Greg Sutliff had the ending of his career written in 2004.
At age 72, he would begin his transition out of the family business — Harrisburg-based Sutliff Auto Group — and leave the company in the hands of two men he had known most of their lives, stepson John Sutliff and John Hickey, the son of a longtime family friend.
But the succession plan took a different course for the Sutliff CEO over the last year.
John Sutliff, who was president of Sutliff Auto Group, decided last fall to walk away from the family business to pursue commercial real estate aspirations. He works for Landmark Commercial Realty Inc.
And Hickey, who entered the company a decade ago and has been serving as president of Sutliff Chevrolet, opted this week to “turn left instead of right” and not complete a buyout of a company that finished with nearly $143 million in revenue last year — its highest total since 2008.
“That was the plan from the get-go,” said Greg Sutliff. “(But) the risk was greater than he was willing to bear.”
Hickey is selling his ownership stake in the company back to Greg Sutliff, who is now 82. The deal could be done in the next 30 days, Hickey said.
Terms were not disclosed. Greg Sutliff said both Hickey and his stepson owned “significant” pieces of the business.
“I’m proud of what we accomplished in 10 years,” said Hickey, 50, adding that he wasn’t willing to go all-in, despite the steady success of the company. “Do you cash out or put the rest in? At some point, you say, ‘I’m at a stage of life where I can walk away with a nice return on my investment.’”
He said he never would have stepped into the auto business had it not been for Greg Sutliff — someone he’s known since he was a boy — and the reputation of the company.
He was general counsel of a managed care organization and an antitrust lawyer before making the jump to the auto business.