|FEATURES Winter 2002|
Constantly striving to incorporate his ideals with his work, alumnus Paul McKee runs a "family" of businesses, "creating spaces where community takes place."
Paul McKee thinks big. And like a good engineer, he thinks in terms of processes: How do we work? How do we live? How do we play and learn? And, most important, how can we successfully integrate these various aspects of our lives?
It's something he's been thinking about, in one form or another, since he was a kid.
"I always knew I wanted to build," McKee says. "My dad and my uncle and my grandfather were all homebuilders, so I grew up around the construction trades. I love to build because you are always accomplishing something that people will use and enjoy. There was never a doubt in my mind when I was a young man what I wanted to do."
McKee, B.S. '67, studied civil engineering at Washington University, and it didn't take him long to realize that he had much to learn.
"Engineering is an outstanding education. It teaches you the basic 'whys' and 'hows' of the construction process, from the soil to the concrete to the mechanical system. It also teaches you a way to think. That was very, very good for me."
In 1979, McKee joined with friend and fellow engineer Richard Jordan to form Paric Corporation (the name is a combination of their first names) and a year later began their involvement in Environmental Management Corporation (EMC). Twenty-three years later, they're still partners. Paric is one of the top construction companies in the country, and EMC operates water, waste-water, or public works facilities in more than 65 cities in 12 different states.
"My ambition for where we were headed was building what I call a three-legged stool," McKee says. "The three legs are Paric, EMC, and McEagle Development. They are the result of three concepts: We like to build things, we like to operate things, and we like to own things. The building leg is Paric. EMC is an operating entity, although it owns process assets. And McEagle owns real estate. When we can have our three-legged stool involved in a project, we can leverage the best out of all three entities."
McKee is chairman of the three companies. He refers to them as his "family of businesses." But, more than that, it's a family business. His brother Mike is president of EMC. Son Joe, M.B.A. '91, is president of Paric Corp.; son Chris, M.B.A. '99 (executive program), is vice president of EMC; and daughter Meg is an engineer at EMC. (McKee's other daughter, Kate, is a nurse practitioner at Washington University Medical Center.)
"My wife, Midge, is the love of my life and has been my partner for 36 years," says McKee. "We work very hard to not let business get in the way of family. We want all of our partners in our family of businesses to know we don't run our companies from the dining room table. We spend a lot of time with each other, but we're not sitting around talking about the business on weekends. We're talking about our grandkids and our family."
McKee is something of a philosopher, constantly working to integrate his ideals with his work. He's distilled much of his philosophy into a single term: LifeWorks, a trademark owned by McEagle Development.
"'We create the space where community takes place' is one of our mottos," he says. "We really believe in community. LifeWorks means living, learning, working, and playing in the same place so your life works better."
In the McKee family of companies, community starts in the office.
"All of these companies have very strong core values," McKee says, "things like integrity, doing what you say, being involved with the community. Having the right people with the right core values permits us to do great things for our customers and partners."
Their new offices in O'Fallon, Missouri, bring all three companies, and their employees, closer together. They are housed together on a single floor in a wide, glass-enclosed space. There are no separate offices, only separate spaceseven for McKee and the other executives. Where once the employees of the three companies rarely interacted and often didn't know each other, now they work and socialize in common areas. The perimeter of the entire office space is open. As McKee says, "Everyone shares in the natural light."
The lobby, called the "Park," features a sculpture depicting the LifeWorks philosophy. The Park opens onto a wide, neo-industrial common area known as the "Town Square," which includes a reception desk, restaurant-style booth seating, and a bar area complete with soda fountains. Off the Town Square are entries to Paric, EMC, and McEagle. Although they have separate entrances, their spaces flow into one another. Meeting rooms with names like Barn, Shack, and Doublewide create a casual atmosphere that somehow manages to coexist harmoniously with the industrial décor and cutting-edge technology.
McKee's community efforts reflect the same concerns. He strongly supports the growth of the St. Louis region as a leader in biotechnology, an endeavor in which he sees Washington University as a key player.
"The growth of the biobelt is an incredible opportunity for the region," he says, "but also an incredible opportunity for our companies because we understand what it can mean to our community."
Building a Haven
The LifeWorks philosophy has found form in a "knowledge-based community" called WingHaven. When complete, the 1,200-acre development in O'Fallon, Missouri, will include more than 1,240 homesranging from apartments and $89,000 condos in four-family flats to $750,000 executive homesan 18-hole Nicklaus-designed golf course, jogging trails, more than 30 acres of retail shops, a grade school, hotel, restaurants, more than 2.5 million square feet of office space, and more than 4 million square feet of research and development space. In addition to the McKee family of companies, WingHaven houses Nordyne, Inc., and MasterCard Global Technology and Operations Center.
There are also attractive boulevards, with the occasional playground, sculpture, or gazebo in the green space. White fences, reminiscent of Kentucky horse farms, surround the entire community. Some expensive homes are situated away from the golf course, while $125,000 villas back up to the green.
"We didn't think just the rich should have a beautiful view," McKee says. "You can't build community without economic diversity. WingHaven has all kinds of people living here together. We believe that with economic diversity, other kinds of diversity will follow. We like to say that everybody from the secretary to the CEO could live here."
Phase III of the development is designed in the "New Urbanist" style. The houses are closer to the street, with old-fashioned facades, front porches, alleys, and rear-entry garages.
"The idea of the New Urbanist village is to get the people to interact more," says McKee. "The city helped us create a new zoning ordinance called the 'mixed-use district,' allowing homeowners to rent out their carriage house or to have a little family business there. It's going to create a different kind of lifestyle."
Does he foresee more LifeWorks communities like WingHaven?
"Oh, absolutely. LifeWorks means a balanced life. People respond to that."
"'We create the space where community takes place' is one of our mottos," says McKee. "... LifeWorks means living, learning, working, and playing in the same place so your life works better."