Burns & McDonnell, based in Kansas City, broke with tradition by announcing the appointment of its eighth CEO during the company's 125-year-old history.
Leslie Duke will become the first female CEO of the employee owned firm, which will begin operations on January 1, 2024. She will also be the first person from outside Kansas City to head the firm, which specializes in engineering, construction and architecture as well as environmental consulting.
Duke is currently the regional vice-president and general manager of Burns & McDonnell in Houston. Ray Kowalik announced in March that he would be retiring. Duke intends to move to Kansas City.
Kowalik stated in a press release that Leslie has a strong track record of achievement and an extraordinary future vision, making her the ideal person to lead the company forward. Kowalik said in a release that Leslie was'ready to lead our company into a new age of innovation, technology and growth'.
Duke has been expanding the customer base of her firm for two decades. She joined the firm with one Houston client. Now, she has helped the firm grow to over 650 clients, both local and regional, in industries such as industrial, refinery, chemical, manufacturing, and power utilities. She has led the Houston market to deliver more than $5 billion worth of environmental, consulting and engineering services, procurement, and construction.
Duke said, 'I was able to play a role in the building of a company in Houston right from the start.' As the company grew, I learned and grew along with it. I was fortunate to have found a company that shared my values.
Burns & McDonnell was recognized by many industry and community groups for its leadership.
Ascending the ranks
Duke began her career at Burns & McDonnell as a structural engineering in 1999. She has since held multiple leadership positions. She was named senior vice president of the company in 2014, and then the first female president in its history in 2016.
Duke grew up in El Paso and married her high-school sweetheart. The couple eventually settled at Texas Tech University where Duke earned her bachelor's degree in civil/structural engineer.
After graduating, the couple returned home to El Paso to open and build restaurants. A job for her husband led them to Houston.
Duke explained that he had responded to an ad in the Houston Chronicle for a job back then, which led him to get an interview. 'That is what brought me here to Burns & Mac.
She went on to open Burns & McDonnell offices in north Texas, and was eventually asked to return to Houston and take over the operations there.
Duke said, "I've been able to build a successful business in the state I consider home, Texas." I've lived in Texas all my life, but never outside it.
Duke is looking forward to watching the Kansas City Chiefs and especially their quarterback Patrick Mahomes who attended Texas Tech.
She said, 'One thing I like about Kansas City is Patrick.
Duke stated that Burns & McDonnell was on a very positive and powerful trajectory after a record breaking year. Duke said that her job will be to continue and expand this success, and ultimately expand it internationally.
She said, 'Ray has done an incredible job and I will inherit a company that is incredibly healthy.
She wants to focus the attention of her firm on safety at work from day one. She plans to focus on leadership development.
We are growing. She said, 'We are expanding and I will make sure that we have leaders who are ready and prepared for this growth.
Duke will also focus on integrating new technology in Burns & McDonnell’s business. The company wants to embrace technological advancements at the forefront.
It's exciting that I have been able to do this so long. I have so many friends up in Kansas City, and I am excited to be a part of that group. It's like a family. "We are a company that is unlike any other.