Celebrating the Life of Kayhan

It is with sadness that I share with you all that our dear Kayhan passed away on Monday, January 5, 2015.  She had been battling illness for the past few years but her health took a turn for the worse in the latter part of 2014. 

Kayhan Hellriegel was the Founder of Kayhan International, Limited.   She was a self-made business woman who started Kayhan International in 1982. Through her dynamic leadership and perseverance, the company grew to be a thriving Woman-owned Business enterprise, a Preferred and Best-in-Class Haworth dealership and a leader in the contract furniture industry.  

Kayhan Hellriegel was a native of Iran who immigrated to United States as a young girl. She originally settled in Kansas and, while supporting her family as a single mother, she earned a BS degree in Business from Wichita State University. Later, she moved to Chicago and worked for a transportation company with her last position being Senior Regional Manager. On July 1, 1982, she launched Kayhan International to supply office furnishings and related services to businesses, educational and healthcare institutions. 

Kayhan believed passionately in two things:  1) the power of education to raise people out of poverty and enhance the quality of life for everyone; 2) in generously giving back to the community which enabled her to accomplish so much in her life.  As a result, Kayhan was actively involved in charitable organizations and various educational institutions.  Some of her charity work included the Greater Chicago Food Depository - GCFD (Honorary Chair), Design Industry Foundation Fighting Aids (DIFFA), , UIC and the East West University Student Scholarship Funds (Chair).  Additionally, she supported woman-owned business entrepreneurship through the Woman’s Business Development Council (WBDC) and in partnership with the US State Department, Women Impacting Public Policies (WIPP), US/Afghan Women’s Council and Northwestern University.

Kayhan was a founding member of Workplace Alliance network,  an innovative network of Haworth Preferred Dealers with a common vision: to provide their clients with the most creative, cost-conscious, and flexible workplace solutions wherever they do business. She was also a founding member of CREW (Chicago Real Estate Executive Women), the preeminent organization for senior-level executive women in the Chicago Real Estate Industry.  Kayhan was recognized as an industry leader and, throughout her career, she earned many awards an accreditations such as:

  • Enterprising Woman of the Year, 2010
  • Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from East-West University, 2009
  • Nominated for Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year, 2009
  • WBENC “Women Business Star”, 2009
  • Entrepreneur of the Year, WBDC, 2008
  • Inc. 500 Fastest Growing Companies, 2007
  • Entrepreneur Hall of Fame, UIC, 2007
  • Economic Club Member, 2007
  • ATHENA Leadership Award Recipient, 2007
  • Crain’s Chicago Women-Owned Firms, Rank 28th, 2006 

Kayhan was a friend, mentor and leader as well as a proud wife, mother and grandmother of two.  She built extraordinary personal and industry relationships as well as a sustainable, thriving business.  She was forever grateful to the WBDC for the years of partnership and support.  She will be missed!