Burns & McDonnell taps new CEO, expands C-suite

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There are a lot of new faces so far this year at Kansas City, Missouri-based Burns & McDonnell, starting with CEO and Chair Leslie Duke.

Duke took the helm of the employee-owned engineering, construction and architecture firm at the start of 2024. Since then she’s expanded the leadership team to bolster the company as it takes advantage of opportunities created by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and Inflation Reduction Act.

In addition to a slew of promotions, Duke announced three new C-suite roles: 

  • Chris Baxter as chief risk officer.
  • Matt Olson as chief innovation officer.
  • Joe Podrebarac as chief safety officer. 

The company is investing in more people amid a “construction renaissance fueled by a massive investment in infrastructure at levels not seen since the New Deal,” according to a Burns & McDonnell press release.

Blond woman in a blue suit smiles at the camera.

Leslie Duke

Courtesy of Burns & McDonnell


Duke first joined Burns & McDonnell in 1999 as a structural engineer in Houston and has served in multiple leadership roles during her 24-year tenure, including opening and growing several new offices, per the release. Most recently Duke served as regional president and general manager of the South Central Region and played an integral role in launching the firm’s engineer-procure-construct delivery method there.

Duke earned a bachelor’s degree in civil/structural engineering from Texas Tech University and was named a Texas Tech Distinguished Engineer in 2018. She is the firm’s eighth CEO, succeeding Ray Kowalik, who retired at the end of 2023 after 36 years with the firm.

Other new or expanded roles include: 

  • John Olander will continue as chief operating officer, focusing on technology and innovation. Moving forward, Olander will oversee the firm’s Innovation Office, led by Chief Innovation Officer Matt Olson, and the firm’s global business, technology and security consultancy, known as 1898 & Co. 
  • Bob Reymond has been promoted to the new role of chief operating officer of energy, overseeing the firm’s Power Group and the Oil, Gas & Chemical Group. Reymond, a Burns & McDonnell board member, moved into the new role after leading OGC since 2015. 
  • Mark Swanson has been promoted to senior vice president and succeeds Reymond in leading OGC.
  • Paul Fischer has been promoted to the new role of chief operating officer of growth. This elevated role will allow Fischer, a Burns & McDonnell board member, to continue to provide guidance and vision for the firm during a time of growth. Fischer also will oversee the Transmission & Distribution Group, led by Jamey Bertram.

To continue the growth trajectory and provide a larger support structure in the firm’s U.S. regions, Duke is promoting three leaders who will report to Fischer: 

  • Zach Herrington will lead the Americas West Regions, consisting of the California, Mountain and Southwest regions.
  • Jerry Fan will lead the Americas North Regions, consisting of the Northeast, mid-Atlantic, Great Lakes, Upper Midwest and Midwest regions. 
  • Allen Xi will lead the Americas South Region, consisting of the South-Central, North Texas, Southeast and Florida regions.

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