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Employees are the owners

Business model is a big motivator for Burns & McDonnell

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Jeff Ganthner expects the number of Burns & McDonnell employees
in Virginia to grow to 150 this year. Photo by Mark Rhodes

Burns & McDonnell, an architectural, engineering and construction services company, takes pride in being employee-owned.

“One hundred percent of our employees own 100 percent of the company,” says Jeff Ganthner, company principal and mid-Atlantic manager. “We give all of our profits back to the employees. It gives employees more incentive to stay and be loyal to the firm.”

Because they are owners, employees can see how their work directly affects the company and its clients. “It’s a great motivator for employees,” Ganthner says of the business model. “They are fully invested and vested in the company.”

Employees earn a salary throughout the year and split the profits at year’s end in the form of substantial bonuses. “People get excited at the end of the year,” Ganthner says. “Everybody gets a profit, from the receptionist to the CEO.”

The company’s employee-owned status allows it to pay about “30 to 40 percent above marketplace to attract the best talent,” Ganthner adds. “It’s a neat model.”

Prospective employees weren’t thoroughly sold on the bonus plan when the firm opened its first Virginia office in Chesapeake in October 2010.  They were wary because  some companies that promise bonuses don’t follow through.

“We go to great pains to make sure we are consistent with bonuses,” Ganthner says. “We treat bonuses as an expense monthly so we have the money available in December. We had to get people over the hump that first year so they understood that this is for real.”

Based in Kansas City, Mo., Burns & McDonnell was founded in 1898. Its growth began taking off in 1986 “when it went from a partnership to employee-owned,” Ganthner says. “We’ve had phenomenal growth since that time.”

The company’s architects and engineers work on projects as a team. “We provide soup-to-nuts design and every kind of engineering work,” Ganthner says.

In 2015, the company achieved a record $2.5 billion in revenue, hired its 5,000th employee and broke ground on a 450,000-square-foot expansion of its headquarters in Kansas City. The expansion is scheduled to open this spring.

More than 80 of the company’s 5,400 employees work in Virginia where it now has offices in Roanoke and Richmond in addition to Chesapeake. Ganthner believes the Virginia offices will grow to 150 employees in 2016. “By 2017, we will take it up to 200,” he says, noting that the overall company grows 10 to 12 percent in both employment and revenue each year.

In addition to its top ranking among large businesses on the Best Places to Work in Virginia, the company ranked No. 15 on Fortune’s latest list of 100 best employers. “We have been in the top 20 for the last five years,” Ganthner says.

In 2014, the company received a national award of merit in the industrial/process/research facilities category from the Design-Build Institute of America for its work on the Rolls-Royce Advanced Aerofoil Machining Facility in Prince George County. “We do about 150 different projects a year in Virginia,” Ganthner says.

Burns & McDonnell opened its Chesapeake office during the throes of the Great Recession. “We tried to go the construction route right out of the gate, but it wasn’t successful so we focused on design services for the federal government,” Ganthner says. “We went with what was working for us at first but didn’t give up on things that weren’t working. We stuck with it. Now we have success in all areas. We are doing design and construction throughout Virginia.”

Throughout the year, the company hands out MacCulture Awards for which employees nominate outstanding co-workers. Virginia employees have received these awards several times each year, Ganthner says. “[The awards] are random. People don’t know when they are coming.”

The company works with a variety of charitable organizations such as Ronald McDonald House Charities and Habitat for Humanity. “When we got new office chairs in Chesapeake, we had the old chairs professionally cleaned and donated them to a local school in Norfolk. Our employees delivered them,” Ganthner says. “The school was thrilled to get them.”

Each year the company holds employee events that can range from a pancake breakfast to a day of sailing. “October is Employee Owner Month, and each week has a different theme,” Ganthner says.
Giving employees a piece of the action is a smart idea for any company, he adds. “Let your employees become owners. You will be a place that people will want to come to work for. The company will grow faster.”

Best Places to Work 2016 list of large employers

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