Leadership Focuses on Forming Lasting Partnerships for Seamless Project Advancement

Before joining Burns & McDonnell, Cliff Cate worked for a disadvantaged business. He now finds opportunities for Burns & McDonnell to join forces with minority-owned businesses throughout the country to implement critical infrastructure solutions in the water industry.

Cliff speaks with Leon Harden, strategy manager of diversity, equity and inclusion at Burns & McDonnell, about his career path and the importance of developing partnerships and programs to promote workforce development.


Leon Harden: The first thing I wanted to talk about is you’ve got a really great career path that you’ve taken to get to Burns & Mac. Could you talk a little bit about that?

Cliff Cate: I’ve been at Burns & McDonnell now for seven and a half years. I work in our Water global practice as the director of business development. My career before I came to Burns & McDonnell — and actually, what kind of led me to Burns & McDonnell — I was with a disadvantaged business here in Kansas City. When you go to charitable events, you always see Burns & Mac’s name on the charitable event. That’s what really drew me to Burns & Mac — giving back. That’s why I’m here.

LH: You’re probably one of the few people in a sales role now — and a lot of times a prime position — who has worked for a disadvantaged business and understands what the mentorship does for an organization. Can you talk about how you’ve translated that into some of the programs for the Water division?

CC: I think one of the big things is developing a long-term relationship and helping those businesses or consultants grow into primes and be your long-term partner. And we’ve done that through our projects that we’re working with in Kansas City, projects we’re working with in Shreveport, Wichita, same situation. We also partner with those business where they’re the primes and they bring us in to help. And we’re seeing that now. It’s a relationship. It’s funny, because when we were talking earlier you said, “Oh, you’re the relationship guy.” And you know what? I think we’re all relationship people. But you want those long-term relationships.

LH: Do you feel like those relationships have helped our business grow?

CC: I think the relationships in the development of other businesses has helped us in many ways. I think Shreveport — it was an opportunity through our relationships and through our program that we developed with Kansas City, we were able to translate that down to Shreveport. We’re pursuing a project over in Memphis and when Memphis says, “We need partners, we need disadvantaged partners,” we’re able to call on the partners we’ve helped develop over here and we’ve taken other places and they’ve taken us in other places. They’re our partners in Memphis, and it was an easy transition. We have those opportunities when we go into new places to bring in those types of partners.

LH: That’s really great. I always say that I like to make myself bigger.

So even if I’m just one person in a role, there’s always an opportunity through relationship-building and especially if you can bring in a broad range of people, you get all sorts of services or ideas that you hadn’t thought of before. It’s always fun to continue to have those conversations and make sure people know who you are and what you’re about and that you’re going to treat them right along the way.

CC: Absolutely. You may be familiar with our Wichita project, where we’re helping develop the workforce down there as well. I think that’s a big piece of what we do, too. So we’re not only looking to help build disadvantaged business, but we’re also helping try to build the workforce, too. I think as you see the workforce and where it is right now, we need more. We need more people in the workforce. We need more competition when we’re looking at contracting and subcontracting actual construction work. So helping build those disadvantaged business where they’re competing is important to all of our business.

LH: That’s fantastic. It goes back to that community impact that you were talking about and the reason why you joined Burns & Mac in the first place, right?

It’s beyond projects and programs. It’s economic impact and building up the workforce of the future. Thanks so much for being here today, and I really appreciate you spending some time with me. Your story is an interesting one, and I’m glad you’re here at Burns & McDonnell to help push that narrative forward.

CC: Thanks for having me, Leon. I really enjoyed telling my story and being a part of this program. We appreciate everything that you do, too.


This post is part of Together By Design, a quarterly business diversity newsletter published by Burns & McDonnell to advance a community of inclusion. This newsletter features stories of great opportunity, leaders who bring out the best in others, innovative approaches, and diverse perspectives that shape the business community and the world at large.

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