Meet Burns & McDonnell: Employee-owned engineering, architecture and construction services firm in Greater Phoenix

Published: 04/08/2021
Updated: 05/20/2021

A conversation with Burns & McDonnell’s Joel Canchola and William Price III

Tell us about your company:

Joel Canchola and William Price III: Burns & McDonnell is a family of companies bringing together an unmatched team of engineers, construction professionals, architects, planners, technologists and scientists to design and build our critical infrastructure. With an integrated construction and design mindset, we offer full-service capabilities globally. Founded in 1898, Burns & McDonnell is a 100% employee-owned company and proud to be on Fortune’s 2020 list of 100 Best Companies to Work For.  

The firm established its presence in Arizona in 1999 and has managed approximately more than $1 billion in projects with renewable energy, solar, mining, federal, manufacturing, aviation, commercial and industrial clients in the Southwest. The Burns & McDonnell offices in Phoenix and Tucson have more than 150 employee-owners and are backed by a global team of 7,600 employees with more than 55 offices around the world. Additionally, the firm has been honored as a Top Company to Work for in Arizona by the Arizona Republic and AZCentral and has been ranked among the Phoenix Business Journal’s Best Places to Work. In 2019, Burns & McDonnell was named Design Firm of the Year by Engineering News-Record Southwest. Outside of the office, employee-owners give their time and talents to United Way Vello, Phoenix Rescue Mission, Arizona Science Center and the Arizona Theater of Performing Arts, among others. 

What city in Arizona is your company located in? 

Canchola and Price: Phoenix and Tucson 

How did your company get started? 

Canchola and Price: Our company got its start in 1898. Two new Stanford University engineering graduates — Clinton S. Burns and Robert E. McDonnell — sought a professional home base teeming with opportunity, a place to continue the partnership they forged while working for the city of Palo Alto, California. They chose Kansas City because it provided the most potential clients in a 200-mile radius — cities and towns in need of water and power systems to support growth. They pressed on through the typical struggles of a fledgling engineering firm. McDonnell was the firm’s frontman, pitching solutions to municipalities across the country. Burns put his technical skills into practice, building a reputation for precision.  

By the time Burns died on April 1, 1924 — 26 years to the day after he and McDonnell embarked on their journey — they had served 313 clients and designed 232 waterworks, 115 sewer systems and 87 lighting plants. The firm continued a successful path, building a client-first culture — working to make our clients successful — that would see us through the Great Depression and to a pivotal moment in 1985. That’s when a small band of Burns & McDonnell employees risked their personal finances to secure a loan to buy the firm from Armco Steel, which had purchased the company in 1971.  

Today, Burns & McDonnell is 100% employee-owned and our employee-owners draw strength from this sense of perseverance, dedication and ownership. Many of our original clients remain, a testament to our work ethic and commitment. We evolve with the world around us, knowing that seemingly ordinary projects lead to extraordinary opportunities to Create Amazing. 

Explain why you chose Greater Phoenix to build your company: 

Canchola and Price: We chose Arizona as a location because of its talent pool, business-friendly economy and growing community need for infrastructure such as data centers, manufacturing innovations, power technology, commercial facilities, renewable energy, mining and so much more. Arizona is also on the forefront of so many key projects we are proud to design and build. 

What makes your product unique and different? 

Canchola and Price: At Burns & McDonnell, our people aren’t just employees — they are 100% owners of the firm. The employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) at Burns & McDonnell is one of a kind. Only a small percentage of firms nationwide are 100% employee-owned, and even fewer have enjoyed the status for more than 30 years like we have. At Burns & McDonnell, employee ownership is automatic and free of cost to all employee-owners. By being 100% employee-owned is more than just a retirement benefit — it drives our success, guides our decisions, and inspires our powerful and unique culture. Our team knows employee ownership means opportunity: to work on meaningful projects, to have ideas heard, to achieve a higher level of financial security. Plus, our clients tell us that our employee ownership translates into enhanced effort and extraordinary work. 

What is the best thing about having your business in Greater Phoenix? 

Canchola and Price: Arizona’s business-friendly economic environment, strong community, affordable housing and so much more make Phoenix an ideal place to attract and retain talent. With any growing community, a need for updated or new infrastructure exists. From manufacturing, solar and power generation solutions to mining innovations and aviation, industrial and facility solutions, we’re here to help design and build the infrastructure to keep our communities growing and thriving. 

In your opinion, why should someone build a career in Greater Phoenix? 

Canchola and Price: Whether you’re a recent graduate or have decades of experience, the community has something to offer everyone. There are countless days of sunshine and an abundance of golf courses, hikes, restaurants and more. The region’s communities are supportive and have built a foundation for success. You won’t be surprised to hear about the continued growth and job creation throughout the state. It’s a great place to raise a family, grow a career and enjoy the great outdoors. 

What are three words you would use to describe the business community in Greater Phoenix? 

Canchola and Price: Thriving, supportive, welcoming 

Are you currently hiring? If so, what types of positions do you need filled now? What about in the future? 

Canchola and Price: Yes, we’re always looking for professionals as we grow our talented team. We’re honored to be recognized by Fortune as one of its 100 Best Companies to Work For, year after year. Build your story with us in a variety of areas, including multidiscipline engineering, project management, architecture and more. Whether you’re a young professional, have years of experience or are looking for an internship, we create unique opportunities for our employee-owners to explore creative solutions. 

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