Making it to 100 is something for any business. Burns & McDonnell blew right through that milestone 16 years ago and then turned on the after-burners.
The Kansas City engineering firm was started in 1898 by two Stanford graduates, Clinton Burns and Robert McDonnell. They chose Kansas City because they thought it and the surrounding region greatly needed water, sewer and power projects and were ready to make that leap.
They were right. Work in Iola, Cherryvale and Osawatomie, Kan., launched their business. Over the decades the firm has kept those practices and expanded its energy work into refining, transmission and nuclear power, and into other fields such as airports, aerospace, government and commercial offices, transportation, and food and beverage.
And Burns & McDonnell continues to grow, moving up to No. 14 in this year’s Engineering News-Record rankings, from No. 18 in 2013 and No. 26 in 2012.
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To accommodate that growth, the firm broke ground last month on a 450,000-square-foot expansion of its headquarters. A $140 million, two-phase expansion is planned at the site of the former Beth Shalom synagogue at 9400 Wornall Road. Burns & McDonnell announced in February that the expansion could house an additional 2,100 employees over the next decade. That would bring the company’s Kansas City workforce to 4,700 people.
“Burns & McDonnell is proud of it entire 116-year heritage,” said Greg Graves, just the firm’s sixth CEO. “However, the last 28 years has seen the firm transform itself because of becoming employee owned in 1986.
“Many companies have some degree of employee ownership but for most of them it is just another benefit, like better dental. At Burns & McDonnell, employee ownership is who we are. Ownership is a critical strand in our DNA, the secret to our continued growth, and the reason for our national workplace rankings.”
The firm has been a regular on Fortune magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” since 2009, which it made its debut at No. 50. It’s No. 14 on the 2014 list, up from No. 18 in 2013 and No. 26 in 2012.
Burns & McDonnell also has been active in philanthropy and education, often through its foundation, which in February pledged $2.5 million for an expansion project at the University of Kansas Hospital. Greg Graves, chairman and CEO of the engineering firm, along with his wife, Deanna, donated an additional $1 million for what the hospital project.
The firm also created the Battle of Brains competition, in which schools research and propose ideas for exhibits at Science City at Union Station. One such exhibit, from the first competition in 2011, has been built, and two winning projects were selected from the second competition last year.
Quite a roster
Eleven area firms made the Engineer News-Record trade publication’s latest list of the largest U.S. engineering concerns, based on annual revenue. All have been in business at least 30 years, but the three largest also are by far the oldest.
Black & Veatch
Burns & McDonnell
Shafer, Kline & Warren