A 1970 graduate of Walnut Ridge High School in Walnut Ridge, Arkansas, Cavenaugh attended Arkansas State University in Jonesboro. He worked in several jobs in Jonesboro before partnering with his father, Charles, to buy a Ford dealership in Black Rock, Arkansas, in 1978.
“Despite many struggling times, we persisted, and I continued to grow and expand the business following my father’s death in 1988,” he said. “In time, with the acquisition and establishment of several dealerships, Cavenaugh Auto Group was formed.” Today, his company includes eight new car Arkansas dealerships in Jonesboro, Hot Springs and Walnut Ridge, representing brands Buick, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Dodge, Ford, Genesis, GMC, Hyundai, Jeep, Kia, Lincoln and Ram.
Cavenaugh Auto Group also consists of a management company, used car dealerships, a finance company, a car rental company, a real estate holding company, a car transportation company, an advertising agency and an insurance agency. His wife, Fran, and sons Matt and Donny work for the family enterprise.
“Keeping my focus on the auto industry has allowed me to be successful,” Cavenaugh said. “If a business was auto-related and would allow us to grow, I would find a way to incorporate it into my model.”
And that success has afforded Cavenaugh the opportunity to give back to his community in numerous of ways. “I feel it is our responsibility to make the communities we live in a better place – to make them better than we found them,” he said. “With that goal, we provide both money and time to many, many local events and organizations.”
His company has donated to create a new community park in Walnut Ridge, given to local high school ballfields throughout northeast Arkansas and has provided funds for schools and numerous nonprofits, including the Food Bank of Northeast Arkansas (Jonesboro); The Children's Shelter (Walnut Ridge); City Youth Ministries (Jonesboro); The Foundation of Arts (Jonesboro) and the Delta Symphony Orchestra (Jonesboro), among others.
In addition, Cavenaugh Kia established the Attend to Win car giveaway, which encourages perfect attendance at high schools throughout northeast Arkansas. Now in its third year, the program provides a new Kia Soul to a graduating senior randomly selected from 10 finalists with perfect attendance and $100 gift cards to the nine runners-up.
For the past nine years, Cavenaugh has sponsored the Cavenaugh Thumperthon, a 5K race that benefits the Northeast Arkansas Humane Society. He also helped create Beatles at the Ridge, a music festival that commemorates the Fab Four’s brief stop in Walnut Ridge for a plane change in 1964, which set off a local frenzy.
“This event brings 15,000 visitors to our community for a weekend-long celebration of Beatles music and memorabilia,” he said. “It has been ranked as one of the top Beatles events in the country.”
He added, “We are also currently working with Hoxie: The First Stand to create a Civil Rights Museum in Hoxie, Arkansas, to tell the story of the first challenged school integration in America.”
For his good works, Cavenaugh has received several awards and recognitions but is most rewarded by what he gives back. “Our communities have been very good to me and my family and helping make them better is a core belief of mine,” he said. “When we all begin to work together to make impactful changes, it helps provide a better future for my family, my employees and our customers.”
Cavenaugh was nominated for the TIME Dealer of the Year award by Greg Kirkpatrick, president of the Arkansas Automobile Dealers Association.