PART 1: KaTom’s Patricia Bible says, “You don’t know what you don’t know until you face it”
(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a series of articles spotlighting companies in the Knoxville region that made the latest Inc. Magazine list of the 5,000 fastest growing companies in America. Today begins a series featuring Patricia Bible, President and Chief Executive Officer of KaTom Restaurant Supply Inc. The accomplishment by the 11 was the point of a celebration earlier this year that was organized by the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center and sponsored by PYA, the power behind teknovation.biz.)
Patricia Bible has an infectious optimism, engaging personality and a commanding presence, whether it is sitting for an interview in a conference room at the headquarters of KaTom Restaurant Supply Inc. or sharing her professional journey during the recent celebration of the 11 Knoxville area companies on Inc. Magazine’s list of the 5,000 fastest growing companies in America.
Today, the Kodak-headquartered company – that’s Exit 407 on Interstate 40 – has made the prestigious Inc. list 11 consecutive times. The recognition is true validation of the motivation, persistence, faith and hard work that its President and Chief Executive Officer models for her family and her team.
“You don’t know what you don’t know until you face it,” Bible says, a clear reference to a life-changing event for her and her family that occurred November 1, 2001. It was less than two months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the U.S., but that was not the event that so drastically impacted the lives of Bible and her two children. Rather, it was the unexpected death of Tim Bible, her husband, just a month before the then Morristown-based restaurant supply company was set to launch its eCommerce site.
“I did not have a clue what I was doing, but I knew I had to finish-up what he was doing,” Bible explained, noting that she had assumed the leadership role a decade earlier when her husband underwent six bypasses at the same time.
“By damn, you did it,” she recalls him saying of the six-week period while he recovered. “If she can do this, there is no limit. He saw something in me that I did not see. He had his hand in my back pushing me through while he was still alive.”
While her husband lived another 10 years, Bible believes he knew he would not live to old age. That feeling led Tim to take extended periods of time away from the business. For example, he would spend the summers in Hilton Head Island, SC with their two children.
“I travelled down there on Friday mornings and returned Sunday afternoons” to oversee the growing business supplying restaurants, she says.
When he unexpectedly died, Bible had little time to make a decision on the pending launch of the eCommerce site. She says she consulted with her two children – then teenagers – and all agreed to proceed with the plan.
“You don’t know what the positive can be, but you do know what the negative will be,” Bible says as she reflects on that decision.
Today, having executed on her late husband’s vision for more than 18 years, she describes KaTom.com as “Tim’s proverbial gift to our family.” The family includes daughter Paula Bible Chesworth, Vice President of eCommerce, and son Charley, Vice President of Operations.
In 2001, the company logged $4.5 million in revenue. Last year, the number was $200 million. In the process of that extraordinary growth, KaTom has become a national leader in the commercial restaurant equipment industry, offering thousands of quality restaurant, bar, and kitchen supplies online at wholesale prices, many available for next-day delivery.
NEXT: Patricia Bible’s strategy for growing KaTom.