Reflecting on retiring Burns & McDonnell CEO Greg Graves

Greg Graves is retiring as CEO of Burns & McDonnell.

Since graduating from college, Greg Graves only had one employer.

Today, Graves is heading into retirement, relinquishing his duties as CEO of Burns & McDonnell, a title he's held at the engineering company since 2004.

During his tenure, the 119-year-old firm nearly quadrupled its employee count from 1,500 to more than 5,700. Sales have exploded from $387 million to a projected $2.8 billion in 2016. Graves also led the company's headquarters expansion efforts with the addition of a newly constructed 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,” Graves said. “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.”

Graves aimed to deepen company culture at the employee-owned firm by bringing key benefits and amenities to his employees and their families, from on-site child care, a medical center and pharmacy to flexible working hours, matching charitable donations, and tuition reimbursement.

During Graves' time as CEO, the company's employee count grew to more than 5,700.

“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 matters — which is incredibly empowering and has allowed each of us to succeed,” said Melissa Wood, chief administrative officer at 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.”

He also served as the chair of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce in 2011 where he led the team of business leaders who created a set of priorities dubbed the "Big 5," an initiative to make Kansas City one of the best places to work, live, and do business.

“Greg Graves created a road map to success that we continue to follow today,” said Joe Reardon, current chamber president and CEO. "Greg embodies leadership. 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.”

Other local business leaders praised Graves' focus on corporate citizenship in his role as CEO. Over the last 13 years, he's led growth of the Burns & McDonnell foundation from $4 million to more than $30 million, and identified four strategic areas for corporate giving, volunteering and grant programs: education, community development, health, and arts and culture.

“Greg is responsible for raising more than $43 million for The University of Kansas Hospital,” said University of Kansas Hospital President and CEO Bob Page. Page says Graves, who now chairs The University of Kansas Hospital Authority Board, personally donated $1 million 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.

Graves also had a passion for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), and 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,” said Union Station President and CEO George Guastello. 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.

As Graves transitions out of his role as CEO, he plans to remain hands-on with civic and philanthropic organizations including the University of Kansas Hospital, The Kansas City Repertory Theatre, United Missouri Bank and The Graves Family Foundation.