The CEO role at Burns & McDonnell is transitioning from one determined leader, Greg Graves, to another: Ray Kowalik.
After 13 years as chief executive officer of Burns & McDonnell, Greg Graves is retiring, turning over his seat to longtime friend, Ray Kowalik.
Having worked closely together during Kowalik’s 29 years at Burns & McDonnell, the two have developed a trusting relationship, sharing the same philosophical views as to how the company should be run. But that’s not all they share. They’ll be the first to recognize employee-owners on noteworthy achievements, having dedicated much time to nurturing a strong employee ownership culture, and both are outspoken advocates of community involvement.
With “a little hustle and a ton of good fortune,” as Graves describes his experience, he landed in his current role as the firm’s sixth CEO, second in tenure only to a member of the co-founding McDonnell family. In less than a year, he’ll pass his responsibilities on to his protégé, Kowalik, who will continue to lead with as much tenacity as his predecessor.
Greg Graves: Moving On
Since the early age of 12, Graves knew he wanted to be an engineer. Dreaming big is what got him to where he is today.
Starting fresh out of college, he signed on with Burns & McDonnell as an ambitious mechanical engineer who spent many days climbing smokestacks, a story he tells new employee-owners to this day. His knack for professional achievement led the Energy Group, under his direction, to significant growth. Backed by a dedicated support system at home, which he credits for most of his success, he took that same persistence, dedication and, one of his favorite words — perspective — to lead the entire company to record-breaking heights.
“When I took the job of CEO, I made it my responsibility to use this role to make a real difference for our employee-owners and the city that’s been home to our world headquarters for more than a century,” Graves says.
If you’re curious about what has been accomplished during Graves’ tenure, here are just a few examples of the to-dos that he crossed off his long, ambitious list. The number of employee-owners has tripled to more than 5,300; total revenue has quintupled; and the Burns & McDonnell Foundation has provided charitable organizations with more than $50 million, much of it financing STEM education. His efforts have put Burns & McDonnell on Fortune’s list of 100 Best Companies to Work For, along with top workplace honors in more than 20 other publications across the country.
Though awards and recognitions are appreciated, Graves’ main focus has always been on creating and maintaining long-lasting relationships with clients, charities and, of course, fellow employee-owners during his decade-plus at the helm.
Known for recapping the week on a personal note through his Friday News emails and championing culture-friendly initiatives such as flexible working hours, he’s leaving a lasting legacy. One of his last major accomplishments includes the $139 million expansion of the Burns & McDonnell world headquarters with an iconic four-story structure designed and built by fellow employee-owners. The 310,000-square-foot addition, which opened in March 2016, features materials sourced from local companies, state-of-the-art technology, a juice bar, pharmacy and a STEM-based child care center.
“I have to say, I’m really proud of what we’ve accomplished,” he says.
Ray Kowalik: Stepping Up
Kowalik is no stranger to hard work either. He grew up in Blue Springs, Missouri, and developed an entrepreneurial spirit at a young age.
Even as a kid, he was business-minded. He padded his bank account by raising chickens and selling eggs, mowing lawns, working at a Christmas tree farm, and sacking groceries, among other ventures. “I have an entrepreneurial perspective and spirit,” he says. “As the son of an immigrant family, I had to find a way to get money to have fun.”
That drive, determination and, of course, creativity followed him into his adult career. Young and eager, he began as a structural engineer at Burns & McDonnell. Following in Graves’ footsteps, his journey took him through the Energy Group at a time that was an ideal match for his skills as a project manager. He led the advancement of engineer-procure-construct (EPC) capabilities as the firm was establishing itself as a leader in design-build construction.
His devotion to clients — specifically in the fields of air quality, new generation projects and regulatory compliance — garnered recognition for his group as an industry leader and achiever on projects like Kansas City Power & Light’s (KCP&L) Iatan 2 generation station and Westar’s first-of-a-kind Jeffrey Energy Center’s wastewater treatment facility. Because of the innovative energy plan, Power magazine gave Iatan 2 its highest honor, naming it Plant of the Year. Westar’s unique wastewater treatment facility received The Edison Award in 2014 for innovation in the electric industry.
Humbled and honored to be selected as the next CEO, Kowalik is ready for the future. Armed with a strong family network, his commitment to “Create Amazing” extends beyond the duties of the job. Like Graves, he dedicates his free time to representing the firm on local committees and charitable projects.
“Ray exudes leadership, is a fierce promoter of our employee-owned culture and is a master at embracing complex challenges and developing strategies to create innovative solutions,” Graves says. “I had the opportunity to give Ray his first promotion to project manager not long after he joined the firm. He was immediately the one everyone wanted to lead their team to make a real difference. Now, I know Ray’s leadership and entrepreneurial approach will create new and exciting advancements for our firm, clients and communities.”
Through the company’s storied 118-year history, Burns & McDonnell has only known a handful of CEOs, but each took it upon himself to shatter national statistics and prove that a comfortable stay — and a love for the job — can create a lasting impression.
1980: Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, South Dakota School of Mines
1980: Joined the firm
1993: MBA, Rockhurst University (formerly Rockhurst College)
1993: Became vice president/marketing director of Energy Group
1997: Took over as general manager of Energy
2001: Promoted to president of Energy
2003: Joined Board of Directors
2004: Became CEO
2009: Became chairman
1985: Bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, University of Missouri
1987: Joined the firm
1999: Master’s degree in civil engineering, University of Missouri
2001: Became associate vice president of Energy
2004: Took over as vice president and general manager of Energy
2007: Promoted to president of Energy
2009: Joined Board of Directors
2015: Promoted to executive vice president and president of the firm’s 11 business groups
2017: Becomes CEO