FRESNO – One award after another, a local businessman whose accomplishments have not gone unnoticed received an honorary position in the company he helped create over 20 years ago.
On June 12, QK, an engineering and consulting company, announced that longtime chief executive officer Michael D. Knopf is transitioning from chairman of the board, to Chairman Emeritus. This is one of Knopf’s final steps in his retirement process which he began in 2018 after being a central part of the company since 1998. Chairman Emeritus is a sort of honorary position that allows him to still have his hand in the business.
The city of Fresno also honored him by proclaiming May 16 to be “Michael D. Knopf Day.” Knopf said it is a tremendous honor to have the community celebrate him in such a way.
“It was such an honor and such a surprise,” Knopf said. “I mean, I’ve never heard of anything like that, so it was really a special moment for me, for them to present that.”
QK was created in 1998 when Knopf’s firm, Knopf Engineering, merged with Quad Consultants and he served as CEO from 2005-2018. Knopf said he ran his own company for 21 years before the merger as well. He added the recent managerial transition has been easy for QK because they have always made it a top priority to make sure the organization would be sustainable beyond management and retirement of its key leaders. Knopf said he would not have been able to do it without Janel Freeman who was the chief financial officer (CFO) to his CEO.
“We manage our ownership transition, and our leadership transition as kind of an active part of our overall strategy as a company,” Knopf said.
As Chairman Emeritus, Knopf will continue to influence QK’s strategic direction, advising now CEO Ron Wathen, CFO, Amber Aguayo and the QK Board. According to a press release from QK, this honor recognizes Knopf’s unwavering commitment and outstanding contributions to the growth and stability of QK, as well as his impact on the broader community. His guidance will be invaluable in nurturing the next generation of QK leadership and driving the continuity of the firm’s strategic initiatives.
“We are grateful for Mike’s unyielding dedication and exceptional leadership,” Wathen said in a press release. “As Chairman Emeritus, we are thrilled that he will continue to provide his wisdom and mentorship to the QK team.”
Knopf said he has a tremendous amount of confidence in the new leadership of the company he helped build. Knopf said sometimes a product of the present age is a better leader than a product of a former age, in which he is of the ladder. And though is not always the case when there is a changing of the guard, Knopf knows his company is in good hands.
“I truly appreciate, and I have just the most amazing, utmost confidence in the current management team there,” Knopf said. “I’ve often said, when I stepped down and Ron and Amber replaced me, I felt like the company for this day in time, really got an upgrade.”
Knopf first began his transition to retirement in 2018 when he stepped out of his role as CEO and went to a shorter work week. As Wathen took over as CEO, Knopf was still working in the office and he said he was able to focus on more specialized areas to support management and the company. After a year, he retired from the office completely, but continued his role as chairman of the board as an outside member. As he was prepared to take a full step into retirement this year, he discovered the company wanted him to maintain a connection to the firm as Chairman Emeritus.
“They wanted to keep me available and connected with the company as well as to provide kind of a lifetime honor for my career, rather than having me just sort of disappear off the back door,” Knopf said. “So it was quite an honor.”
With over 40 years of experience, as a civil engineer, land surveyor and business owner, as well as 24 years as a “QKer,” his wisdom and leadership have been instrumental in the growth and development of QK. He explained that throughout the several decades he has been working in the industry, he has seen a multitude of changes from things such as computers coming to use, to changes in how public policy is handled.
Knopf said when he started, there was a lot more engagement on the part of engineers, the public and advocacy groups before a project was completed, whereas in today’s day-and-age that is not so much the case. He said he encourages everyone in his company to be involved with their community in more ways than simply through their work.
One of the things Knopf said he is most proud of is when he was able to co-chair a campaign for the Visalia Unified School District and help get a bond measure passed.
He was able to get a group of individuals together who were the “most visible and active proponents and critics” of the bond measure. Once everyone was able to sit in a room and discuss the issues, and discover the facts and truths of what the district needed, Knopf said they were able to get the information out to the public. Eventually the bond measure passed allowing the district to build a $120 million worth of buildings.
“That was a huge effort, it took a long time, but just taking again an analytical kind of an engineering approach and problem solving approach able to get two sides that were very emotionally divided…and get them to center around a common solution that they could all campaign for, I was very proud of that,” Knopf said.
Knopf Engineering began and was once headquartered in Visalia. However, Knopf said since the merger, the company really began to grow. According to the press release from QK, his visionary leadership and trailblazing spirit have steered QK through both high and low points, including the tumultuous period of the Great Recession. Despite the various speed bumps any company can go through, they remained strong and with the times.
They originally had about four locations, and that has now grown to be a regional company with offices up and down the state and many remote workers. This year, QK won the Visalia Chamber of Commerce medium business of the year award, as well as City of Clovis Chamber of Commerce business of the year award.