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Alumna finds success in an unplanned path

Knoll, ’82, seizes opportunities, experiences and risks to build successful career

Contact: Ari Harris

​​​​Linda Knoll knows how to pull double duty in the business world.

She's currently working in two diverse industries, but this never was part of a specific plan.

Instead of planning her career, Knoll focused on expanding her broad base of industry knowledge and experiences. She has embraced opportunities presented, cherished teamwork and taken risks throughout her career of more than 30 years.

Today, Knoll is a top executive at CNH Industrial​ NV as well as Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV.

Knoll is concurrently serving as the chief human resource officer and a group executive council member for both international corporations, providing leadership and companywide oversight for the human resources function. This includes organizational development, talent management, compensation and benefits, employee relations, and compliance and staffing.

"When I graduated from CMU in 1982, there was no way I could have predicted what I'm doing right now, let alone what I've done throughout my career," Knoll said. "That's why I encourage people not to overplan their career path because if they do, they might miss a huge opportunity that didn't quite fit into their formal plan."

Knoll earned her degree in business administration with a concentration in public affairs. Seeing every experience as an opportunity to grow, she began her career in a production engineering role at General Dynamics, a global aerospace and defense company.

Bringing business perspectives to a product development team of engineers introduced Knoll to complex program management and helped her develop as a leader. She spent years at General Dynamics honing her leadership skills through various roles within its land systems division

These experiences taught Knoll leadership is transferable. She said this lesson helped prepare her for her biggest professional risk: leaving General Dynamics.

"It was a risk and an opportunity," she said. "General Dynamics is a good company and, in the end, afforded me a great foundation for subsequent roles I've held throughout my career with Fiat Group companies."

Building on a solid foundation

Knoll was 34 years old when she accepted a new role at Case Corp. in 1994. Within five years, Case was acquired by Fiat and merged with New Holland to form what today is capital goods leader CNH Industrial NV. Knoll continued to grow in her career with the group.

Her many leadership appointments included serving as executive vice president of agricultural product development and executive vice president of worldwide agricultural manufacturing, where she was responsible for overseeing 22 factories in 10 countries worldwide.

By the time the industrial businesses demerged from Fiat Group in 2013, Knoll was serving as the top human resources executive for both CNH Industrial and Fiat SpA — now Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV. Managing such a role for these entities taught Knoll the importance of assessing priorities and having a good team of people to rely upon.

"The first thing to accept when serving two companies is that there will be imbalance," she said. "I go where I am needed most on any given day or week. I go where the issues are."

She also realizes she can't do it all herself.

"I manage the two CHRO roles because I have really incredible teams of people that I can rely on," she said. "You have to get to the point where you really rely on others and have good teams of people in place."

To be successful, she said it's important to empower and delegate more. This gives Knoll the opportunity to put her trust in and take a chance on others the way her mentors took a chance on her.

"I learned from Sergio Marchionne — CEO of FCA and Chairman of CNHi — that if you give people the space, they will occupy it," she said. "You have to be the kind of leader who is comfortable giving people that space.  Sergio was a great role model for this."

​Executive insights
When asked about career ​advice for those starting out or midcareer, Linda Knoll has a few words of wisdom.

On succeeding in business
“Stay true to who you really are. Be authentic. People will know if you aren’t.”

On making career moves
“Don’t discount lateral moves, they can make all the difference, offering breadth of experience and a new or different perspective that will help you long term.”

On managing responsibilities
“Ask yourself if you are still making a difference in certain areas. If not, then let it go to your teammates.”

On developing as a leader
“You're going to see people with different leadership styles, and you're going to learn things from all of them. Every approach is something you can emulate, but you have to remember that you are your unique self.”

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