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Daily Reporter Profiles GRAEF CEO, John Kissinger

GRAEF’s Kissinger keeps focus on building things

For Kissinger, that learning process began as a boy, pushing those Tonka trucks through the sand and building with his father, also an engineer.

“I wasn’t handy enough to be a tradesman, but I always wanted to be in construction,” he said. “And I like math. I like physics. I’m kind of a physics geek. … I think that’s what attracted me to engineering, as opposed to construction management. It was more wanting to figure out how to put things together and apply the laws of nature to a real situation.”

Kissinger now spends more time in the boardroom than in the field. But, he said, he has carried his experiences as a past project manager, regional manager and chief operating officer into his work as CEO and as chairman of the Milwaukee Area Workforce Investment Board.

“It was something I got involved in by accident,” Kissinger said. “But I enjoy it. I was born an idealist. I want to be involved. I want to make a difference. And I get to go home at night and feel like I’m doing something.”

The Daily Reporter: When you have a bad day, what keeps you coming back to work?
John Kissinger: I know it’s going to be better. I love the job. I love the people. Even on the toughest days.

TDR: What would you change about the construction industry?
Kissinger: Wow! I guess there’s two things. I wish it wasn’t so fragmented. If it was a little more consolidated, I think that would be good. And I just think if we could show people the true value of what we do, if we had a better way. We sell ourselves short sometimes on the accomplishments. People outside the industry are amazed at how things are done, and I don’t think we appreciate that.

TDR: What is the most useful thing you’ve learned since starting your job?
Kissinger: I think — and I think I knew this, but now I really understand it — that the things I do really have an effect on everybody in the company. Things that you might think are inconsequential, other people attach great significance to, so you have to be careful to explain yourself fully. Maybe I wasn’t cognizant of that.

TDR: If you could trade places with someone for a day, who would it be?
Kissinger: I wouldn’t mind being Wes Edens or Marc Lasry owning the Bucks and doing something new. They have such an opportunity to create a whole new legacy, just an opportunity to take something, it’s a brand, but it’s also like a start-up. It’s a great opportunity.

TDR: What do you value most?
Kissinger: I think family and friendships are the most important thing. You have to take care of your family, and you have to be there for your friends. I really do want people to be satisfied and happy.

TDR: What object in your office means the most to you?
Kissinger: I have a cup that I got when we went after the convention center, and it’s kind of meaningful. It was such a big thing. We were kind of long shots to get that job. And it’s from the groundbreaking. It’s just a coffee cup. But every time I see it, it reminds me of that process, how much fun that was and what an important time it was. Other than that, the pictures of my wife and kids mean the most.

TDR: How do you define success?
Kissinger: If you can work on something and, when it’s all done, it’s the realization of what you and the person you were doing it for wanted, whether its raising your kids or getting a building done. They’re never perfect, but if you can realize it closest to the vision you had, that’s success.

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