January 3, 2019
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree when it comes to the Nicolai family. Brad Nicolai, son of an Italian auto craftsman and technician, Joe Nicolai, has taken his father’s “live, work and play” vision and turned it into a dream come true. This wave of the future luxury car venue hosts several restaurants, upscale retail shops, spa services, meeting spaces, concierges and a bevy of automotive show spaces.
Miles ahead of the dirt lot where Joe’s self-made success story began, this automotive lifestyle concept has taken the company far from its 1961 start.
“My father lived in his car for two years on the dirt lot. He didn’t have money for inventory, so he started with consignment cars,” Brad says, as he recalled his family’s 56-year history in Hawaii’s automotive industry.
From that humble beginning, JN has grown into a company that retails 10 auto brands and 12 motorcycle brands in an extensive network of showrooms, luxury retail offerings, men and women’s salons and a 388-unit luxury condominium that caters to one’s every need.
“The Velocity retail space further executes my father’s vision,” Brad says. “We wanted to showcase the lifestyle aspects of the automotive and motor sports experience to see where we could take our industry beyond the traditional approach.”
Exceeding client’s expectations, Brad’s accelerated drive to expand Hawaii’s premiere luxury powerhouse started at home.
“My parents taught me that there’s no substitute for hard work. My father was focused 100 percent on the business. My mother, Eleanor, was a schoolteacher, who taught at Like Elementary for 32 years. She was third-generation Japanese raised in Nu’uanu and was always focused on education and doing things the right way.”
From the age of 14, Brad’s work ethics have been going full-throttle: selling jet skis, doing maintenance work, cleaning bathrooms, washing cars and serving as a lot technician. After completing his education at Punahou and Boston College, he then earned a master’s degree at the University of Hawaii. Brad returned to the family business, becoming president in 2012. Brad’s friends, family and co-workers say his leadership style is a testament that he hasn’t forgotten his years on the ground floor and in middle management.
Always putting people first, Brad executes his business profile as if he’s not above working side-by-side with anyone; no matter the task.
“I’m impressed with his ability to show by example the right way of doing something. He doesn’t ever disrespect anyone or put them down,” Dean Yamaguchi, luxury consultant for Velocity, says. “He wants long-lasting relationships with his employees, his customers and the community.”
Donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to local charities while building reputable rapports with prominent Hawaiian businesses, Brad’s progressive thinking and environmental ways have created an energy-efficient and healthy environment that has left a lasting impression.
“He’s always had a big picture care for his community,” says Will Crowley, director of real estate for MidPacific Asset Advisors LLC and Brad’s childhood friend. “Most of what he does is centered around treating people like family.”
Brad says his wife Gina and he are trying to create a world that they are proud to leave to their children: 9-year-old Isabella, 8-year-old Ryder and 5-year-old Jagger. They also want to ensure that they maintain the noblesse oblige that has been a major hallmark of JN Group’s roadmap to success.
“Hawaii is a special place. Our natural resources can never be replaced. Because we’ve been in the community well over 50 years, we have a longer-term view,” Brad says. “If you are always looking at short-term returns, you’ll lose sight of the tremendous opportunity that you have to be a beacon for others to follow.”