Posted: 2:40 p.m. Monday, April 22, 2013
Kevin Knight is in the cemetery construction business; he's also in the business of helping veterans reenter civilian life.
Most little boys dream of becoming fire fighters, professional athletes, or race car drivers when they grow up. Kevin Knight, founder and CEO of Knight Solutions, dreamed of owning his own company.
Knight joined the army directly out of high school in 1987 (he was discharged before being sent overseas because of a detached retina), excelled as a student (obtaining degrees from Norfolk State University and the University of Cincinnati), and made a good living working in management positions at a series of Fortune 500 companies, including General Motors.
But the entrepreneurial itch never went away; Knight wanted his own business. Not only that, he wanted a business that could give back--having trained as a soldier, he was particularly aware of the problems facing fellow veterans attempting to reenter civilian life.
In 2005, Knight finally made his boyhood ambition a reality, founding Knight Solutions, a construction company that hires veterans to construct buildings, renovate cemeteries and work on ground maintenance. It started with a $50,000 loan from the government reserved for disabled veterans. In the beginning, he was the only employee, and still held a full-time day job as a business manager at REHAU, a global polymer processing company.
Initially, Knight hired veterans to work on small-scale renovations, like restoring parking lots. The company quickly established a solid performance record and, in 2008, Knight was able to quit his day job and focus all his energy on the fledgling company.
Today Knight Solutions has 112 employees, primarily veterans; the company has taken in over $16 million in 2012 and boasts an astonishing three-year growth rate of 1,472 percent.
It’s no wonder, then, that the Leeburg, Virginia-based Knight Solutions is one of the companies currently vying for a spot on the 2013 Inc. 5000. As applicants arrive, we thought it would be worthwhile to shine a spotlight on some of these fast-growing companies. (For more information and to apply, go here).
Knight credits his time working at big companies such as GM and REHAU for teaching him the nuts and bolts of running a business. “I learned the practical things: the procedures, the processes that are required for the healthy maintenance of any organization,” Knight says.
At Knight Solutions, however, Knight runs things a little differently than a typical corporation. Having spoken extensively with fellow veterans about their fears of assimilating after serving, Knight understands that one of the thorniest issues of re-entering civilian life is the contrast between the strict organization of military service, and the messiness of the regular world.
To help veterans transition, Knight models his company’s structure on military hierarchy. “Especially when we’re out in the field, we try to make sure there is a proper chain command and a proper line of communication, so that everyone feels part of the mission,” he says.
Besides employing veterans, Knight is proud that his company has worked to restore national cemeteries across the country and create the respectful environment fallen soldiers deserve.“Before we came along, they’re were not enough people doing what we do.” Some cemeteries were in bad disrepair.
“We raise the headstones, and realign them because over time, erosion allows headstones to shift out of line and sink. We want the headstones to stand straight, in a line, like soldiers,” he says.
Knight Solutions has been awarded a bevy of contracts for personal and government properties; the company received its first national contract in 2009, when it restored the Winchester National Cemetery in Virginia. Since then, Knight Solutions has worked on a number of national cemeteries across the country. Still, the Winchester National Cemetery remains Knight’s favorite project.
“There were only ten of us. It was the most memorable experience, because it was our first,” Knight says. “There was just so much history there.”