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Twin State Ford
Saint Johnsbury, Vermont
"Being a dealer for me has never been about how much money we could make or the title. It's been about setting goals and realizing my dreams as a successful dealer while being an employer with whom people are proud to work."
“I am very proud to be an auto dealer but, most of all, proud of being a good role model and leader to my team,” nominee Keene said. “Being a dealer for me has never been about how much money we could make or the title. It's been about setting goals and realizing my dreams as a successful dealer while being an employer with whom people are proud to work.”
Keene is a 1987 graduate of Bayside High School in Virginia Beach, Virginia. His father, who had a successful career in the United States Navy, was stationed in the Norfolk/ Virginia Beach area where Keene grew up with six siblings.
“My folks instilled some basic principles in all of my brothers and sisters that have served us well,” he said. “The first is that no matter what job you may have or the difficulty of the task you have at hand, you must try and give your all to be the best at it.”
And that’s what Keene did when he had his first job in the auto industry at age 16. While working at Western Auto in Virginia Beach, he quickly advanced from tire installer to tire sales. “I outsold my adult peers regularly even though I did not come to work until after school,” he remembered. And when a customer told him that since he did such a great job selling four tires, he should try selling the whole car, a career was born.
While Keene was in high school, his mother was diagnosed with lung cancer. And it was how she faced this adversity that inspires him to this day. “After being told she had less than a year to live at 50 years of age, my mother enrolled in a community college and later transferred to Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, on a full Ada Comstock scholarship,” he said. “She received her degree at 58 years of age and lived to be 84 and the cancer became just one chapter of her incredible life story.”
Keene followed his mother to Northampton and, remembering what his customer had told him, he searched for jobs in auto sales. He was young and didn’t have experience, but his persistence landed him a position at Ford of Northampton. “About three years into my sales career, I knew that I wanted to own and operate a dealership of my own and set a goal to accomplish this by the time I was 35,” Keene said.
An avid snowboarder, he later moved to Vermont and was hired as general sales manager and later general manager of Formula Ford in South Barre. By the time he was 35, he realized his dream and bought his first dealership in Hardwick, Vermont, renaming it Lamoille Valley Ford.
Today, Keene oversees five dealerships in Vermont, employing 160 full-time and part-time employees, and has offered several key managers the opportunity to be his partners. “They are also in line to be my successors, which is gratifying to me,” Keene said.
His family’s background in United States Navy has inspired Keene to give back to the military community. He provides complimentary scheduled maintenance to all active members of the United States Armed Forces and Vermont National Guard. In addition, his employees who serve continue to receive pay and their jobs are secure even if they are on a long deployment. “It feels great and is simply the right thing to do because of how much these families sacrifice, especially when a parent is deployed overseas,” Keene said.
In 2014, two of Keene’s dealerships were recognized for green initiatives and received the Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence from the state of Vermont. The dealerships were challenged to promote and sell plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. “While sales for these cars were sluggish, we came up with a plan to dispel the myth that plug-in hybrids are just for wealthier folks or people that live in the city,” he said. “Additionally, because of our success, many our customers persuaded their employers and local businesses to install charging stations.”
Keene is thankful for all of the gifts the automotive business has given to him. “My legacy of helping others from similar backgrounds to realize their potential and dreams is now my main focus,” he said.
Keene was nominated for the TIME Dealer of the Year award by Marilyn B. Miller, executive director of the Vermont Vehicle & Automotive Distributors Association. He and his wife, Karen, have two children.