Piper Titus Kline ’03 credits Cornell for her philosophy as a business owner, operator
“Imagine the most amazing gift that is simultaneously the largest burden you’ve ever carried,” Piper Titus Kline HD ’03 said, describing her role as Chief Financial Officer of Page Trucking Company. based in Weedsport, NY.
Kline’s father founded the company in the 70s and her mother resurrected it from the brink of closure in the early aughts after Kline’s father passed away in 1999, the night Kline graduated from high school.
“It’s a gift to have a business that has infrastructure, processes, and talented people in place, but it’s a ‘more-machine,’” she said. “As it continues to grow it needs more and more. As a leader, it’s challenging to know what that means and how best to respond.”
One conversation is all it takes to know that Kline appreciates a challenge. She arrived at Cornell after a freshman year at another institution, where she left with a 4.3 GPA that felt too easy to achieve.
“I came to Cornell and it was a whole new level of brilliant minds, both on the peer level and the professor level, and I had to focus on catching up with everyone else,” she said. “What I was learning was rocking my world.”
Kline said her time at Cornell gave her a love of life-long learning and evoking change in people and systems that is fundamental to how she operates as a business owner.
“The day I think I know more than the people around me is the day I need to have a serious reality check, because that’s not what I want for myself,” she said. “I want to surround myself with brilliant people. Being at Cornell showed me the value of that.”
Since taking over as CFO in 2012, the family business that began as a transporter of bulk industrial products has expanded to $100 million in revenue last year, with seven new related businesses, 220 employees, and around 400 independent contractors.
In addition to supporting Cornell philanthropically, Kline has volunteered her time through the Just Juniors Event and Professor Robert Sternberg’s leadership course, sharing her experience as a business owner and her thoughts on the importance of authenticity, compassion, and an intense work ethic to undergraduates.
Last year Page Trucking underwent what Kline calls a hard reset, responding to the dramatic changes ten years of growth had created. She encouraged employees at all levels to rethink what work-life balance means, emphasizing that giving one hundred percent to the company is not sustainable, both for their personal lives and for the well-being of the company.
“Think of yourself as a glass of water,” she said. “If you’re always operating at 100% you’re never pouring water out of your glass, teaching anyone else or involving them in your processes. You’re also never creating space and room to grow, to add water to your proverbial glass.”
Kline and her husband Brian have two daughters, 18-month-old Eleanor and three-year-old Olive. When she is home with them she focuses on being present, whether preparing dinner, playing mermaid, or making up stories at bedtime.
Laughing, Kline said she was surprised to find that her skills as a successful business owner who works with people all day long (the line outside of her office is a near-constant three or four deep) did not necessarily translate to parenting, but she’s finding her rhythm.
“You’re trying to balance work demands with a new dimension to your life, which is insanely more important, while simultaneously not more important than making payroll and all of the metrics you run through as a business owner, ” she said.
“My mother taught me that as a leader, you need to practice grace and compassion – without letting people take advantage of you – so that you can earn people’s trust through respect and consistency. I think it’s the same thing with parenting – you earn their trust and respect through consistency.”