This is part of the “Moving Forward” series offering advice to small business owners on technology, mentorship, productivity, and growth. “Moving Forward” is sponsored by Ink from Chase®. More posts in the series »
Kevin Knight, the founder and CEO of Knight Solutions, was honorably discharged from the Army due to a training injury, but he’s found another way to serve his country: by employing veterans to maintain military cemeteries.
Earlier this year, he won the U.S. Small Business Association’s Virginia Small Business Person of the Year award for growing his contracting company’s revenue 1,400% in just three years and for helping veterans transition to civilian life.
From 2009 to 2012, Knight took Knight Solutions from a little over $US1 million in annual revenue to $US16.3 million. He credits the tremendous growth to a key decision to transform his general landscaping company into one specializing in recruiting veterans to renovate national cemeteries for fallen soldiers.
“A lot of small-business owners try to be jacks of all trades,” Knight tells Business Insider. “Starting out, I was trying to hit a target with a bunch of small bullets. Then I took a cannon ball and locked in.”
After an impoverished childhood in Virginia, Knight says he decided to join the military and get an education. He joined the Army right after high school, but an accident in a training exercise injured his vision and forced him to leave. Knight then enrolled in college, graduating cum laude from Norfolk State University and getting a master’s degree in organizational management from the University of Cincinnati.
After college, Knight worked several managerial positions at large corporations, including General Motors. In 2005, while still employed at REHAU, a polymer manufacturer, he decided to pursue his dream of becoming an entrepreneur by founding a landscaping business, Knight Solutions.
In 2009, he created a new vision for the company: one dedicated to hiring veterans. He quit his job to work on it full time.
As he looked for projects to tackle, Knight learned from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) that there were over 100 national cemeteries in need of renewal and maintenance. When he considered this largely untapped niche market in the context of high post-9/11 veteran unemployment, he realised that he had a perfect business opportunity that could not only be profitable, but meaningful.
Knight recruits vets through the VA’s Compensated Work Therapy program, as well as through a local veterans’ group and the Wounded Warrior Project. “We’re hiring people who care about these cemeteries,” he tells BI. The cemetery projects give veterans transitioning to civilian life a chance to reflect on their service and revitalize the graves of forgotten soldiers.
Today around 40% of Knight Solutions’ 150 employees are veterans, and Knight says the total number of employees has almost doubled since 2009, when he began veteran recruitment.
Even though Knight Solutions continues to take some landscaping projects outside of national cemetery renovations, his focus on recruiting vets and adding dignity to veterans’ graves was crucial to raising Knight Solutions’ national profile, which has brought in a flow of profitable contracts.
The company now works in seven states, from California to New York. While Knight expects to bring in around $US16 million in revenue again this year, he foresees continued growth by adding new contracts and hiring more employees.
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