From Family Business to Billion-Dollar Legacy: The Inspiring Journey of Sam Kennard and Kennards Self Storage


This is the story of Sam Kennard, the man behind the phenomenal success of Kennards Self Storage. Over nearly three decades, Sam has transformed the family business from a modest collection of storage centers into a sprawling empire, boasting over 100 locations and a net profit of $328 million in 2023. 

This article delves into Sam Kennard’s journey, exploring the challenges he faced, the strategies he employed, and the insights he offers to fellow business owners.

Early Beginnings

Sam Kennard’s story begins long before he officially joined the family business. Growing up, he was deeply influenced by his entrepreneurial father, Neville Kennard, who founded Kennards Self Storage in 1973. Neville was inspired during a trip to the United States, where he witnessed the potential of self-storage units. Returning to Australia, he launched the first storage units in Moorebank, Sydney, marking the beginning of what would become a legacy.

Despite his average academic performance, Sam’s interest in business was evident from a young age. He spent his school holidays working in the family business, learning the ropes and developing a keen understanding of the industry. These early experiences laid a strong foundation for his future role.

Facing the Recession and Family Succession

In 1991, Australia was grappling with a severe recession, and Sam, fresh out of university with a degree in real estate, found it challenging to secure a job. He joined the family business full-time, coinciding with a critical period of succession planning. Neville and his brother decided to separate their business interests, with Neville taking over the storage business and his brother focusing on the hire business.

This division was a turning point, allowing Sam and his father to concentrate solely on growing the storage business. Sam began managing various storage centers, and in 1994, at the young age of 24, his father handed him the reins of the company and moved to the United States. This sudden transition was daunting, but Sam was ready to take on the challenge.

The Cultural Crisis

In 1998, four years into his leadership, Sam faced a significant challenge that would redefine his approach to business. A passionate staff member sent a company-wide email highlighting severe issues within the organizational culture. This moment was a wake-up call, revealing the need for a substantial change in leadership style and company culture.

Sam took this feedback seriously and initiated a culture survey to understand the depth of the issues. The results were alarming, showing a predominantly aggressive and passive-defensive culture. Determined to turn things around, Sam embraced a more collaborative leadership style. He overhauled the leadership team, hired for cultural fit, and revamped the company’s processes and reward systems to create a more inclusive and positive work environment.

Strategic Growth and Acquisitions

Kennards Self Storage’s growth strategy has been marked by strategic acquisitions and developments. One of the most significant milestones was the acquisition of Miller’s Storage in 2004, which added 27 properties to their portfolio and cemented their position as a market leader. This acquisition was not only a financial achievement but also a testament to Sam’s vision and determination.

Insights for Business Owners

Sam Kennard’s journey offers valuable lessons for business owners:

  • Succession Planning: Ensure a smooth transition by having a clear and amicable succession plan.
  • Cultural Leadership: Cultivate a positive organizational culture by listening to feedback and being willing to make necessary changes.
  • Strategic Growth: Focus on acquiring prime locations and reinvesting profits to drive sustainable growth.
  • Adaptability: Be open to changing leadership styles and business practices as the company evolves.
  • Innovation: Continuously improve operations and customer experience through technology and data analytics.

The Importance of People and Culture

One of the most significant misconceptions about the storage business is that it’s simply about providing space. In reality, people and culture play a crucial role in Kennards Self Storage’s success. Sam emphasizes the importance of hiring for cultural fit and creating an environment where employees feel valued and empowered. This approach not only enhances employee satisfaction but also improves customer service and overall business performance.

Looking Ahead

Today, Kennards Self Storage continues to thrive under Sam’s leadership, with over 100 locations and a robust expansion strategy. The company’s success is a testament to the power of resilience, innovation, and the willingness to adapt. Sam’s journey reminds us that challenges are opportunities in disguise and that with the right mindset and strategies, remarkable success is within reach.

As you navigate your own business journey, take inspiration from Sam Kennard’s story. Embrace change, invest in your people, and stay committed to your vision.

Listen to a podcast with Sam Kennard from the Australian Financial Review: