Leading 350 People in 21 Locations Through Covid-19 & Everything Else

In this episode of One Take CEO Interviews presented by Platinum Group, Kari Rihm, owner, president and CEO of South St. Paul-based Rihm Family Companies (RFC), discusses what it’s been like this year leading her fourth-generation family-owned business that employs more than 350 people in 21 locations.

Challenges ranged from ‘fixing leaking pipes’ and quickly adjusting to extreme changes in market demand, to soul searching for hidden bias and dealing with differing perspectives on Covid-19.

RFC is comprised of Rihm Kenworth, the world’s second oldest continuously operated Rihm Kenworth truck dealership, and three related businesses providing genuine and aftermarket truck parts and accessories, truck rental and leasing, and international truck and parts sales and service training.

One takeaway regarding Covid-19’s pressure on her business: “When the pressure’s on the pipes you find out where the leaks are,” she says. Rapid shifts in market demand compared with initial expectations about the pandemic’s impact on her industry led Rihm and her leadership team to look at processes more quickly, ask whether they were “leaking” and if so, how to fix them. “The other thing was finding out really who you can depend on in terms of your external resources.”

George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police officers, and the elevated awareness of racial discrimination that still exists in Minnesota, also affected Rihm.

“I thought that I lived in a state that was very welcoming and that that enjoyed its immigrant communities [truck drivers in this region have become much more diverse in the last 10 years]. And when I heard that Minnesota is one of the most racist states in the nation, I was shocked and I thought, ‘what do I believe?’ It caused some soul searching but also some researching as to why people are saying that the state is so discriminatory. I learned more about what institutional racism means and how it’s been employed in our state, and it’s shocking. I have been very open with our employees after that happened, asking them also to do some soul searching themselves, and I hope that they have.”

Rihm is optimistic that 2021 will be a good year for the industry and her business. But she remains concerned about Covid-19 and how people’s individual beliefs can hurt her business, not to mention other people. The biggest challenge is, “still needing to constantly communicate what the symptoms are and when you should stay home,” instead of coming to work and possibly giving the virus to others.

“The other part is caring about the people you don’t know. You know you should maybe care about who you work next to and your family, but I think it’s hard for people to think about caring about somebody who lives across town, or is just passing through, such as our transient truck drivers who could catch the virus here and take it to another community,” she says. “So, it’s tough. Our society has been a “me society” for so long it’s all about me. Well, I think we’re finding out it’s not all about me, it’s all about us.”

This interview is available to either watch on YouTube or listen to via Spotify or Apple Podcasts.

Other One Take Interviews can be found on You Tube, and also on Spotify as well as Apple Podcasts and are listed below in chronological order from the most recent:

About One Take CEO Interviews: CEOs share how they’re leading during 2020’s pandemic and other challenges in unscripted ‘one take’ interviews with Dale Kurschner, who for 30 years served as one of the Upper Midwest’s leading business journalists including as Editor in Chief of Twin Cities Business 2010-2018. Today he helps business owners and leaders with strategy, strategic marketing and communication, and reputation/crisis management. (Note: No funding or other financial consideration is provided by companies interviewed in this series. Interviews are by invitation only and chosen based upon the relevance of what may be discussed during an interview.)

For sponsorship information and rates, or to suggest a CEO to be interviewed, write to Info@MNperspectives.com.