JE Dunn CEO’s first 150 days: Learning a new role


In January, Gordon Lansford took over as CEO of JE Dunn Construction — the first leader of the 90-year-old Kansas City company not named Dunn.

After about five months, Lansford said he feels comfortable in the driver’s seat of the area’s top general contractor. Here’s what he had to say about his new obligations, his new challenges and his work-life balancing act.

‘A lot of work’

Lansford’s first task was traveling the country to visit JE Dunn’s national and regional offices, tour projects and meet with clients. Lansford, who’s been with the company for about 18 years, said he travels about three days a week and spends more time with clients and making proposals as part of national project pursuit. He said he feels comfortable in his new role.

“It’s definitely been a lot of work,” he said. “The travel can wear you down a bit, but it’s a real treat to get out and see our folks and our projects, so I obviously don’t mind doing it.”

‘A tough business’

Lansford said his biggest challenge is matching the company’s resources with the right project. The pressure of recession, which dragged down the construction industry, finally is letting up, and Lansford said JE Dunn is on pace to grow in 2014.

That growth is being driven by strong activity in the health care, science and technology; multifamily; and residential sectors, he said. However, JE Dunn — and the rest of the industry— is grappling with a growing shortage of skilled laborers, so he needs to be selective when picking projects to pursue. He’s also making sure the company is growing at a measured pace to ensure its long-term future.

“The construction industry is a tough business,” Lansford said. “You’re taking on a lot of risk for not a lot of reward, so you can’t afford too many errors.”

‘You’re always working’

As CEO, much is expected of Lansford. His predecessor — JE Dunn Construction GroupCEO Terry Dunn — told the Kansas City Business Journal he routinely worked from 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Lansford said he’s almost as busy and is trying to maintain a work-life balance.

“I don’t work 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. in the office, but you’re always working on your phone or iPad or laptop,” Lansford said. “I try to do a real good job of having a work-to-life balance. All of our folks here at JE Dunn know that that’s important to the organization.

“I believe it makes them a better employee. It makes them a better father, husband (or) wife. So I try to lead that way so they know I’m sincere when I say that. I don’t always practice it, but I try to as much as possible.”

JE Dunn is known for its heavy civic involvement, and its leaders are visible in the community. Lansford said he’s grateful to the Dunn family, who have been handling civic obligations outside the office so he can focus on his job.

“They’ve been fantastic. They’ve let me do my job, but they’ve also been there many times when I have questions or need assistance,” Lansford said. “I would describe them as very supportive and very helpful.”