. Nissan wanted me to have a franchise in an open area, so I said I’d go for it. I spent two years doing that, developing a small business. But I didn’t have enough funds to grow the business, and with the banking crisis you just couldn’t get that (funding to grow).
Q. What do you like about the car business?
A. I like people. I enjoy being in the company of people, be it a client or co-worker. I just enjoy that I’m providing something of value to them.
Q. What kind of car do you drive?
A. A (Volvo) XC-70 (wagon). A 2-year-old will make you drive that kind of vehicle.