by Asa Church (WCAS07)
Tim Krauskopf, chief financial officer of Gemini Traffic Sales, has a 55-gallon drum of chicken broth in the back of his office. Or at least he did. “It was damaged while being transported, and we just haven’t gotten around to throwing it out,” says Krauskopf.
A pioneer in the field of Internet technology, Krauskopf (WCAS84, KSM99) never imagined that he’d be 43 years old and running a trucking business, but then again, nothing about his career has been exactly typical.
Working out of an unassuming office in Romeoville, Ill., a southwestern suburb of Chicago, Krauskopf strives to infuse a traditionally technology-resistant industry with innovative but practical ways to improve efficiency, service and reliability. In an industry with a minimal profit margin and intense competition, that’s not easy, he admits. But Krauskopf loves a challenge.
After graduating from Northwestern’s Integrated Science Program, Krauskopf attended the University of Illinois, where he helped create the National Center for Supercomputing Applications’ Telnet, a predecessor to the web. In 1990 Krauskopf co-founded Spyglass Inc., a key player in the early Internet browser wars. Spyglass licensed its flagship web browser, Mosaic, to Microsoft in 1995, giving birth to what became Internet Explorer.
Two years later, Krauskopf enrolled in the Kellogg School of Management and took a job as the information technology director with the Field Museum of Chicago. After graduating from Kellogg, Krauskopf served as a vice president for Motorola, assisting in the integration of the Internet into cell phones.
Then the dot-com bust in 2000 signaled an important turn in the technology industry. Realizing that IT and technology startup companies were in a major slump, Krauskopf left Motorola in 2002 without an obvious next step. Getting a commercial driver’s license and driving semitrailer trucks was not intended as a career path but just a diversion based on a childhood interest.
Delivering air freight around Chicago O’Hare International Airport, Krauskopf realized that technology is as crucial to trucking as it is to technology firms and that trucking was likely to recover as an industry faster than IT. The idea of creating a trucking company started making sense.
What started with “I can always go back” suddenly became a career switch, says Krauskopf, who in 2003 launched Round Lake Freight. “Now I get to drive big trucks whenever I want.”
Krauskopf built good rapport with his drivers by putting himself in their shoes, literally. “If a driver would complain about a certain delivery, I’d say, ‘OK, let me drive that route this time,’” he says.
Krauskopf grew Round Lake Freight from a one-man operation to 15 trucks and 16 full-time employees with revenues approaching $2 million dollars. In July 2005 the company merged with Gemini Traffic Sales, a larger company based in New Jersey. “It was a two-pronged approach,” says Michael Vail, controller for Gemini. “We wanted to bring the company into the Chicago area, and we also wanted to leverage Tim’s IT talent.”
Now the CFO at Gemini, Krauskopf has been equipping trucks with GPS-based systems that allow the office to track them constantly, estimate arrival times and keep the trucks loaded as much as possible. He imagines implementing a fully automated and consumer-oriented system for his trucking business, similar to that of FedEx, where customers can track packages online and are offered a variety of delivery times based on tiered pricing.
At the end of the day, what motivates Krauskopf is “the challenge of trying to make a difference,” whether it’s pushing the trucking industry toward better service or serving on the Board of Trustees at Northwestern and the Aspen Institute, an organization that promotes responsible world leadership through dialogue.
“Steve Jobs called it ‘making a dent in the universe,’” Krauskopf explains. “Making a difference can be helping out one guy who needs a job to feed his family or supporting an Aspen Institute program to bring peace to the Middle East.”
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