At the Helm: Kari Rihm

By Patricia Olsen

A few minutes with the president and CEO of Rihm Family Companies, South St. Paul, Minn.

Generation of family ownership: Third.

Company revenue: $220 million in 2017 from our three companies: Rihm Kenworth, Rihm Leasing and RMC Truck Parts. Rihm Kenworth is the second-oldest Kenworth truck dealer in the world. RMC Truck Parts ships truck parts globally and delivers them in Minnesota and western Wisconsin.

Number of employees: 350, including 30 part-time.

Years with the company: Eight. I joined in 2010 when my husband, John Rihm, passed away in 2010. His grandfather founded the company.

First job at this company: President. Prior to my husband’s death, I was on the board and was active once a year, when I attended the annual board meeting.

At what age? 53.

Most memorable thing I learned from my husband: Be generous with time, talent and money with whomever needs it. Also, appreciate employees’ talents.

Best thing about this job: It gives me purpose and pleasure to know that we support a great industry and supply good jobs for hard-working people and their families. One reason I kept the business was that I felt strongly that people had given their entire careers to the company, which had allowed my family and me to have a very nice life. If I sold it, people may not have been treated the same way.

Quote from our company’s mission statement: Rihm Family Companies is a third-generation, family-owned and -operated company focused on providing exceptional service delivered with the highest standards in the heavy-duty trucking industry. Founded in 1932, under the name Rihm Motor Company, Rihm is a growth-oriented company committed to doing the right thing — treating others the way we want to be treated.

On my desk: A glass paperweight etched with a capital R, owned by the three previous owners. When my husband was ill, his sister gave it to me. I keep it to honor the three.

One of my greatest accomplishments: Taking over the business under the worst circumstances and then turning it around and growing it more in the last eight years than it grew in the previous 78, in a male-dominated business. Maybe it took a woman’s nurturing touch. More recently, we built two new facilities, moving from one that was built in 1951. We also acquired a truck leasing and rental business.

Best thing about working in a family business: You get to work with your kids.

Worst thing about working in a family business: You have to work with your kids. Kidding aside, it can be hard to leave work at your office. We try to plan family outings and just have fun.

My advice for other family business leaders: Be firm with your expectations for your kids and your other family members regarding their roles in your business.

Philanthropic causes our family supports: My husband died from a brain tumor, so we support the American Brain Tumor Association, as well as local hospitals. We also support various food distribution organizations like Second Harvest Heartland and Feed My Starving Children, as well as World Vision, the Salvation Army and Union Gospel Mission.
I realized I had emerged from my husband’s shadow … two or three years into this adventure. I had 180 days to convince the manufacturer I could be a dealer. Other dealers were suggesting I sell the business to them. After the shock of losing my husband and the grief I felt, it took that long for me to feel like I knew what was going on and to stop prefacing each decision by asking myself, “What would John do?”

Future succession plans: I’ve done some work to organize my estate to pass the business to my children and keep it in the family. We still need to get my son, a vice president, on the franchise contract as the designated successor. My daughter has worked here, and I’ll be excited to watch her career goals unfold when she completes college.

Words I live by: Be prepared, be humble and be truthful.

Copyright 2019 by Family Business Magazine. This article may not be posted online or reproduced in any form, including photocopy, without permission from the publisher. For reprint information, contact


Article categories: 
March/April 2019

Other Related Articles

  • The Smith Family Gathering in the age of COVID

    As did many families, we reimagined our annual event this year. Instead of Camp Smith at The Osthoff Resort in Elkhart Lake, Wis. (the original plan), we created Camp Smith @HOME. An hour after the sh...

  • Ensuring Your Trust Is Exactly as You Plan It — Through Generations

    A trust can serve as one of the most powerful and enduring instruments of your legacy.  Whether providing a financial safety-net for your family or supporting the philanthropic causes that matter...

  • Resolving the rising generation paradox

    Every generation has its defining moments, particularly for the youth who are coming of age. For the Silent Generation, it was the Great Depression and World War II. For Baby Boomers, it was the civil...

  • Yields are near 0%. Why should I own bonds?

    Since 1981, when the 10-year U.S. Treasury yield peaked at over 15%, investors have enjoyed the benefit of holding Treasury bonds in their portfolios. Longer-maturity Treasuries have been the perfect ...