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Ep. 401 Ray Kowalik | Burns and McDonnelll CEO

Burns and McDonnell CEO Ray Kowalik began working for Burns and McDonnell in 1987 and became the company’s third CEO in 2017. Joel sat down with Ray to talk about the culture of an organization that was founded in 1898


Joel Goldberg:
Welcome into Rounding the Bases with Joel Goldberg, the beginning of season four. I had to start it out with a bang.

Joel Goldberg:
A big guest coming up in just a moment, but first off, I want to thank, as always, AY Young, who provides… the very catchy intro to this podcast. And you can check him out, he’s got new music out too, at AY-MusiK, and MusiK with a K, M-U-S-I-K, so AY-MusiK. You can find him on all the social media platforms.

Joel Goldberg:
I want to thank my marketing manager. Anything that I’ve got going on on social media comes from Danielle Welch with Bridge Consulting, and she’s the one that designs everything that you’re seeing from me.

Joel Goldberg:
And then, I’m adding to the teammate, longtime colleague and friend, Colleen [Loates 00:00:44], who I’ve worked with in the television world for years. She’s taking over the production and editing of this podcast, so right from the get-go, I have to give her a shout-out.

Joel Goldberg:
This podcast was sent in for edit to Colleen, finished, ready to go for promotion from Danielle, that’s my team. And of course, so much has changed, since this was all done a couple weeks in advance, and I fear, even as I’m recording this add-on about a week before this episode is released, that a lot more can change.

Joel Goldberg:
But this much we know, and I won’t get a whole lot into it, but obviously, the coronavirus has rocked everyone’s world, and I know people have different opinions about it. I won’t get on my soapbox right now and talk about the importance of social distancing because again, I don’t even know where everything will be the day this is released. It keeps changing so quickly.

Joel Goldberg:
Here’s what I do know, and I think my story is probably similar to many others out there. My life, my family’s life, everyone around us, will be affected by this. I think that’s true for most people, in some form or another.

Joel Goldberg:
I’m thinking right now about the restaurant owners, the small business owners. I’m thinking about the vendors and the people that work at the stadiums all around the country and the world, for that matter, and not just Major League Baseball, because I had this podcast set to release the week of opening day of baseball, thinking it’d be a great way to kick off season four. There’s obviously no baseball season right now and I think it’s going to be quite some time.

Joel Goldberg:
And so I’m thinking about all those that are losing money, and people may not realize it, but a lot of us broadcasters are freelance workers that get paid by the game. And so I’m in the same boat as a lot of other people and I think that we all have different ways to get through this, whether it’s faith, or family, or all of the above.

Joel Goldberg:
And I talk so much to groups about trusting the process, and I think process maybe does have to change in some ways here when you get into survival mode a little bit. At the same time, I think, at least for me, I’m going to stay true to who I am, stay authentic and humble, keep working hard, keep making connections and keep trying to make a difference out there.

Joel Goldberg:
I’ve certainly recognized that, right now, without baseball for a couple of months, that opens up the door for me to do more speaking, which I do in the off season at a higher level. But then again, how many companies are hiring speakers right now if you’re asking people to have that social distancing and not have crowds over 50 and all that type of stuff?

Joel Goldberg:
Maybe there’s a way for me to do some speaking virtually, online, and that’s certainly an avenue of the business that I’m going to pursue short-term and long-term, one way or another.

Joel Goldberg:
And by all means, if you have suggestions, reach out to me, but that’s not what this is for. I just want to say that the podcast will keep on going. I have enough podcasts already done to get through the next two and a half months, and I’ll continue to interview people, whether it be in person or online.

Joel Goldberg:
But I just wanted to say that I’m thinking about everyone out there. I hope we can all hang together in this one. Rally through, we will. We’re resilient as people, that’s human nature. But certainly, I want to recognize that… in different ways, everyone is battling through something right now.

Joel Goldberg:
You can reach me all over social media, and then, my website is joelgoldbergmedia.com, so you can find me. If you have any guest suggestions or feedback on the podcast, please reach out.

Joel Goldberg:
And that leads us to episode 401, beginning season four. It is the CEO of Burns & McDonnell, a company that’s been around since 1890. A hundred percent employee-owned, their full-service engineering, architecture, construction, environmental and consulting solutions, and so much more. A company of thousands, Fortune 100, best company to work for in 2019.

Joel Goldberg:
A big shout-out to Chris Underwood at Burns & Mc., who connected me with the CEO of Burns and McDonnell, Ray Kowalik. Here is my interview with Ray.

Joel Goldberg:
Ray, thanks for coming on the podcast. I want to talk to you, certainly about this amazing company, which has been around for over a hundred years. And you walk in and you see the signs about it being one of the great places to work. People obviously love being here. What goes into the pride of, certainly leading, but having people work here at Burns & McDonnell?

Ray Kowalik:
It starts with hiring great people. We look for those kind of people that are people that want to make a difference in life, help others, help our customers, help our communities. So you start by hiring great people, and then you just build a culture.

Ray Kowalik:
And it’s a little easier when you’re an employee-owned firm because you share in everything. We share all our profits to all our employees. We get those kind of people and then we got a business model that rewards those kind of people, and it just builds on itself and it becomes very self-sustaining, once you kind of get the ball rolling.

Joel Goldberg:
Which is, in theory, easy to do with all the right people. But we’re not talking about a small company here either, and we’re not talking about just one location. So what are the keys to having that culture at such a large level?

Ray Kowalik:
Yeah, we worry about that a lot, right? You bring people in from the outside. Do they understand what it means to be an employee here and an owner, right? Everybody’s an owner here also.

Ray Kowalik:
Last year, we hired 1300 people, plus 400 interns. We had 1700 new people walk through the doors, really work with our leadership at all levels in our organization about what that means, what your responsibilities are here as an employee.

Ray Kowalik:
Here in Kansas City, we have a new employee luncheon, and our board comes and we talk to every new employee about what it means to be an employee here and your responsibilities. And it just becomes the norm, and so after a while, when you have 7,000 people living it and exuding that same type of way of life, it just happens naturally.

Joel Goldberg:
When you started here back in the ’80s, right, I think I’d read there were maybe 600 people at that point, and so now, you’re talking about over 7,000.

Joel Goldberg:
Having been around, in recent years, as the CEO, but having been here for as long as you have, what’s it been like, just to watch that growth over the years and where the company was, where it is now?

Ray Kowalik:
It’s incredible to think about, not just the growth of the company, but technology and how much we’ve just changed as an industry and as a company.

Ray Kowalik:
When I started in the company in 1987, our department had one computer that was on a cart, and we rolled it around to do our analysis. And now, all our designs are done on a computer and we actually don’t draw drawings anymore, they’re all generated from models, and it’s just an incredible, incredible journey.

Ray Kowalik:
I was shocked at how well the business model has grown from 600 to over 7,500. I think when I started, it was 43 million in revenue, and we’re going to be about 4.5 billion in 2019, and 2020 looks even bigger. And we continue to grow and grow and grow.

Ray Kowalik:
Employees ask me all the time as well, “Are we getting too big? When’s the end?” I go, “We got a long ways to go. There’s things we don’t even do in the industry and periphery industries that we can be in.” So there’s going to be a lot more opportunities, and hopefully, as I tell them, “It’s going to be you to decide, not me. I’m not going to be around in 20 years, you are, so you’re going to decide the future of your company.”

Joel Goldberg:
Well, you’re in a profession, in an industry, that will always involve change, and I guess, to some extent, every profession will, right? I mean, look at television. Doesn’t look the same with all the streaming. Look at baseball and the way technology… minus the Astros and the [inaudible 00:08:52].

Joel Goldberg:
But life changes. That’s certainly the case in your world and always has been, right? As long as Burns & McDonnell has been around. So how do you keep up with that change, while still maintaining that Burns & Mc. history?

Ray Kowalik:
It’s difficult, right? You don’t know where the future’s going. Now, what you do know is you got to be constantly open to change, and looking at what’s next, and what new technologies are and how you can make your work product better.

Ray Kowalik:
But you have to do that in a smart and conscious way because, at the end of the day, we’re building stuff that better work, right? It better stand up, it better not fall down, the product needs to work. So you got to take kind of this, in the past, things that have always worked well and apply it to today with the future and technology, how you can make it better.

Ray Kowalik:
So our designs now are much smarter, they’re three-dimensional. The field. We have three-dimensional computers out there, so we don’t have interferences. We do more modular construction so that we can build things in the shop instead of out in the field.

Ray Kowalik:
And all this technology helps you get more and more and more efficient at doing this, and it doesn’t change the responsibilities of our employees because they still got to make sure it’s done right. They just have to bring the technology into it, so we do it just way, way, way, way faster.

Ray Kowalik:
Our designs for data centers, we usually turn around a new data center in two months. Our team’s gotten so efficient at designing data centers that they can just build it so quickly, the design, that we can get a new one pumped out that quickly.

Joel Goldberg:
Are there moments, maybe there are a lot, where you look back, amazed, at just the development and the young kids and what they know? And I’m sure you’re trying to keep up with all of it too, but we, at our age, are not the 22, the 25 year olds. I mean, a lot of these kids that are working here now are the age of your daughter, right?

Ray Kowalik:
Right.

Joel Goldberg:
So what is it like for you to watch that and just see the evolution? And I think that as we get older, we probably come to appreciate that stuff too.

Ray Kowalik:
Yeah. I always challenge our guys. They’ve done studies, actually. What makes you successful in life, first and foremost, is just what you’re born into, right? Your community, your social network.

Ray Kowalik:
The second one is how well you communicate, so I really stress to our employees, “Technology’s great, but if it doesn’t allow you to do connections with your fellow employees and with your customer, your end customer, your end users, it’s not going to really create any kind of success for you or the company if you’re not connecting with your end user.”

Ray Kowalik:
So technology’s great, but it’s really about connections, communications and making an experience. We’re still all in the customer service industry and we got to make that experience great for our customers.

Joel Goldberg:
So what are the keys to effectively communicating?

Ray Kowalik:
You got to be face-to-face. It doesn’t work well any other media, as you’ve got to get on a plane, go to your customer, get in the car and talk to them. Walk through the process of what you’re trying to help them through their problem.

Ray Kowalik:
Many times, our customers can identify what they need or want, but they don’t know there’s maybe another way of getting there, or another solution to their problem. We’re really in the problem-solving industry, right? It needs to change constantly.

Ray Kowalik:
Our customers have environmental regulations or they got a new product they want to put out. They need the most efficient way to get that done, and that’s solving their problems, not just answering the phone or designing something.

Joel Goldberg:
So let’s talk a little bit more about communication in that first day that you were CEO. Now, this isn’t some new guy coming in and… Who is this Ray guy anyway? Obviously, you had been here for many, many years, so I would imagine that everybody knew you, or knew of you, at least.

Joel Goldberg:
But new role. What was that message on day one, and how important was being able to communicate from day one to you?

Ray Kowalik:
So I think it depends on where you come from, how you communicate on day one. So I know everybody was, “What are you going to change, what are you going to change, what are you going to change?” And I said, “It’s not about changing, it’s about what your vision for the future is,” and I’d already had this vision that I wanted to implement.

Ray Kowalik:
So day one, most important thing for me was to be down there. We always celebrate our founding of becoming an employee-owned company and paying off our mortgage, was called Chili Bowl day.

Ray Kowalik:
So I go down there. Day one’s a lot of hand sanitizer. I shake 4,000 people’s hands as they come through the line for chili, and I thank them for what a great company we have and what a great year we’ve had.

Ray Kowalik:
And then, my message I put out in some Friday news about what I see the vision for our company, and today, we’re in that process of implementing it.

Ray Kowalik:
I’m in year three, into my fourth year, people asking, “What’s next?” And I said, “How about we just start doing really well, what we need to do well, and then we’ll talk about what’s next? But let’s get these things we’ve talked about implemented, get them rolling, get them really successful, grow them, and then we can kind of keep moving on to what’s next.”

Joel Goldberg:
So I want to get back to the type of people that you have working here at Burns & McDonnell and with that growth.

Joel Goldberg:
And obviously, you’re hiring very talented people, but as you mentioned from the top of the podcast, it’s about hiring good people, it’s about hiring the right people too. What challenges are there in finding talented and the right people? This is a place people want to be, obviously. How do you bring them in?

Ray Kowalik:
Well, one is, you make your company a very successful company and a great place to work, as by Fortune magazine, the Great Place to Work Institute.

Ray Kowalik:
So we have a lot of people that want to work here, so we don’t necessarily have to really go out that hard and look for them. Average year, we have 80,000 applicants, so we tend to be able to find the ones we really think are great additions to our team.

Ray Kowalik:
Out of college, it works pretty good. It’s hard sometimes to bring talent into Kansas City, let’s say if we have a specialty that we don’t necessarily have inside our company, especially if we’re moving into some new markets. So that’s usually our challenge if we want to find some of those specialty people to move them here, or Kansas City, or one of our other locations.

Ray Kowalik:
That’s really helped our growth a lot is that we’re much and much less Kansas City-centric. When I started at Burns & Mc. 32 years ago, 100% of our employees were in Kansas City. We’re now down to about 45%, so over half our company is outside of Kansas City. And we’re growing at about a two-to-one pace outside of Kansas City, so geographically, we still got a lot of room to grow.

Joel Goldberg:
Okay, we’ve established the fact that you can find the top talent. So now, I would imagine that the next step is making sure you’re finding the people that fit this culture, and so you can be selective. What stands out to you, or to your people that are hiring, in terms of the right type of person?

Ray Kowalik:
Yeah, there’s the old joke you could always tell engineers, me included, a little introverted, that we look for the people that don’t know just the color of their shoes, but they know the color of your shoes. They actually look at all the way across, over at your shoes.

Ray Kowalik:
But we really look for the people that are very open to communication, they have good personalities, they do more than just have technical skills, ones that really are people that get engaged in their communities.

Ray Kowalik:
The real challenge in the professional engineering, construction management, architectural scientists is, we’re woefully underrepresented in minorities and women, and that’s really been our biggest challenge.

Ray Kowalik:
Number one, we work hard to try to make sure that more stay in the programs. 40 years ago, 50 years ago, graduation rate for women in engineering was a half a percent. We’ve only got up to around 20%. I don’t understand why we’re not at 30%, 40%, 50% of our technical people being women, and we got to get that message out, that being this profession is a great profession.

Ray Kowalik:
And the challenge here in the Midwest is, we kind of tend to find a lot of the Midwest boys that grew up on farms that become engineers.

Ray Kowalik:
Our geographic expansion is helping us a lot because other areas of the country, [inaudible 00:17:41] Southern California or Atlanta, we got… There’s just a lot more in the South. We just get a lot more access to some more diverse candidates.

Ray Kowalik:
That’s been one of our goals, is we got to continue to grow that, for lots of reasons. One is diversity of thought and leadership, but also, because we want to create that better environment for all.

Joel Goldberg:
And how much of that, too, is getting into the schools for the younger kids, especially the…? Well, both, but…

Joel Goldberg:
Because I would think right now, that there are kids going through elementary school, middle school, high school, that actually… girls that could say, “Hey, I want to do that,” and they know that that’s an option, whereas previous generations maybe didn’t even think that way because they weren’t encouraged to think that way. How important are the younger generation right now?

Ray Kowalik:
Oh, you’re exactly spot-on there. It’s about getting into the grade schools, high schools. When they do studies on why specifically women don’t stay in the engineering professions, it’s one, they were discouraged by a mentor, a teacher, a family member, and two, don’t see the tie between engineering and helping others, which, to me, says a lot about men because apparently, they don’t care, right? Why is it that women care so much about that?

Ray Kowalik:
And if you look at society and problem-solving and any issues that we have, the ability to affect the quality of life in the world and the United States, or wherever we’re working, can be done at a much greater scale with some innovation in technologies, and that comes from the sciences and engineering profession.

Ray Kowalik:
So how do we get that message out better? So we have a K through 12 outreach program, we have summer camps here for teachers and students, we’ve got the Science Center down at Union Station that we’re the title sponsor on. All of those things, we’ve got to keep building that momentum to get more and more people, not just women and minorities, but just in general.

Ray Kowalik:
90% of job growth in the United States is through the sciences, engineering and math and sciences, so why don’t we get that message out that this is an important thing for your future and for society?

Joel Goldberg:
How much different does that look today in 2020, versus when you started in 1987?

Ray Kowalik:
Did you ever heard of the term STEM-

Joel Goldberg:
No.

Ray Kowalik:
… before, probably about 10 years ago? You see it everywhere now. You see it nationally, not just here in Kansas City, not just from engineering firms, is that we’ve got to stay in the sciences.

Ray Kowalik:
And that’s not just engineering, it’s physicists, it’s doctors, it’s these people that solve the problems that we have in society.

Joel Goldberg:
Well, I never knew what STEM was for sure, certainly, when I was in school. I go out, my kids are in the Blue Valley School District here in Kansas City, and they’ve asked me the last, I think, four or five years to go out.

Joel Goldberg:
They have a day where they hand out all these grant checks, the Blue Valley Education Foundation, and they’re very well supported here within the community, which is amazing. And you hand out these checks. I’m on a bus and I’m walking into the different schools. I’m just like Ed McMahon. I just get to hand out the money, I didn’t have anything to do with it.

Joel Goldberg:
And the bulk of those checks are going to some type of STEM program, anything from 3D printers to stuff that I’ve never even heard of before.

Joel Goldberg:
And I remember the first time I was walking in there, and they gave me a note card for each one of my wife’s [inaudible 00:21:13] education. So I’d go home and I’d show her like, “You won’t believe this,” and she’d look at me like, well, duh. But I had no idea. I mean, it’s just amazing what these kids have at their fingertips nowadays.

Ray Kowalik:
Yeah, helps a lot with keeping them excited. It’s one of the reasons we do the Battle of the Brains contest, is it gets a bunch of kids excited about the process of what that thing they’re studying can be in the future and getting to build something at Union Station, and thousands of kids get excited by it.

Ray Kowalik:
I love sports. I know you’re a Royals guy, but if we can keep kids and parents excited about the science education of their kids, as much as we do sports, we’re going to have a home run.

Joel Goldberg:
Yeah. Well, I know you’re a huge sports fan in all kinds of sports. We’ve talked about that before going on the podcast.

Joel Goldberg:
But what about for you growing up? How important was science, or how much did you have that desire to be an engineer? Did you not know that at that point?

Ray Kowalik:
Yeah, I grew up in a time where there was no educational system or podcasts or anything like that. I grew up on a farm, just liked tinkering with stuff, and not a working farm, just out in the country. We had little toy airplanes, and built cages and remote control cars and anything we could kind of tinker around with.

Ray Kowalik:
And I just had a natural aptitude to the science and maths and thought it was fun. So senior year in high school, picked Mizzou and go, “What do you want to be?” And I go, “I don’t know, engineer sounds good. We’ll see how it works out,” and that’s about how much thought process I had in it.

Joel Goldberg:
You’ve had a lot more thought process since. I’d say it’s-

Ray Kowalik:
Yeah, a little more since then.

Joel Goldberg:
… worked out right. Let’s get to the baseball-themed questions. First off, in terms of your professional career or Burns & McDonnell, what’s the biggest home run that you’ve hit?

Ray Kowalik:
Yeah, that’s a tough question for me because I don’t think that there’s any one thing, or one thing you do in life, that actually is that important. Personal, my home run is, come to work at Burns & Mc. in an employee-owned firm.

Ray Kowalik:
The concept of employee-owned firms only started in the ’70s and it was brand new to Burns & Mc., but I just thought being a part of a company where all the employees owned the company sound like a great idea, and that’s why I picked Burns & Mc. A lot of great firms in the country and around Kansas City, but that was an important [inaudible 00:23:34] for me, personally.

Ray Kowalik:
Now, since I’ve been in leadership, I’d say the most important things for me are about leadership development and the people that we’ve put in positions, and some of the…

Ray Kowalik:
Those are really paying dividends, that we’ve really spent a lot of time. We’re very intentional about our leadership development because it always boils down to having the right, the most overused word in the history of mankind, culture.

Ray Kowalik:
But it’s all about the leadership and how well we preserve and enhance what our company is meant to be. And if we do that, well, it’s got to be sustainable. I always tell our leadership that, “Your number one job is to make yourself irreplaceable. With five people under you, they can take over tomorrow. And if you do that, you’re going to have a great career.”

Joel Goldberg:
It’s great advice, and maybe overuse the word culture, but for good reason, in my opinion.

Joel Goldberg:
The question, I think that’s easier for people to ask, is the swing and miss. I think it says a lot about people, when you can find the swing and miss easily, but you struggle more talking about the home, and that usually says a lot about you.

Joel Goldberg:
My broadcast partner, Jeff Montgomery, can sit there and rattle off every home run he ever gave up. You’d think he was the worst pitcher ever, but rarely does he talk about, or remember, or at least willing to talk about those great moments. So I think there’s always a little something there. What’s the biggest swing and miss for you and what did you learn from it?

Ray Kowalik:
Swing and misses are… I feel like I do those every day, and it’s usually a… I don’t like to look back much because I don’t think it does you much good. You always need to look forward.

Ray Kowalik:
I did have a, in my opinion, a huge swing and miss with a company we purchased, and believing that they had the right leadership in place to be successful.

Ray Kowalik:
And when that didn’t happen, it was a little tough on me because I had to make some changes, and it was a huge swing and miss, in my read of the leadership that was in that company. It was a tough year for me to deal with that.

Joel Goldberg:
And then, the final baseball question, the small ball question. What are the little things at Burns & McDonnell that add up to the big things? I think it’s a culture question. I think it says a lot about who you are, either as a leader or as a company. What is small ball to you?

Ray Kowalik:
Small ball, to me, is just all the little things you do to have fun where you work. It’s the eating at the cafeteria, the Chili Bowl. We bring the beer truck here when we make Great Places to Work in Kansas City.

Ray Kowalik:
So Boulevard or Casey beer shows up in a truck and we honk the horn and hand out six packs of beer to celebrate that we work at a great place. And to me, it’s all about that… Be proud of where you work. That’s the most important thing.

Ray Kowalik:
And so, biggest change I’ve seen in our company over the 32 years. We weren’t that community-oriented, we weren’t that civically-oriented, we didn’t take care of charities like we do today.

Ray Kowalik:
And the pride that people have from where they work is such a powerful, powerful thing on just how they treat each other, the customers and their communities. And if you can just continue to celebrate those wins, that’s what creates the environment where everybody really wants to be a part of that.

Joel Goldberg:
Four final questions as we round the bases. Haven’t told you these yet, but let’s start. And you and I had time to spend before we went on the podcast and a lot of discussion about leaders.

Joel Goldberg:
And in your role leading such a large company, you have access to a lot of really interesting people, and I think it sounds to me like you’re constantly learning every day too, which we all should be. Is there a leader or leaders that have just blown you away or that you say, “I can’t get enough of this person”?

Ray Kowalik:
Yeah, we did talk a little about that. I’ve become friends with Coach Pinkel from University of Missouri, mainly after his coaching days.

Ray Kowalik:
But we brought him in for a leadership training and he gave a talk to 98% not Mizzou people, and they gave him a standing ovation because [crosstalk 00:27:51]-

Joel Goldberg:
Even the KU people?

Ray Kowalik:
Even the KU people. We did have a random drawing on who got his book and somehow, all the Mizzou people did, but that’s okay.

Ray Kowalik:
But he has a great story because he had a lot of issues in his family. I mentioned this, that he had siblings that had serious health issues. He always felt like one of the luckiest people on the face of the planet.

Ray Kowalik:
If you ever listen to him talk, he never talks about himself. He talks about his players, his coaches, those around him, and what they’ve done and accomplished. And it’s such a journey, right? You got to kind of make the journey.

Ray Kowalik:
Now, from a leadership perspective, the other guy that I’ve really, really enjoyed spending a little bit of time with was Jim Collins. To me, he’s the modern-day, most influential leader of understanding what it means to be a leader in an organization. And I read all his books and we… brought him in for a leadership day, and very, very impressive individual.

Joel Goldberg:
All right. Over the years, obviously a different role now, but do you have a favorite project that you worked on?

Ray Kowalik:
Oh, you’re kind of testing me now.

Joel Goldberg:
This is like picking a favorite relative, but…

Ray Kowalik:
Yeah. I used to actually design and build projects, and one of my first projects was actually kind of a cool one, and it was the first done. And I had two projects that I did in my career, were the first ones ever done.

Ray Kowalik:
And one was, we built a ice storage facility in Lincoln, Nebraska, and the purpose of the ice storage was, today, energy storage. You make ice at night, you use it for cooling on inlets to turbines so they can produce more power during the day.

Ray Kowalik:
And everybody thought it would work, that we built the first commercial industrial-scale size project like this ever built. It was a huge success, and it was a lot of fun to be part of a first.

Joel Goldberg:
Our third question, as we round the bases. I did not know this until you told me, as we’re sitting in your office at Burns & McDonnell, whose office this used to be in. That blew my mind because… I wasn’t thinking that way. So tell me about whose office this used to be and what that means to you.

Ray Kowalik:
So we’re sitting in Ewing Kauffman’s office. When he built his headquarters in the mid-80s, this was his office. What we’ve turned into our board room was his wife’s office.

Ray Kowalik:
And you think about, not just the entrepreneur that Ewing Kauffman was, but just think of the impact he had to his community. He was actually one of the first to share his profits with his employees, so pretty much the precursor of the business model that we have now, owned the Royals and was such an influential part of our community, including building this great complex that we’re in now.

Ray Kowalik:
It’s incredible, and to see that we’re changing the Royals’ ownership to three straight generations of those kind of people like Ewing Kauffman, David Glass, and now, John Sherman. I just feel we’re very fortunate that we have people like that, that are owning the Royals and keeping the Royals in Kansas City.

Joel Goldberg:
All right, and so final question then, the walk-off, will be along those lines. Obviously, you’re waking up every day wanting to lead this amazing company and take it to the next level, and then pass it on, as you said before, to whoever’s coming behind you. You’re not ready for retirement, I hope, not yet. But that’ll come at some point.

Joel Goldberg:
What’s your greater purpose now? I mean, you talk about Ewing Kauffman and how civic-minded he was. And certainly, John Sherman is known for that. You have that ability with the platform that you have here in Kansas City, and beyond Kansas City too. How do you define your purpose?

Ray Kowalik:
So I think about what I need to do on any given day to make our company’s lives and our community’s lives better. Our company’s lives is, to me, about taking care of ourselves, our employees. We’ve talked about wellness, and very much into wellness. As I said, you can’t be good to yourself, your family, your coworkers or your customers if you don’t take care of yourself first.

Ray Kowalik:
From a community perspective, we put a lot of focus back on STEM, understanding the ability of keeping a lot of people interested in that, all across our communities.

Ray Kowalik:
I want to be known as the guy that kept that mission of keeping kids excited about staying in the STEM fields. And if we can keep that going through our foundation, through our volunteers, and through getting to lots of kids as early as we can and keeping them interested in the fields, then we’re going to feel like I’ve done some good.

Joel Goldberg:
Yeah, and keep on growing and keep on improving in, certainly, an institution here in Kansas City. Ray, appreciate the time. Thanks so much.

Ray Kowalik:
Thank you, Joel. Had a great time.

Joel Goldberg:
All right, and you can catch me at joelgoldbergmedia.com if you want to reach out, any feedback, any guest suggestions. And hope to catch you next time on Rounding the Bases.


Rounding the Bases with Joel Goldberg Podcast was created to share the stories of men and women in business and entrepreneurship that are both well knowing and or hidden gems. Joel believes that everyone has a story and their story matters which is why Joel is eager to connect with individuals that are bringing value to their community through innovation, leadership, entrepreneurial journeys, and developing company culture. If you would like to be a guest on Joel’s podcast please email us at joel@joelgoldbergmedia.com.

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