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Honoree Headshot
LarryWeinberg
RichardWinter
Jill Heneghan
JessicaWillingham

Michael Kennedy Jr

CEO
KAI Enterprises & The UP Companies

Location: St. Louis, MO
Founded: 1980; 2012
Industry: Design & Construction

As CEO of both KAI Enterprises and The UP Companies, Michael Kennedy Jr. knows the value of flexibility and adaptability.

“Successful leaders today have to have the ability to adapt on the fly and get alignment within your organization for any strategic shifts in policy, market direction and corporate goals,” he said. “The world in the past three years has seen titanic shifts, and real titans ride the wave, so they don’t get crushed by it. Our goal is typically to be the wave, but it recently has been out of our control, so we grabbed our surfboards.”

KAI Enterprises is a national design and build firm. Founded in 1980, KAI has grown into one of the largest minority-owned firms in the architecture, engineering and construction industry. For more than 40 years, KAI has been instrumental in transforming communities through residential, commercial, K-12, higher education, healthcare, science and technology, aviation, mobility, sports and entertainment, government and water projects. KAI Enterprises comprises four distinct business units: KAI Design, KAI Engineering, KAI Build and KAI 360 Construction Services.

Headquartered in St. Louis with a regional office in Kansas City, The UP Companies (UPCO) is one of the Midwest’s largest subcontracting companies. Its distinct operating companies include Power UP Electrical Contractors, Square UP Builders and Hustle UP Laborers.

In 1980, Kennedy Jr.’s father, Michael E. Kennedy Sr., founded Kennedy Associates Inc. in his hometown of St. Louis. With few African American architects in the St. Louis area, discrimination in the industry fueled a determined Kennedy Sr. to achieve his career goals. He would go on to become the first African American architect registered in the state of Missouri. In 2004, Kennedy Sr. rebranded Kennedy Associates into KAI Design & Build, and four years later, his son, Kennedy Jr., became KAI’s president. At the start of 2019, KAI Design & Build restructured into parent company KAI Enterprises.

Kennedy Jr. guided KAI to revenue growth from $8 million in his first year as president to more than $35 million, while The UP Companies’ revenue went from $3.7 million in its first year to more than $40 million.

“KAI and The UP Companies will be the premier choice design-build firm in the Midwestern region of the United States,” Kennedy Jr.’s team said. “We may not be the largest, but we will be the best and most fully integrated turnkey firm. KAI and The UP Companies will transform communities through integrated design and construction excellence. We will do this not just through the physical environment but also through serving the communities of the people who use them.”

Kennedy Jr. serves on the Associated General Contractors (AGC) of Missouri Board of Directors and is the chair of the AGCMO Building Division. He also serves on the BJC Christians Hospital board, Boy Scouts of America board, and National Black Empowerment Council board and is an active member of the Young Presidents Organization. He has also previously served on the boards of Big Brothers Big Sisters, Voices for Children and Youth Lifeline America.

Presented by:

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Mike is a creative visionary who loves to make people laugh and cherishes time to get away from it all. He travels to interesting places with great friends and family and he also loves racing cars on professional tracks for fun.

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