For the first time in the half-century since its founding, the top leadership position at San Antonio engineering firm Raba Kistner is passing out of family hands.

Gary Raba, son of the company’s founder Carl Raba, will transition his CEO title to Chris Schultz officially after the start of the new year.

The company’s revenue last year nearly topped $100 million, and it has been behind some of San Antonio’s most transformative projects, such as State Highway 130, the main campus of the University of Texas at San Antonio, the Henry B. González Convention Center, and renovations at City Hall.

Gary Raba, who came to the helm in 2013, said he has planned for years to transition out of the role in 2020.

“You can read all the management books in the world,” Raba said. “As the CEOs get to that seven- to 10-year tenure, they tend to become more risk-averse.”

And risk-taking has been paramount to Raba Kistner’s growth, he said.

Raba Kistner CEO Gary Raba.
Gary Raba is stepping down as CEO of Raba Kistner. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

His father co-founded the company in 1968 to fill a niche corner in the world of engineering consulting. The firm drilled holes at project sites to advise contractors about the local soil and rocks, and how it could affect basements or foundations.

In the following decades, the company made dramatic expansions into other services, now arguably covering almost every step involved in the engineering of a public work: construction materials testing, environmental consulting, project management, and more.

They are involved with construction of the new, 3.1-mile Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge on the Hudson River north of New York City and the electric train system at Los Angeles International Airport. And at home, as part of the city’s planned renovation of the Alamo, Raba Kistner’s archaeology team has worked to help excavate portions of the Long Barrack and church, where team members helped discover human remains.

The company has around 500 employees and operates in Texas, Utah, Nebraska, Arizona, New York, California, and Mexico.

It was bought in 2018 for roughly $55 million by Construction Sciences, an Australian firm.

Raba is a well-known name in San Antonio. Carl Raba was selected as a “legacy leader” by the North San Antonio Chamber of Commerce in 2013 for his contributions to education and for his work dealing with water and environmental issues. Raba Elementary School in Northside Independent School District was named after him.

Gary Raba, like his father, also is involved in local community projects and encourages his employees to do the same. For example, Raba and employees helped nonprofit Sleep in Heavenly Peace build bunkbeds for children in families of need.

Chris Schultz will take over as CEO of Raba Kistner starting in 2021. Credit: Courtesy / Raba Kistner

Schultz compared his new position to “inheriting Nick Saban’s job,” referring to the head football coach at the University of Alabama, one of college football’s successful teams. Schultz has been with Raba Kistner for nearly 30 years and previously ran the firm’s Houston branch. He said he plans to keep the “family mentality” of the company.

“Our primary objective is to make our employees’ lives better. They come first,” Schultz said.

He has no plans to change Raba Kistner’s direction, which he said has seen its best year yet in 2020.   

While construction is considered an essential service, allowing Raba Kistner to continue its projects during the coronavirus pandemic, gone are the many expenses related to travel and “external marketing” – such as golf games and dinners with potential clients.

Gary Raba will not be leaving the company entirely. He will be stepping into a new role as “strategic growth officer,” drawing from his industry relationships to explore acquisitions of outside firms in related services.

“The proudest thing I could do for the heritage of this company was to hand it off to a non-Raba,” Raba said. “Because there weren’t any Rabas left.”

Disclosure: The Joni and Gary Raba Family Foundation is a financial supporter of the San Antonio Report. For a full list of business members, click here.

Waylon Cunningham

Waylon Cunningham writes about business and technology. Contact him at waylon@sareport.org.