Steve Knopik speaks at Retail Smarter

A path to leadership

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One week after Steve Knopik became an accounting major, he hit a roadblock. Knopik had breezed through every level of schooling to that point, but a surprise quiz in his first accounting class earned him a ‘D’ and the first difficult academic moment of his life.

“I got walloped,” Knopik said. “It taught me that I wasn’t infallible or God’s gift to academia. I had to work hard.”

That wakeup call changed his perspective on the accounting profession. Knopik realized that to earn the ‘B’ he needed in the class, he needed to buckle down and study hard so he could have a successful business career.

And that’s exactly what Knopik (BSBA ’77) has done. Today, he is the Chairman and CEO at Bealls, Inc. Knopik started with the company in 1984 and grew to titles such as Vice President of Finance, Senior Vice President of Finance and Executive Vice President before being elevated to Chairman and CEO.

He was chosen by then-CEO Bob Beall to take over as CEO after Beall retired in August 2006. When Beall became an emeritus member of the board, he gave Knopik the Chairman title, too.

“Growth spawns opportunity, and it certainly did for me,” Knopik said. “My responsibility has expanded quite a bit over my years with the company.”

Knopik was intrigued by Bealls, Inc. when he received the job offer in 1984. He liked the idea of working for a private, family-owned business that was growing. He was also comfortable with the retail portion of the job, and it allowed him to move to Bradenton, which was closer to his hometown of Sarasota. He was hired as the Director of Finance but was the highest-ranking accounting employee and essentially served as the CFO.

Almost seven years at KPMG set him up for the role at Bealls, Inc. At KPMG, Knopik worked in auditing and grew quickly to be a manager with the company.

“It was fast paced and an extremely exciting professional career for me,” Knopik said.

Knopik’s accounting academic tenure at UF played an integral role in his success. Beyond his early lesson about hard work in accounting classes, he also benefited from UF’s Beta Alpha Psi chapter, which remains in existence today. The accounting fraternity provided learning opportunities about industries and jobs for accounting graduates.

It also played a role in an important internship. At the end of his second year at UF, Knopik was one of the final accounting students on campus when Ernst & Young called a UF professor looking for a summer intern. Knopik jumped at the opportunity and was later offered a job with the company after graduation. He later decided to accept a position with KPMG instead, but the internship was a learning experience and also made him a more desirable job candidate to the Big Four accounting firms.

“I firmly believe that my experience at UF, and specifically the school of accounting, paved the way to an amazing and rewarding professional career,” Knopik said.