Today at ATD Show 2022 in Las Vegas, Kari Rihm, president and CEO of Rihm Kenworth in South St. Paul, Minn., was named the 2022 Truck Dealer of the Year. The national award, sponsored by American Truck Dealers (ATD), Heavy Duty Trucking magazine and Procede Software, recognizes commercial-truck dealers for business performance, industry leadership and service to their community.
“Accept and embrace the fact that your best successor just might be your wife/spouse, your sister, daughter, granddaughter or niece,” said Rihm when accepting her award. “You didn’t think l’d miss the opportunity to highlight women in the industry did you?”
Rihm became the unexpected owner of Rihm Kenworth in 2010 due to a tragic event: her husband John died from brain cancer just four months after being diagnosed. She had never worked at the dealership, having only served on the board of directors previously.
Despite her profound grief, Rihm got to know the business, asking questions about every department, being introduced to frontline employees and customers, and getting a feel for the fourth-generation family business. “After a few weeks, I could see the potential the company had if someone were willing to commit significant personal effort and financial resources to an entrepreneurial growth plan.”
When Rihm first inherited the business, she had three locations and was headquartered in a building that was built in 1949. Within nine months of inking her first three-year contract with Kenworth, Rihm had opened her fourth location and she began looking for new headquarters. In 2018, Rihm opened two facilities to house the newest, most modern and customer/employee centric truck dealerships in her market, moving from 27,000 square feet of space to a total of 140,000 square feet.
Since 2010, Rihm has increased total dealership sales by 248% and total dealership profits by 1,214%. Today, Rihm Kenworth has 274 employees across seven full-service sales, service and parts facilities in Minnesota and Wisconsin, in addition to leasing and rental subsidiaries, a body shop, a private label parts business and a truck parts export business.
Rihm is passionate about improving diversity, equity and inclusion in both her own dealership and across the trucking industry. “Trucking needs a strong workforce and to improve its image as one that is inviting to all,” she said. “The demography of the country is changing. We must not only adapt but embrace the emerging majorities.”
Rihm is active in a number of charitable initiatives, including serving on the United Hospital Foundation board of directors. “During my husband’s illness and treatment, the importance of having access to a highly effective, reliable, caring, and responsible experience became our focus. United Hospital in St. Paul served my husband and our family well,” she said. “The hospital has touched my family and my employees, and this is my way of giving back gratitude for what they have done for us.”
Rihm was chosen among three commercial truck dealers, including Eric Jorgensen, president and CEO of JX Truck Center in Hartland, Wis. Jon Vandehey, president and CEO of Mid-State Truck Service in Marshfield, Wis. The nominees were selected by state, metro and national dealer association leaders. A panel of judges from Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business evaluated the nominees and selected the winner.