This month, we’re spotlighting Melissa Kehl, President of Rieke Office Interiors and a member of EO Chicago. Rieke Office Interiors designs and builds innovative workspaces to cultivate inspiring company culture. They’ve also recently started doing interior design for homes. The business has been around for 27 years, but Melissa wasn’t always its president. Learn how she grew as an entrepreneur, from paying her way through college by cleaning buildings to being a CPA to taking over Rieke. Plus, how many outdoor activities can she fit into her schedule? Read on to find out more!
EO Member: Melissa Kehl
Company: Rieke Office Interiors
Years in Business: 27 years
How long have you been a member of EO Chicago and why did you join the organization?
I’ve been a member for 12 months. I joined because the person who told me about EO said, “Oh my gosh, it’s so amazing. You get to meet all these amazing people and learn so many things.” As someone who loves to learn new things all the time, I had to try it out.
Since joining EO, what is the best thing you’ve learned?
A lot of things! I recently started the mentoring program with YPO and have been attending a lot of events. It’s been amazing to connect with so many new and inspiring people.
What was your first job?
My first job was working as a bookkeeper for my uncle when I was 15. It was a very cool experience!
Can you describe your entrepreneurial journey? Where did you start and where do you hope to go in the future?
I feel like I’ve always been an entrepreneur in some ways. I put myself through college with a janitorial business. When I was 19, I made up my own flyers, went to a bunch of business parks, and handed them out. That’s how I got a few accounts and started cleaning buildings at night. Then, when I graduated from college, I sold my accounts to a bigger cleaning company.
Following college, I started working for an accounting firm. I was going to become a partner there, but then I started working for Rieke. I learned more about business and began taking ownership of it. So when my partner at Rieke was ready to retire, I was able to buy him out. I had that spirit from the get-go and really treated the company like it was my own.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
My team is really amazing. Before COVID, we had monthly team-building sessions such as game nights. For our first get-together post-COVID, we got a taco truck and played some games. It was a blast. My team is super creative and all about helping each other. And they are so devoted to the company! I can’t tell you how grateful I am to them.
What daily challenges do you face at work?
I feel like the challenges I face at work change daily. One day, it may be that sales are low, so you try to address that. Then, you get sales up but manufacturing is bogged down. So there’s always a bottleneck that I have to address!
What is the best career advice you ever received?
“Slow down to go faster.” I feel like I’ve always been prone to sort of running on the hamster wheel. And sometimes, because of that, you get so busy making decisions that you realize you don’t even know what you did this week. So being able to slow down and concentrate on what matters. Delegation is important as well!
What are your goals for the future of your business?
We have some really big ones! Not only do we have both the interior design firm and a manufacturing branch but we’re also trying to rebrand our company. In the long term, what we would love to do is help people elevate their lives, starting with the places they live and work. We want to build spaces that will inspire people, whether it’s at home or at the office. Whenever you are in your space, we want to help make it an amazing foundation where you can make all your dreams, personal or professional, come true. So our next big thing is to help as many people as possible elevate their lives.
What’s the coolest thing you’re working on right now?
So many! New for us right now is the interior design of homes. I’m also starting a podcast, so I’m excited about that. We’re also starting a new line of residential furniture.
Who or what inspires you?
Passionate people. Anybody who’s passionate and willing to continually improve themselves and push the envelope inspires me. I’m not into keeping the status quo and want to be surrounded by people who help me grow.
If you could go back in time five to ten (or more) years and share advice with your past self, what advice would you share?
“Take a chill pill. It all works out!” I think I needed a reminder, back then, to just relax and breathe sometimes.
What is the greatest challenge you have overcome?
Personally, it’s cancer. I was diagnosed six years ago and am in full remission now. But it was two and a half years of tough, tough situations. Business-wise, we’ve been in business for so long that I’ve experienced multiple hits to it—the crash of 2008 and COVID, to name a couple. The challenge is rebuilding after that.
How do you find work-life balance?
These days, I try to do small things, like have a cup of coffee in the morning with my husband or do something with my son. I used to be more about the big things, like planning a long vacation. I still love doing that, but those moments come and go. And when they’re gone, you look back and realize you’ve missed out on the little moments each day.
I’m also into breathing techniques and meditation, even if it’s just for five minutes. I try to break my work-life balance into these smaller chunks because it’s more manageable that way. I also do a lot of driving, so while I’m in the car, I’ll call family or friends just to chat.
What brought you to Chicago?
I was born and raised here, though at one point in my childhood I lived in Colorado for about five years. Plus, all my family is here—aunts, uncles, cousins, and even my grandmother. They’ve kept me here, but I would love to be somewhere warmer in the winter.
Where would you most like to escape to during the cold Chicago winters?
Maybe the Atlantic side of Florida! I’d want to be further north of Fort Lauderdale or Miami—they have some really beautiful beaches there.
When you were a kid, what did you say you wanted to be when you grew up?
There were two things I wanted to be growing up: a performer and the owner of a monkey. I really wanted to have a monkey as a pet! At the time, I thought the only way to get one would be by moving to somewhere in Africa. So my dream was to become a teacher in Africa in order to have a monkey.
What are your favorite things to do outside of work?
Anything outside. That’s why I love warm weather. Boating, volleyball, and watching sunsets are some of my favorite activities. And just spending time with family. Also, because my son plays baseball, I watch a lot of it and travel to the games.
What’s one thing still left on your bucket list?
I want to go on a private jet on vacation. Just pull up, get on the jet, and go. I think it would be awesome.
What are you currently reading?
I’m reading two books right now. One is Be by Jessica Zweig, which is about who you want to be and how your online presence reflects that. The other is The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership by Jim Dethmer, Diana Chapman, and Kaley Klemp. I’m actually going to implement what I’ve learned from it at my whole company. It’s about being conscious and ensuring your team has better communication and also about getting the things you want out of life and business.
If you could recommend one podcast, what would it be?
I’d say Ditch Digger CEO. The guy who does it, Gary Rabine, is a business owner and one of our customers. I like his approach to the podcast because he talks about business from a different angle than you might expect.
What’s your favorite restaurant in Chicago?
Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Co. It’s right by the Lincoln Park Zoo. They make an amazing Mediterranean flatbread. Be warned, though—they’re cash only! And make a reservation ahead of time if you can, since there’s always a long wait.
What is your favorite part about working in the Chicagoland area?
There’s so much to do. From the city to the parks to the river, you can pretty much do anything you want. We also have every industry you can think of here in Chicago, and I love the diversity.
What is your top Chicago activity?
Anything by Lake Michigan. Whether it’s boating or going to a concert or playing volleyball, there are just so many great activities on the lakefront.
Where’s your favorite place in the world to visit?
Any beach! My favorite is Fort Myers in Florida, though. It has the softest, whitest sand out of all the beaches I’ve been to.
Thank you to Melissa Kehl for sharing her story for our September member spotlight. The Entrepreneurs’ Organization is a global business network of more than 14,000 entrepreneurs in 198 chapters and 61 countries. EO is the catalyst that enables entrepreneurs to learn and grow from each other, leading to greater business success and an enriched personal life.
If you’re interested in becoming an EO Chicago member, check our membership requirements and submit an application to join today.