Ray Kowalik, Burns & McDonnell’s executive vice president and president of global practices, will succeed Greg Graves in 2017 as chief executive officer, the Kansas City engineering firm said Monday.
Kowalik was one of three finalists, all from inside the firm. Graves’ retirement, effective at the end of this year, was announced a week ago.
“I’m very honored and privileged to have this opportunity to lead our employee-owned company,” Kowalik, 51, said in an interview. “I have a real love and passion for our company and its customers.”
Kowalik joined the firm in 1987 after graduating from the University of Missouri and last year became its first executive vice president, a position created to oversee its 11 business divisions. Burns & McDonnell was ranked the 17th largest U.S. engineering firm last year, growing to 5,300 employees and $2.6 billion in revenue. It also was No. 15 on Fortune’s list of 100 Best Places to Work.
“Imagine being asked to serve as CEO of the same firm that offered you that first dream job right out of college,” said Kowalik, who will be the seventh CEO in the firm’s 118-year history.
Asked what he brings to the job, Kowalik said he knew the inner workings of the company, having worked his way up over the years, and felt he well understood its can-do culture.
“I have an entrepreneurial perspective and spirit,” said Kowalik, who grew up in Blue Springs on land that became part of Blue Springs Lake. “As a kid I started my own egg business. I raised chickens and had to find customers and sell them eggs. As the son of an immigrant family (from Poland) I had to find a way to get money to have fun. …
“I also was a sacker at A&P. Worked at Christmas tree lots, mowed lawns. We did whatever we could to make a buck.”
Kowalik, whose bachelor’s and master’s degrees are in civil engineering, led the firm’s energy group from 2004 till last year. He said he hoped to keep the firm growing both by taking more share in its current business lines and by expanding into some new lines through small acquisitions that are in the works.
“We’ve had great success incubating new offerings within our current divisions,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of stringent requirements” that can hold back innovation.
The firm’s civic involvement, which increased greatly under Graves, also is expected to continue to grow under Kowalik, who lives in Lee’s Summit with his wife, Jill.
Kowalik has been chairman of Burns & McDonnell’s Corporate Citizenship Committee; active on the board of the United Way of Greater Kansas City; and also on the board of Outpacing Melanoma, the Missouri 100 and the University of Missouri College of Engineering Dean’s Advisory Council.
Graves, who came to the firm in 1980 fresh out of the South Dakota School of Mines, became CEO in 2004 and led the firm during a period of robust growth. It grew from 1,492 employees to 5,300 in his tenure. He also saw the firm’s foundation grow substantially and make major contributions to the University of Kansas Hospital and Science City. The firm’s Battle of the Brains competition, in which area schools submit proposals for exhibits at Science City, has been held three times.