Photo courtesy of @NYSE
On June 1, Knife River President and CEO Brian Gray rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange to celebrate the company’s first day as an independent, publicly traded business.
“It was exhilarating, one of the most exciting moments of my life,” said Gray, B.S. civil engineering ’93. “My wife and family were there to share the moment. It was special for that reason and because I was able to represent the 6,000 men and women at Knife River whose work made this possible.”
Knife River builds roads, bridges, airport runways, and other large-scale infrastructure. It also produces asphalt, aggregates, concrete, and other construction materials. Headquartered in Bismarck, North Dakota, the company has operations in 14 states, including a large presence in the Corvallis area.
After earning his degree, Gray joined Morse Brothers, a construction materials supplier based in Tangent, Oregon. The company was acquired by Knife River in 1998. “So, really, I’ve been with the same company for 30 years ever since graduating from Oregon State,” said Gray, who grew up in Klamath Falls.
He made the most of his time as a college student, often in service roles. He hosted campus tours for prospective students, worked in the Department of New Student Services, led summer orientation and advisory programs, and served in several leadership positions in the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity.
Gray collaborates with College of Engineering faculty to promote work zone safety and to advance research and development of lower-carbon concrete. He recently served as president of the executive committee of the Construction Education Foundation, which supports the School of Civil and Construction Engineering and its construction engineering management degree program by providing resources to enhance or initiate programs at Oregon State that are beneficial to the construction industry, the public, and students preparing for careers in the field.
Gray enthusiastically promotes the lasting relationship between Knife River and the College of Engineering, which is one of the company’s favorite places to recruit new engineers.
“We feel that the quality of students coming out of Oregon State is excellent, and we have a very large alumni group that’s already at Knife River, so the ties are strong,” Gray said.
A number of College of Engineering students have completed internships at Knife River’s world-class training center in Albany, and the facility hosts field trips for engineering classes. In 2015, Gray spearheaded an effort by MDU Resources Group, the former parent company of Knife River, to donate $1 million to Oregon State for educational activities related to safe construction practices. Knife River also sponsored the construction of Casey Corner, a seating and concessions area in the right field corner of Goss Stadium, named in honor of Pat Casey, who was head coach of Oregon State’s men’s baseball team for 23 years.
Gray even struck up a lasting friendship with Casey. The pair occasionally teamed up to give talks about the parallels between coaching baseball and managing a business, such as their extreme competitiveness, the importance of recruiting top talent for the right positions, helping players and employees excel by providing them with continuous feedback, and the drive to reach the pinnacle of achievement.
“We’ve tied a lot of our business culture and how we manage people to that coaching philosophy,” Gray said.
In 2022, Gray was inducted into The College of Engineering’s Academy of Distinguished Engineers, an honor conferred on mid-career engineers who have made sustained, distinguished contributions to their profession, their field, Oregon State University, or society at large.
As he progressed through his career, Gray realized that the lessons he learned in college contained far more than the knowledge he needed to become an engineer.
“Oregon State prepared me well for both my personal and professional lives, and the people there helped me to become a more balanced person,” Gray said. “My experiences gave me the tools to raise my family and to appreciate the value of hard work. I was a shy kid from Klamath Falls, and Oregon State allowed me to come out of my shell, find my interpersonal skills, and develop leadership skills, all while providing me with a rock-solid engineering education from an institution that’s well respected in our industry.”