Alumnus of the Year

Gordon Lansford

The chief executive from JE Dunn Construction reflects on his rise through the ranks, lessons learned and the role of executive leadership.

Gordon Lansford had potential written all over him when he started at JE Dunn Construction 20 years ago next month. It was already shining through when he became chief financial officer for the region’s largest construction company before he turned 30.

And it was fulfilled on Jan. 1, 2014, when he was named president and chief executive officer—the first person not named Dunn to sit in that chair since John Ernest Dunn himself founded the company back in 1924. He leads an organization with annual revenues of more than $2 billion and a reputation for being among the civic pillars of not just this regional business community, but in 19 other cities across the country where JE Dunn has offices.

All of that makes Gordon Lansford Ingram’s first 40 Under Forty Alumnus of the Year.

Looking back on the past two years at the helm, Lansford reflects on his ascendency and invokes a word one might not expect: “Intimidating.”

“It was quite intimidating to follow in the footsteps of John Ernest Dunn, Bill Dunn Sr. and Terry Dunn,” Lansford says. “Obviously, it was a great honor—this company has such a great history and such a great leadership team. It really felt good to have the confidence of the leadership team and our employee-owner team.” Two more that assess his current position: “Honored and humbled,” he says, and adds for emphasis, “Honored and humbled.”

On his way to the leadership role, Lansford learned a great many lessons from his predecessor, Terry Dunn. “Terry is very much a servant leader, putting the needs of employees and clients first,” Lansford said. “It is something the current leadership team and I learned from him over the years—to be very genuine and authentic as you deal with people.”

Before he succeeded Terry Dunn, Lansford had responsibilities that went well beyond what many might expect from a chief financial officer. To be sure, he managed all accounting and financial reporting for the company, oversaw its investment management, was responsible for payroll and contract administration, and worked with banks and bonding companies. But he also was responsible for its information technology and the company’s internal culture.

He was a summa cum laude graduate of Baker University who became a certified public accountant and started his career at KPMG before the Dunns came calling. At JE Dunn, Lansford learned much about what’s viewed as bedrock value at the company—an obligation to serve the broader community.

 “Terry was a great example of that, and it dates to Bill Sr. and J.E. Dunn himself,” Lansford said. “We feel very blessed to call Kansas City our hometown and be able to give back here, and even though we have 20 offices across the country, this is still our hometown and our No. 1 priority and focus. And of course, Terry still does a lot today, which we’re very thankful for.”

Lansford has a long record of community and board service in his own right, on behalf of organizations like Baker University, the American Royal, the World War I Museum, and Greater Kansas City Community Foundation.  He also co-chaired the American Heart Association Heart Ball in February, and will do likewise for the KCUMB Centennial Gala in October, while also serving on the executive cabinet for the United Way Campaign.

That level of engagement, he said, is part of the obligations that fall to leaders, like those recognized in Ingram’s 40 Under Forty, now 820 strong.

“One thing they all have in common is their commitment to the community,” he said. “There’s so much momentum in Kansas City now, and with younger folks in particular, and that’s causing not only my generation, but one ahead of me to be more focused on making Kansas City a greater place to live, work and play. Part of that is the social responsibility that this younger generation is dedicated to.”

His advice to them? “Keep doing what you’re doing, focus on your career and your family, but also the community where you live, helping those who don’t have the good things that you have.”

Lansford and his high school sweetheart, Marti, will celebrate 23 years of marriage in August, and they have three children: Jake, a high  school senior; Brooke, a sophomore; and seventh-grader Luke. Congratulations to our first Alumnus of the Year.