A little more than 21 years ago, Barb Kniff McCulla stood in front of a group of employees of KLK Construction and knew she had to make a decision then and there about her future, the future of the company and its workers.
In February 1995, her husband, Kevin Kniff, died in an automobile accident on an icy road while on his way home. He was president of KLK Construction Corp., an underground cabling company he started with Barb in 1979 in Pella.
They were natives of Grand Rapids, Mich., and first came to Pella to do a cabling project for a company owned by Kevin’s father. When that job was completed, they decided to start their own company and “give it a try for a short time.”
Barb worked full time for Town Crier Ltd., a printing and advertising firm. She handled advertising and office supplies for the local business.
“I interacted with so many people, and I love people,” she said. “That wasn’t like going to work.”
She knew very little about the construction business. KLK Construction prospered over the years, and Kevin and Barb had two daughters. The family was involved in the community. A “short time” had become several years.
In February 1995, Barb made a decision to stay in Pella.
“As I sat in front of all of these guys, I had to make a decision. Do I pack everything up? Do I go back home to Grand Rapids, or do I stay here? I knew my learning curve is straight up, but I just felt the Lord said, ‘You need to stay here. All of these families are needing these jobs and enjoy what they are doing,’ ” she said.
She found out that she had the instincts, personality and smarts to be successful in business.
“Some days it was just trying to keep your head above water and sometimes that song came to me, “One day at a time, sweet Jesus, one day at a time,” and there were several days when that song came to me as you had to shuffle the kids here and you’ve got to do this and you had to sign payroll over here,” she said.
She decided that an owner of a growing construction company should have a college degree. With daughters still at home, she obtained a bachelor’s degree from William Penn University in Oskaloosa.
Kniff McCulla - she is now married to financial adviser Greg McCulla - said her greatest strength is that she is “relationship-driven.” Some people might say she is fearless.
She is a committed volunteer, and the desire for her advice has translated to her sitting on the boards of directors of banks. She has held national and local positions with the National Federation of Independent Businesses. She is on the board of Central College in Pella. She is active in church and other community organizations, including the Pella Area Development Corp. And she is active in politics.
Kniff McCulla enjoys mentoring and especially likes to help other people find their way in business.
As for KLK Construction, she never took the title of president.
“I was the owner, so whatever didn’t work came out of my pocket. And I was surrounded by good people. And I think that’s important as a leader. Having those people around you for sound advice or support, whatever that looks like, is key.”
Three areas of influence:
- Owner of KLK Construction Corp.
- Member of National Federation of Independent Businesses board and served as president for more than eight years for the NFIB Iowa chapter
- Marion County Development Board
Words to live by:
“Live your life like someone’s watching, because He is.”