Profiles: Michael Goldsmith

Michael Goldsmith

Michael Goldsmith

BS 65

Founder & CEO, KLS Logistics


As the Nazis rose to power, a simple middle-class German woman signed up for a Kindertransport to England. Kindertransport was the informal name for various rescue efforts operated from 1938 to 1940 that brought thousands of refugee Jewish children and mothers out of Nazi Germany to England. The rescue effort was spurred by the infamous November 1938 Kristallnacht, during which Nazis conducted a violent pogrom against Germany's Jews. Between them, mother and son arrived for their new life with a tiny suitcase and the clothes they were wearing. They knew no one and spoke only German.

Over the next days, the women and children were dispersed into the English countryside, assigned to whichever families would take them in. Since the system was designed to reassign the refugees when such situations arose, Michael and his mother were relocated. It would be a pattern repeated throughout the war. Along the way, Michael began learning the language and ways.

When the war ended, she believed that opportunities for a young German boy would be few. Again, mother and son traveled simply, with just one suitcase between them, this time, to America. They arrived in Oakland on April 8, 1948, met by the California cousin at the offices of the Jewish Welfare Federation. The federation arranged for mother and son to move to a boarding house for refugees.

Taking a mentor's advice, Michael enrolled in the program leading to a BS in Transportation, which propelled his career to even greater heights. Then, in 1957, he was drafted. Gustav (his professor, boss and mentor) offered to prepare weekly lesson plans for Michael to complete, so that he wouldn't lose momentum with his college degree.

Upon completion of his military service, Goldsmith returned to Kaiser and eventually married one of the young women he'd met there in his pre-Army days. Engaged for six years, Dorothy refused to marry Michael unless he finished his degree. Michael had dropped out of college, but agreed to go back. By then, Golden Gate University had relocated from the YMCA to 536 Mission Street. Goldsmith started attending classes in 1955, graduating in 1965.

By then Michael Goldsmith was on Kaiser's executive track. However, after thirty-five years with Kaiser Aluminum, the company was declining. He had seen former colleagues try to start their own businesses as freight forwarders or transportation experts. Then an idea began to germinate. He proposed to take his former staff, saving Kaiser the expense of early-retirement buy-outs, and offer to sell transportation services back to the company. It hadn't been tried before in this country.

So on February 1, 1987, KLS Logistics Services was born. "On a Friday we were Kaiser employees and on Monday we were an independent company, and nobody else at Kaiser knew. They continued to do business with us as if we were one of the departments. So I started with a customer base of one, Kaiser, and an annual payroll of a million dollars." Not long after, they picked up their second account -- Safeway. Today the company has seventy clients.