Greg Graves didn’t stick around Burns & McDonnell as his successor as chief executive, Ray Kowalik, took the helm of the engineering and construction firm.
Instead, Graves hopped on a plane headed for Hawaii to celebrate his retirement from the engineering giant he had led since 2004 and had worked at since moving to Kansas City from South Dakota in 1980.
As part of his tenure, Burns & McDonnell grew from 1,500 employees to 5,700, $387 million in sales to $2.8 billion. The firm continued its evolution from mostly an engineering company to one that incorporated elements of construction and architecture.
Island beaches, however, aren’t in Graves’ long-term forecast.
“Kansas City is our home and our future,” Graves said in late December as he wound down his tenure. “I don’t look at community service as a choice. It’s an obligation.”
The longer Graves served as the leader of Burns & McDonnell, the more his name became synonymous with civic involvement in tandem with his professional work.
It was Graves, while chairman of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce in 2011, who played a key role in developing the organization’s “Big 5” ideas. Those ideas ranged from revitalizing destitute neighborhoods on Kansas City’s East Side to establishing a leading entrepreneurial community in the region.
Graves suggested that the Big 5 initiative may evolve over time. He is bullish on the idea that Kansas City International Airport needs a new terminal to replace its current three-terminal design. The issue has been a bone of contention in Kansas City; last year Kansas City Mayor Sly James said the city would pause on the initiative in light of polling numbers that revealed Kansas Citians were not keen on revamping KCI.
James later suggested that the business community may need to take the lead on KCI.
“A business-proposed transportation plan would be a great future Big 5 idea,” Graves said, “including a plan for KCI.”
Graves also donated $1 million to the University of Kansas Hospital to help build a new 100-bed wing as part of a larger fundraising effort for the institution he now chairs.
“Greg is responsible for raising more than $43 million for the University of Kansas Hospital,” said hospital CEO Bob Page in a statement. “… He’s doing everything possible to make sure no one ever needs to travel out of town for the best care.”
Graves also has personal endeavors he plans to pursue in retirement.
Graves and his wife bought 600 acres of ranch property near Drexel, Mo. His designs for the property include turning some of it into a wildlife management plan.
“I may be the first man in Kansas City to buy his wife a tractor for their anniversary,” he said.