City Leaders Share How the Vision of Retiring CEO Greg Graves Extended Outside Burns & McDonnell to Impact the City He Loves

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KANSAS CITY, Missouri (Dec. 29, 2016) — In just a matter of days, retiring Burns & McDonnell CEO Greg Graves will walk away from his first and only employer since graduating from college. In 1980, Graves made the life-changing move from the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology to accept a mechanical engineering position with Burns & McDonnell in a city he had never even visited. No one knew that Graves would soon develop a life passion to make both Burns & McDonnell and Kansas City, Missouri, the best they could be.

“I want to congratulate my good friend Greg on his retirement and thank him for his continued service to the city of Kansas City,” says Kansas City Mayor Sly James. “Greg is a true community advocate and philanthropist. I’m grateful for his leadership and vision in not only running a successful firm, but also making our city a better place.”

Since Graves took on his role as CEO in 2004, the number of employees at Burns & McDonnell has nearly quadrupled from 1,500 to more than 5,700, and sales have exploded from $387 million to a projected $2.8 billion in 2016. This year, Graves deepened his commitment to the 119-year-old firm’s birthplace of Kansas City by leading efforts to expand the company’s global campus with a brand new office building.

“Focusing only on my role inside Burns & McDonnell would be like buying a house just for the layout and ignoring the neighborhood. It’s location, location, location,” says Greg Graves, chairman and CEO, Burns & McDonnell. “To attract the best talent, you have to have a world-class city with top-notch amenities where people want to settle down and raise a family. I made a commitment to myself that I would do everything I could to continue to make others love Kansas City the way I do.”

For Graves, that began with making his 100 percent employee-owned company a best place to work. He worked closely with his Human Resources team to deepen the company culture, which is fueled by employee-ownership. Then, they identified key benefits and amenities that would enhance the lives of his employees and their families ranging from on-site child care, a medical center and pharmacy to flexible working hours, matching charitable gift donations and tuition reimbursement.

“Greg brought an entirely different perspective on how to embrace our employee-ownership culture. He makes you feel like you are important — that your voice and opinion matter — which is incredibly empowering and has allowed each of us to succeed,” says Melissa Wood, chief administrative officer, Burns & McDonnell. “What you all see — there’s not a switch he turns on when he’s out in front of others. He’s that good. He’s that generous. He really is that guy, and there’s no one else like him.”

Today, Burns & McDonnell is ranked No. 16 on Fortune’s 2016 list of 100 Best Companies to Work For. The firm is also recognized as one of the Best Places to Work by the Kansas City Business Journal, with similar honors coming from 20 other publications across the country. 

“Greg Graves created a road map to success that we continue to follow today,” says Joe Reardon, president and CEO, Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce.

Graves, who served as the chair of the chamber in 2011 and was named Kansas Citian of the Year in 2015, led the team of business leaders who created the Big 5. The goal of the initiative is to make Kansas City one of America’s best places to work, live, start a business and grow a business.

“Greg embodies leadership,” Reardon says. “He promotes selfless collaboration. He has a way of empowering everyone to be their best self – and that’s when great things happen for this city.”

Graves’ passion for corporate citizenship was a key focus area in his role as CEO. Over the past 13 years, he’s led growth of the Burns & McDonnell Foundation from $4 million to more than $30 million. Graves identified four strategic areas for corporate giving, volunteering and grant programs that he thought would make the biggest impact on the area: education, community development, health, and arts and culture.

“Greg is responsible for raising more than $43 million for The University of Kansas Hospital,” says Bob Page, president and CEO, The University of Kansas Hospital. Page says Graves, who now chairs The University of Kansas Hospital Authority Board, personally donated $1 million dollars toward the new tower that will add more than 100 beds and 11 operating rooms to the hospital’s metro area campus. The Burns & McDonnell Foundation also donated its largest charitable gift of $2.5 million to The University of Kansas Hospital.

“Greg is a relentless change agent,” Page says. “He is doing everything possible to make sure no one ever needs to travel out of town for the best care. He’s focused on not only making our hospital the best healthcare provider in the city – but also the entire country.”

Graves knows a focus on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) is critical to identifying cures for diseases, advancing technology and leading innovation. That’s why he directed half of the foundation money to be invested in STEM education.

“Greg and the Burns & McDonnell team have helped transform Kansas City’s award-winning science center,” says George Guastello, president and CEO, Union Station. To help inspire the next generation of STEM professionals in Kansas City, Graves and the foundation joined forces with Guastello and Union Station associates to create the Burns & McDonnell Battle of the Brains competition, in which area schools compete for grants and a chance to create a million-dollar exhibit for Science City. 

“Our science center has new programming and five new unique interactive exhibit areas thanks to Burns & McDonnell, and we are now working with them on our sixth that will debut outside this spring,” Guastello says. “Thanks to Greg’s vision and Burns & McDonnell's creativity, we’re providing an entirely new and exciting perspective on science that children, families and teachers love. I have no doubt we are inspiring kids to consider a career in STEM thanks to the commitment of Greg and Burns & McDonnell.”

As Graves transitions from his role as CEO at Burns & McDonnell and explores a new journey with retirement, he will continue to follow his heart. He will remain hands-on with many civic and philanthropic organizations such as The University of Kansas Hospital, The Kansas City Repertory Theatre, United Missouri Bank and The Graves Family Foundation.

“I always say, ‘With great success comes even greater duty,’ ” Graves says. “I’ve learned that if you love this town, it will love you back. And I see a long and lasting relationship in my future.” 

About Burns & McDonnell

Burns & McDonnell is a family of companies made up of more than 5,700 engineers, architects, construction professionals, scientists, consultants and entrepreneurs with offices across the country and throughout the world. We strive to create amazing success for our clients and amazing careers for our employee-owners. Burns & McDonnell is 100 percent employee-owned and is proud to be No. 16 on Fortune’s 2016 list of 100 Best Companies to Work For.

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