People-first approach allows Niehoff to thrive


Editor’s Note: This October, we will celebrate our 30th class of 40 Under Forty honorees. Each week in 2022, The Business Journal of Tri-Cities Tennessee/Virginia will highlight one of our 2021 40 Under Forty honorees leading up to the announcement of our milestone class this fall.

Kelsey Niehoff will tell you she’s a chemical engineer by trade, but creating chemistry between herself and those around her is her true passion.

“My motivation is really cultivating relationships,” Niehoff said. “Building relationships, especially relationships rooted in trust, is really important to me. So whether I’m in the workplace trying to solve a difficult problem or I’m in the community trying to give back, I always go right to the people.”

Niehoff has only been at Eastman for three years following her graduation from Virginia Tech. However, she has already made a huge impact on the company as evidenced by the fact that Niehoff is already providing strategic support to Eastman’s chief sustainability officer and executive vice president. She has also been heavily involved in her local American Institute of Chemical Engineers chapter since beginning her professional career.

The drive to build solid relationships has been key to much of Niehoff’s early success. Niehoff said her mentor Jennifer Stewart helped her identify her strengths, which she has used to bring people to the table and create productive conversations.

“One thing she told me recently was authenticity and courage are the greatest tools in my toolbox,” Niehoff recalled. “She told me especially as a young female who has aspirations personally and professionally to always bring my full authentic self to the table, that’s what makes me unique.”

Niehoff stands out for her ability to spark innovation with the goal of sustainability. That focus has helped Niehoff spur growth in Eastman’s textiles business in her role as growth process steward. She is frequently lauded for her versatility, work ethic and ability to build complex systems.

The pandemic has affected everyone differently. For Niehoff, it sharpened her goals and sent her on a path of pursuing more education, which will allow her to transition to a business-facing role at Eastman. She is also committed to diversity and inclusion efforts both at Eastman and in the community she calls home.

“I think less about the tangible impact I’m having and think more about how I make people feel,” Niehoff said. 
“I go into every interaction saying let’s put the people first.”

Next week we will profile Whitney Oliver of ETSU. If you would like to nominate someone for inclusion in the 2022 class of 40 Under Forty, visit and follow the instructions.

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