Kevin Knight will be the first to tell you that hiring veterans to work at his small construction and maintenance company isn’t just about doing the right thing – it’s a policy that’s rooted in sound business practice, too.
“Veterans are hard workers and some of the best people you’d want to have in your business,” says Knight, whose small business, Virginia-based Knight Solutions, handles renovations and grounds maintenance for many of the country’s military cemeteries.
Knight joined the U.S. Army right after high school; however, he was discharged after a serious eye injury sustained during a training exercise forced him to leave the service before he was deployed overseas. Not deterred, Knight has managed to use entrepreneurship as a tool to continue supporting America’s returning soldiers.
To date, Knight Solutions has hired veterans from 15 states, and the majority of the firm’s approximately 150 employees have served in the military – and that’s not at all by accident. Knight and his team work with several veterans’ programs to find new hires, frequently partnering with the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Compensated Work Therapy program, a national rehabilitation initiative that helps veterans find work outside of the military.
While he’s always wanted to be entrepreneur, Knight credits his time working at others companies like General Motors and REHAU, a polymer processing company based in Switzerland, for helping him learn more about running a business: “I learned a lot of the basics at those places before I started my own [company],” he says. His success and his ongoing work supporting returning soldiers has garnered national recognition, as Knight was in 2014 named Virginia’s Small Business Person of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration.
It hasn’t been easy, though. Helping veterans transition from a regimented military life to public work can be challenging, Knight admits. “You have to be consistent, patient and willing to show them a way of doing things that is very different from the military,” he says. That being said, Knight has gone out of his way to organize the business in a way that will help soldiers thrive. He has set up a structured chain of command, for example, to help make ex-servicemen and servicewomen feel more comfortable.
In addition, Knight believe that his own military experience and the company’s commitment to supporting veterans helps his employees feel more comfortable and appreciated: “They feel a sense of ownership when they join the company,” he says. “They know that their employers care about the fact that they served their country.”
It’s important to note that Knight’s dedication to those who have served in the military extends beyond his hiring practices. A large share of his company’s work stems from government contracts for ground maintenance, construction and renovation at many of the country’s military hospitals and cemeteries.
In the past, the company has worked on restoring the Winchester National Cemetery in Connecticut, Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego and Quantico and Arlington National Cemeteries in Virginia. Such projects are among Knight’s favorite work, he says, because they allow him and his employees to giving back to their brothers and sisters in arms, both those who returned home and those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country and our freedom.
It’s that commitment to the men and women who have served in the military – not mere business growth for the sake of growth – that drives Knight.
“I don’t really want to focus on getting any bigger, that’s not the priority,” Knight says. “I just want to continue to give back to our veterans. People think about [them] around Memorial Day, but it’s important to keep them in mind all year round.”