A Powerful Transformation in KC’s Executive Ranks
Seven years is a milestone marked by … well, almost no one. The seventh iteration of the Ingram’s 250 in 2022, however, is notable for one reason in particular: According to the C-suite demographers at Korn Ferry, that’s just about the current average tenure of a chief executive officer in Corporate America.
Actually, it’s a shade less than that, 6.9 years as of 2022. Some may think that’s barely enough time to get warmed up in the corner suite, and sure enough, there are top executives from this year’s field who have been in their position for multiple decades, not just years. (Take a bow, Jim Ferrell at Ferrellgas and Smitty Belcher at P1 Group.)
To study the Ingram’s 250 from 2016 and compare it to today’s is to realize just how dramatically the corporate leadership of the Kansas City region has changed within a very short window. A whopping 153 of the honorees from that first class in 2016 have no seat at the table this year. Retirements have accounted for the bulk of changes in those roles—the Baby Boomers are rotating out of that traditional leadership age range. Out-of-market moves have made a mark. Occasionally, a managing partner surrenders the day-to-day grind of a CEO’s duties and steps back into a producer role. In nearly half a dozen cases (and way too soon), some honorees from that inaugural year have passed away.
So whose names are gone from the original list? Among the region’s biggest employers, it’s been a corporate version of The Rapture, and that includes wholesale organizations. Think Cerner Corp., before becoming Oracle Cerner this year. Or Sprint, once the region’s corporate crown jewel and not so very long ago, the largest private-sector employer. Or Waddell & Reed. Even the venerable Kansas City Southern Railroad brand is slated for retirement before too long as it morphs into Canadian Pacific Kansas City.
Within the C-suites themselves, you can see the changes in the top roles at prominent companies like Hallmark, Lockton, Burns & McDonnell, Polsinelli PC, Commerce Bank, and JE Dunn Construction. Add in some of the largest private companies including No. 1 Dairy Farmers of America, Hill’s Pet Nutrition, and Triumph Foods.
Most of the region’s biggest medical centers have seen new leadership brought in, as have the largest health insurers, including Blue KC and its Sunflower State counterpart, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas, and GEHA (twice). The trusted advisers of business and professional-services firms have seen changes that will affect the execution of business law and legal services, accounting, and consultancy; many of the biggest ones are now led by industry veterans who nonetheless are relative newcomers to those top-tier roles.
Here’s one way to think about the impact of that sweeping change: The dozen companies just cited by brand account for close to $50 billion in annual revenues here. Based on the multiplier effect with thousands of employees, they exert a much more powerful gravitational pull on the metro area’s GDP ($142.5 billion in 2020).
From that perspective, it’s clear that the region has lost something when one considers the collective efforts of those leaders to build their companies and influence corporate and individual philanthropy. This change comes with a cost that can’t be precisely calculated.
But all is not gloom and doom. Stepping into those vacated roles has been a small army of executive achievers, and in many cases, those leaders have raised the bar for corporate performance. Still here, as well, are nearly 100 executives who have made this impressive roster each year since its inception.
In some rare cases, executives who answered the roll call six years ago remain on the list, even though their organization or mission has changed.
Of particular interest is Terry Dunn, the long-time CEO at JE Dunn. Terry retired nearly a decade ago as the region’s largest general contractor but has not, we can assure you, been soaking up the sun on a Caribbean beach. Dunn’s civic commitment to the region was always evident on a corporate level. Since 2013, he’s gone on to found KC Common Good; an organization focused on producing real solutions to intractable problems of life in the urban core—poverty, crime, and unemployability come immediately to mind.
Then there are those who may have “Retired” imprinted on their LinkedIn profile page but are far from idle, thanks to their commitments to corporate and non-profit boards. Their numbers include former U.S. Bank market president Mark Jorgenson, former Burns & McDonnell CEO Greg Graves, former Children’s Mercy CFO/CAO Sandra Lawrence, and DEG founder Neal Sharma (you can read what’s keeping each of them busy in their accompanying profiles in this feature).
The active or only marginally retired, the present-day honorees, and the i250 alumni represent the faces of commerce in the Kansas City region going as far back as two generations. They’ve helped make us the community we are. More than just business transactors, they represent a civic spirit dedicated to organizational growth and improving community life.
They serve as models for the best of what the Kansas City region has to offer.
Please join us in saluting each of them and offering our thanks for what they have left behind—or will.