Rick Niello Jr. has been president of the auto company since 1995, with several members of the next generation of Niellos serving roles throughout the organization. (Photos by Hector Amezcua)

Cruising Through Change

Family business close-up

Back Article Oct 7, 2021 By Lindsay Oxford

This story is part of our October 2021 Family Business issue. To subscribe, click here.

Not many businesses can say they’ve reached the century mark, let alone with a product that hasn’t been mass produced for much longer than that. The Niello Company is an exception to the rule. 

Started by Louis Niello in San Francisco as a shop specializing in repairs and maintenance of Packard automobiles in 1921, the business grew and changed over the years, moving to Sacramento and bringing Niello’s son, Richard Sr., into the fold after he served in the Navy during World War II. For a time, Niello partnered with Sacramento automotive notables Wes Lasher and Elmer Hubacher, amicably parting ways in 1955.

Over time, Richard welcomed his sons Rick, Roger and David Niello into the family business. The Niello Company currently owns nine dealerships carrying 11 makes, including luxury brands such as Porsche, Jaguar, BMW and Land Rover. Rick has served as the company’s president since 1995, while his father, at 99, still drops into their headquarters occasionally. “He sort of describes himself as maybe an innocent bystander watching things grow,” Rick says with a chuckle.

The Niello Company employs just over 600 employees (down from 750 since the pandemic began). David and Roger co-own the business along with Rick, though Roger’s three terms as California State Assembly member for District 5 took him away from day-to-day operations during his time in public office. He is now The Niello Company’s corporate secretary. David serves as the company’s vice president after previously operating Niello automotive interests in the Bay Area.

The secret to keeping a business running for a century? A strong set of core values, including a dedication to customer service, welcoming change and giving back to the community. “No one loves change,” Rick says. “But we’re in a changing world, right? We have to learn how to change.”

At the century mark, Niello now has a fourth generation walking the halls: Rick’s son Derrick Niello is the company’s chief financial officer, while Rick’s son-in-law, Matt Ryan, is Niello’s operations manager.

For The Niello Company, that means ongoing change in areas such as technology, advertising and customer service. “We’ve been through small European cars that are very efficient, because gas is so much more expensive in Europe than it is here. So we’ve adjusted to those things, we’ve adjusted to buyer tastes. … We’ve adjusted to marketing changes. We’ve adjusted to the laws of California, which are much more restrictive and demanding than any other state in the union,” Rick says. “So embracing change is something that we’ve done, I think successfully. We’ve developed relationships with our customers and our employees (that have grown) much stronger over the years.”

Another of Niello’s core values extends to philanthropic efforts in the community. In the past five years, The Niello Company estimates it has given more than $1.2 million in donations to nonprofits in the Capital Region, with individual dealerships under the Niello umbrella making their own charitable contributions as well. The list of more than 60 nonprofits The Niello Company supports includes food banks in four counties, several organizations that support individuals diagnosed with cancer, and various charities supporting children and arts institutions throughout the region.

At the century mark, Niello now has a fourth generation walking the halls: Rick’s son Derrick Niello is the company’s chief financial officer, while Rick’s son-in-law, Matt Ryan, is Niello’s operations manager. Roger’s son Matt works in the company’s IT department, and one of his other  sons, Eric, is regional manager for Full Circle Dealer Services, a newly-developed offshoot of The Niello Company. 

“I pinch myself because it makes me proud (to be part) of … something my dad and his partners (and) my grandfather and his father before him started,” says Derrick. “I’m just kind of lucky enough to continue in and be a part of a little part of this thing that’s continued over the course of … 100 years.” 

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