Ever since she was a little girl, Caroline Kauffman-Kirschnick wanted to work in an office. She knew, all along, that she wanted to be part of the family business. She worked her way through every department of the company, and today, she serves as President of The Electric Motor Repair Company, a three-generation, family-owned commercial kitchen and industrial services agency based in Baltimore.
As a child, while her father tirelessly tried to get her older brother to get interested in the family business, Kauffman-Kirschnick played “office,” pretending to do paperwork and answer phones. While in college, she considered whether she may be missing out on a career that she may be passionate about. She dabbled with the idea of becoming a nurse, but hated the sight of blood. She entertained a career in social work. Ultimately, she knew she wanted to positively affect people’s lives and there was nothing more she wanted but to be a part of her family’s business.
When she graduated, she called her father and asked if there were any openings. At the time, there were none, but then an opening in the accounts receivable department opened up in October 2003. While in college, she worked for a gas station, pumping gas, then working her way up to cash register and eventually doing accounts receivable. Her experience was a perfect fit to get her foot in the door at the family company.
Kauffman-Kirschnick never shied from any challenges, and when a position opened within the human resources department, she jumped at the chance to learn something new. She learned everything she could until another position in operations — a side of the business she was unfamiliar with — had opened. She learned dispatching, parts and billing and everything there was to know about operations. As manager of the Delaware branch, she took the department from “significant loss to making money,” she says. Eventually, she transferred to the Baltimore office overseeing operations for the headquarters, and in June 2015, she was named general manager overseeing all branches and service areas. On January 1, 2018, Kauffman-Kirschnick was named president of the company, succeeding her father in the family business.
“I have been blessed with this path that unfolded ahead of me, with opportunities every step of the way,” she says. “If it was a position that became vacant, I said ‘I can do that. Give me a shot.’ It was a combination of my determination and constant desire to learn more that got me where I am today.”
While her path sounds smooth, there were bumps along the way. She had to overcome skepticism of her abilities from the predominantly male leadership team. She had to overcome rumors of nepotism. Instead of focusing on the negativity, she persisted, doing what she needed to do to get the job done.
“If you don’t give it power, or energy, it won’t survive,” she says.
Throughout her career, and especially now, as president, Kauffman-Kirshnick wants to instill a positive, accepting, collaborative culture within the company. In her various roles, she saw the potential of the amazing people she worked with, and she worked hard to tap into it.
“Instead of having a separateness between management and ‘workers’, I saw that we have 200 brains to tap into. They have the real experience and perception and know what is going on out in the field,” she says. “I knew if we could tap into all of these brains, this company would be unstoppable.”
She began making tiny shifts that supported the idea of employee engagement, like changing the uniforms. Instead of a small group of management making a decision on uniform changes behind closed doors, Kauffman-Kirschnick asked the workers directly. What do they want to wear? What color? Workers tried the uniforms on, chose a color and voted on the final selections. Their opinions were validated.
Changing the culture within the company is what Kauffman-Kirschnick considers her greatest accomplishment. It is something she says she will always work to continually improve.
“Your company will have a culture. You can contribute to its creation, or it will be made on its own,” she says.
With just a year under her belt as president, she also has big plans to double the size and revenue of the company. She hopes to expand geographically as well as expand the services they offer. She also plans to continue to integrate technology to streamline communication and business practices. Technicians are all equipped with tablets, which has helped in increasing efficiency for work orders and communication.
“I am completely transparent and open about my goals, my challenges, and my direction. If I am stumped on something, I ask,” she says.
|This article is featured in The Daily Record’s Women Who Lead: A Woman’s Guide To Business. The mission of the Women Who Lead (formerly Path to Excellence) magazine is to give our readers the opportunity to meet successful women of all ages, backgrounds and beliefs and learn how they define success. Read more from Women Who Lead.|