Kristy Knichel didn’t start out as president and CEO of the company that bears her name.
“I started my career when I was 19 years old, so I’m in my 23rd year. I have worked my way up and done every single job in our company,” Knichel said. “I truly know what every aspect of our business is because I’ve done it.”
Today she’s the majority owner of Knichel Logistics and more than 60% of the nearly 50 employees are female.
“This year we’re on pace to hit $80 million in revenue, which I never thought would be possible,” said Knichel at the Women In Trucking! Accelerate Conference & Expo early this month in Dallas, where she was recognized as a 2019 Influential Woman in Trucking finalist and her Gibsonia, Pennsylvania-headquartered company was named a Top Woman-owned Business and one of the Top Companies for Women to Work for in Transportation.
After high school, Knichel wasn’t sure what she wanted to do with her life. She majored in criminology in college, but dropped out. She then studied fashion at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh.
“I’ve always been a hard worker, working two or three jobs. I was managing a couple of pizza shops at the time. I actually wanted to buy one of the pizza shops from the guy I was working for. I thought it was a great deal. The guy was making $40,000 a year. I thought that was awesome pay at 19 years old,” she said.
She shared her plans with her father, William Knichel.
“He said, ‘You definitely don’t want to do that.’ He said, ‘Why don’t you come work for me?’” Knichel recalled. “He mainly worked with the railroad at the time. So at the age of 19, I did decide to go work for him, not knowing what I was going to get into.”
She said her dad, a former police officer, was notorious for his drill sergeant-like management style and certainly didn’t put her in a cushy position. “I believe, though, that his style is what made me who I am today in how I run the business.
“When I started working for my dad, I didn’t know anything about logistics. I just had to get in and do it,” Knichel said. “Whatever needed done, I just threw myself into that, be it HR, finance, booking trucks, dealing with the railroads.”
She also learned how to remain a family in a family-run business. Today her older brother works for her as executive vice president. Her younger sister has left the business to pursue other interests. Her dad, at 71, is now retired and recovering from a recent kidney transplant. But he continues to offer advice, which Knichel accepts with a smile and then makes decisions she believes are right for the business.
“I was the one who my father chose to take over running the business who was level-headed to keep it all together,” Knichel said. “When I took over from my dad, we were in the $16 million to $20 million range and probably half the staff that we have today.”
Knichel also has increased the company’s involvement in industry organizations. Her involvement with Women In Trucking includes multiple appearances on President and CEO Ellen Voie’s Saturday morning radio show on Road Dog Trucking.
She received the first Distinguished Woman in Logistics award at the Transportation Intermediaries Association’s annual conference in 2015. Since April she has served as the intermodal logistics conference chair on TIA’s board of directors. She also is heavily involved with the Intermodal Association of North America.
The gender imbalance in the railroad industry is glaringly apparent to Knichel.
“One of the biggest challenges I still face is the primary mode of business that we do is with the railroads, and I’m still in a room with 100 men and I’m the only woman in that room in those meetings at times on my side of the business. That’s still difficult to this day, but I’ve kind of earned my way now that I’ve been there 23 years doing the same thing,” she said.
Knichel was one of more than 100 women nominated as the 2019 Influential Woman in Trucking.
“It’s truly an honor. When I looked at what we had to submit — all the things I’ve done — I was like, ‘Wow, is this me?’ I’m just trying to do a job, you know what I mean?” she said.
Knichel doesn’t expect that job to change — at least not for a few years.
“I had a goal to hit $100 million. I want to hit that goal and keep going. Who knows what can happen?”