Rulian 5 Questions

Adam Burns is President of Crawford, Murphy & Tilly. Throughout his 22 years with the firm, he has served in diverse and progressively responsible roles, including transportation engineer, project manager, group manager, business development lead, and executive vice president. Adam has also served in leadership capacities across industry groups including American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) Indiana; American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), Metropolitan Indianapolis Branch; and Bradley University’s Innovations in Construction and Design Board of Directors. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Bradley University and an MBA from the University of Missouri – St. Louis.

What first drew you to civil engineering, and what has kept you invested in the field over time?

From a young age, I was drawn to building things and problem-solving. My dad grew up a farmer, and central to the agricultural lifestyle is being self-sufficient and building things. I was immersed in that way of life, and from early on, I loved being in the garage and building things with him. That was always fun for me. I was also captivated by my favorite TV show, “MacGyver,” which sparked my interest in the idea that you can tackle significant challenges using only the resources around you. All it takes is a bit of knowledge and the skills to use the tools effectively.

Today, it’s why I am still so fascinated with the engineering profession. The work is essentially what we loved as children: using your imagination, playing in the dirt, and building things. I have the opportunity to do this daily – but at scale, with bigger and better equipment. In a time when the many disciplines responsible for civil infrastructure must think creatively about how to draw in the next generation of talent, I think it will serve us well to connect these dots. I believe that by reminding others of the joy they experienced when they were children, playing make-believe and building imaginative worlds in the sandbox, we could attract more individuals to join civil engineering and the trades.

What is your perspective on the role that civil engineers and other infrastructure professionals play as contributors to – and drivers of – societal good?

As engineers, we exist in a unique space that sits at the intersection of practicality and aspiration. We build relationships with communities. We learn about their goals and visions. Then, we have the privilege and responsibility of translating that vision into something very physical and real that contributes to the advancement of the places we call home. As we go about our work, it is also our responsibility to take our clients’ goals and intentionally create something that benefits the whole community and contributes to their quality of place. What we don’t do is create our designs based on some kind of prescriptive standard alone. Instead, it is incumbent upon us to listen to and understand what it is that people need and then leverage our knowledge and experience to develop tailored, context-informed solutions.

What responsibilities are you most excited for in your new role of firm president, and why?

I’m passionate about helping to grow the next generation of coaches and mentors on our team.

Four years ago, the COVID pandemic forced us to work together, apart. Our team adapted to these circumstances and remained steadfastly committed to delivering for our clients. We have now emerged into a world where technology has the potential to reveal tremendous efficiencies. We look forward to achieving the potential that can be unlocked through these advances. We also recognize we’ll only get there with a team empowered by the confidence that stems from knowing the underlying “why” of their work.

With technology advancing to a point where machines can complete many tasks for us like never before, it’s even more important for us to focus on why we’re doing something and how to apply experience and knowledge in a way that’s untouchable to what machines can produce. Technology can imitate the doing, but it cannot replicate the spark of inspiration that comes from knowing and applying the “why.”

Machines do not have inspiration, but we do – that’s our gift to the world. For us to continue evolving as professionals, we must recognize and embrace this gift. In this new role, I’m looking forward to working across the organization, supporting leaders in their capacity as teachers, coaches, and mentors and helping our team members challenge themselves to think critically about the “why.”

What excites you most about the future at CMT?

Ultimately, it’s the opportunity that exists for this profession that excites me about the future of CMT. This is an exceptional time – unlike anything we’ve seen since Eisenhower’s interstate program in the ‘50s or the Clean Water Act in the ‘70s – where much of the nation holds a unified focus on infrastructure. You see it in the way that federal, state, and municipal leaders talk about infrastructure and in their willingness to invest because of infrastructure’s unique ability to help communities reach their aspirational visions.

This environment scales up our ability to provide more for our clients and the communities that we serve. And in turn, this also fuels the ability to provide novel and interesting experiences for our CMT team members, so they can learn and grow in the field.

What makes you proud to be part of the CMT team?

The selflessness of our team members makes me proud to be a part of CMT. This selflessness is reflected in the people who I have worked with throughout my career, which translates to the next generation of those at CMT. It is a big reason why so many people at CMT stay for their entire 30- to 40-year career. Our team members are so dedicated to giving their time and energy to clients and coworkers, which then inspires others – myself included – to want to give more. The spirit of selflessness and generosity at CMT is a virtuous circle that is so heavily ingrained in our culture, and we’re all fortunate to be a part of it.