The Rags-to-Riches Story of Billionaire Brad Kelly

On March 27 in the year 1956, one of the largest landowners in the United States was born in Kentucky, United States of America. His name is Brad Maurice Kelley, the founder of Commonwealth Brands Tobacco Company and owner of the company that publishes Lonely Planet. According to, his net worth is $2.7 billion as of August, 2021.

Brad Kelly
Brad Kelly (Credit: )

Brad Kelly was the son of farmers. In high school, he was named secretary for the Future Farmers of America. He was also selected as a member of the Who’s Who among American High School Students. Although he did not pursue a college degree, he worked hard to achieve his goal as a successful businessman and farmer.

After high school, Brad Kelly went to work in the family-owned tobacco farm. He saved whatever profit he earned and when he can afford, he bought farm properties and abandoned warehouses which he developed for rent. In 1991, he founded Commonwealth Brands as a manufacturer of inexpensive cigarette. With extraordinary hard work and discipline, he set out to compete with established giants in the tobacco industry. Having a lean organization, he was able to underprice his competitors. Soon, his own brands such as USA Gold, Bull Durham, and Malibu achieved prominence and profits poured in. In 2001, he sold the company to Houchens Industries for $1 billion in cash.

With that money on hand, Brad Kelly began buying ranches in Texas and New Mexico and orchards in Florida as well as in Hawaii. By 2012, he was the one of the largest landlords in America with holdings of 1.5 million acres, an area more than the size of the Rhode Island State. He also became the operator of the Calumet Farm, historic thoroughbred breeding and racing operation in Lexington, Kentucky.

Brad Kelly is married to Susan and they have three children. Although he was very much involved in the tobacco industry, Brad was never became a smoker.


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