Structural engineer Ron Klemencic remembers May 2, 2011, as the “most devastating day” of his career. On that Monday, his mentor, partner, coach, adviser, friend and “big boss,” Jon Magnusson, walked into his office and announced, briefly—and with no possibility of negotiation—that he was planning to hand the engineering practice’s “baton” to Klemencic by Jan. 1, 2013.

The junior partner, then president of Magnusson Klemencic Associates Structural + Civil Engineers, did not show his shock to Magnusson, who had been leading the firm since 1988 and who had hired Klemencic in 1992. “I was caught off guard. I was scared. I went home and curled up in a ball, sobbing like a baby,” says Klemencic, MKA’s chairman and CEO. “It was the most difficult time for me on a lot of levels,” says Klemencic, but he pulled himself up by his bootstraps and figured out how to become the big boss.

“The transition has gone as smoothly as it could possibly have gone,” he says. And Magnusson, who remains as chairman emeritus and a senior principal, is still available for counsel. Rob Chmielowski, a senior principal and new shareholder, says, “Not much has changed since 2013, except for “a newfound focus on collaboration, mentorship and coaching.” One change is the firm’s official mission. In 2016, it became “always striving for better” from “to be consistently sought out globally for the best civil and structural engineering assignments.”

The 190-person practice continues to thrive under Klemencic’s leadership. MKA currently has 175 active projects in 28 U.S. states and eight nations. Annual revenue is $50 million.

MKA’s 13 shareholders are dead set against selling to another firm or acquiring a firm. “There will always be a place for a smaller center of excellence,” says Don Davies, MKA’s president.

Every Market Sector

Though the practice is known for tall buildings and seismic design, MKA designs structures and underpinnings for just about every market sector, including parks. Two projects underway that are not tall buildings are the Ronald O. Perelman Center for Performing Arts at the World Trade Center and the expansion of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, both in Manhattan.

Jeanne Gang, founder of Studio Gang Architects and the designer of the nearly 1,200-ft-tall Vista Tower under   construction in Chicago, says Klemencic has “a mind-set of optimization” and “good design sensibility,” especially to use structure to reinforce the architectural idea.

Contractors like him, too, for he asks how he can help make a building more constructible. “He’s amazingly transparent, easy to work with and collaborative,” says David M. Wilson, vice president of Clark Construction Group, California. “Whenever there’s an issue, he rolls up his sleeves and helps solve the problem.”

Bill Chilton, a principal of architect Pickard Chilton, adds, “If we are lucky, we all have a person in our life who has had a profound impact. Ron will be on a disproportionate number of people’s lists, and he is absolutely on mine.”

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