Only 15% of CEOs at Fortune 500 companies are women. Bianca Rhodes is not only a female CEO but the chief executive officer in the male-dominated aerospace industry. Her start in commercial lending would eventually draw her into the field of aerospace medical manufacturing. Today, she proudly leads as the CEO and president of San Antonio-based Knight Aerospace – a designer and manufacturer of aeromedical module and pallet solutions for use in military cargo aircraft. Today, Knight sets the industry standard for specialty air transportation products, serving customers around the world.
Bianca Rhodes’ Early Start as a Business Leader
It’s practically unheard of for an individual to become the chief financial officer of two companies before 35, but that’s precisely what Rhodes achieved. Starting in commercial lending, she positioned Intelogic Trace and Kinetic Concepts Inc. to increase their values and held the position of CFO for both publicly traded companies. Within three years as CFO for Kinetic Concepts, the company’s value quadrupled alongside a private value approximation of $1 billion. Rhodes credits her hard work and the assistance of mentors for her countless achievements at such a young age.
Her success has led to a desire to give back to her community. Rhodes was instrumental in creating Any Woman Can, a ministry dedicated to helping women make choices about their physical and mental health. As a mother of three children, Rhodes is also a steadfast advocate for STEM education. Like many caring mothers, Rhodes aimed to provide her children with better opportunities than she had as a child. Growing up, Rhodes’ family lived at the poverty level and her parents didn’t receive higher education. She believes that kids benefit from exposure to science, technology, engineering, and math education as early as possible and strives to inspire them to enter the fields. She may not have had the same opportunities due to her family’s financial situation, but Rhodes views her background as an asset. She learned how to make her way and become goal-oriented. After leaving the commercial lending industry to raise her children, Rhodes realized that she missed working, so she founded CrossRhodes Consulting, a consulting firm specializing in financial and operating issues. She achieved an excellent work-life balance and scheduled clients around her children’s activities. In 2014, she began serving as president of Knight Aerospace, a position she holds to this day.
Embracing Aerospace Industry Changes
Knight Aerospace wasn’t always the company it is today. Bianca Rhodes’ expertise helped the 30-year-old business enter new and diversified markets. According to Michael Knight, the senior vice president of international sales for Knight Aerospace: “Once Bianca joined the team, she identified a major opportunity to pivot from ground support equipment to aeromedical modules.” In addition, Rhodes tapped into her extensive network and introduced Knight Aerospace to highly skilled, long-tenured military personnel. Today, Knight’s executive and advisory teams include aerospace engineers, military officers, and medical experts.
Ground support has become a legacy product for Knight, with the business now focusing on aeromedical modules. Equipment developed by Knight includes the Aeromedical Bio-Containment Module (ABCM) and the Aeromedical Bio-Containment Evacuation System (ABES). Rhodes has said, “We’re trying to move the focus away from brawn and more toward the brain.” The Knight team considers the aeromedical modules the most strategic products they’ve brought to the market. Knight designed the equipment for the safety of countless military personnel, private individuals, and humanitarian organizations. The aeromedical modules have a roll-on/roll-off design for the safe evacuation of patients in emergencies. According to Rhodes, “The medical module is really a flying hospital room.”
The Future of Knight Aerospace
Bianca Rhodes and Knight have spent countless resources to continue providing a necessity in the aerospace field. With the aeromedical modules, patients can receive the treatment they need without potentially life-threatening delays. Rhodes explains the importance of Knight’s products: “With our medical modules, you’re able to do everything you would do in a hospital but in the air. So, we can improve medical outcomes because medical professionals are able to treat patients so much faster than waiting until landing. Plus, when you take the module off the aircraft, it operates just like an ICU or remote clinic, which provides flexibility. It’s an instant hospital you could have in a very remote area to treat critical patients, fast.”
The current models of the aeromedical modules are just the beginning for the company. Knight anticipates further advancements in the products, including permanent aeromedical modules. The modules would have even further uses, including the potential to perform surgery in the air. Rhodes adds, “The future’s uncertain and our expertise paired with our tech-enabled medical modules can confidently prepare governments for high-risk missions in extreme environments.”
Indeed, the industry can expect more great things from Bianca Rhodes and Knight Aerospace in the foreseeable future.