Going Global: Raba Kistner, Engineer of SA’s Most Transformative Projects, Bought by Aussie Firm

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Raba Kistner CEO Gary Raba.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Raba Kistner CEO Gary Raba.

Raba Kistner, a San Antonio-based engineering consulting firm with revenues nearing $100 million, has been acquired by an Australian engineering firm.

The CEO of Construction Sciences, an engineering firm based in Brisbane, Australia, made the announcement Wednesday, along with the CEO of Raba Kistner, Gary Raba. The purchase price was not disclosed.

“Raba Kistner’s strong reputation and well-aligned service lines attracted us to the business,” stated Matt Courtney, CEO of Construction Sciences. “We were further convinced upon meeting the people, who display similar ambitions and values to ours. Raba Kistner’s history of leveraging strong client relationships to grow, also aligns with the way Construction Sciences has been built.”

Founded in 1990 as Bowler Geotechnical, Construction Sciences is a portfolio company of Cardno, a global infrastructure, environmental, and social development company. “They are a much larger firm, publicly traded in Australia, and looking to enter the U.S. market in a significant way,” stated Raba, adding that he will serve as president. William Raba, the company’s current president and vice chairman, will transition out.

The company name, a combination of its first founders’ last names, will not change. This year marks the company’s 50 years in business.

A Look Back

“It was nothing but woods, chiggers, ticks, and deer.”

That’s how Gary Raba remembers the undeveloped acreage in Northwest San Antonio where, as a 10-year-old boy, he accompanied his father, Carl Raba, on a search for drill rig access.

The land is now home to the sprawling UTSA main campus, an early project for the now 50-year-old firm. And it’s just one of the hundreds of notable enterprises and infrastructure projects his parents helped build while establishing Raba Kistner as one of the construction industry’s Top 500 design firms by revenue in the country.

Raba spoke with the Rivard Report in an exclusive interview Dec. 4.

Raba Kistner provides a suite of engineering services in the planning, design, construction, operations, and maintenance phases of projects in market sectors that include civil infrastructure, commercial development, education, energy, and government.

Today, Carl is chairman emeritus and his wife, Bunny Jean, who was his partner in the geotechnical engineering firm they started in 1968, has passed away.

With the UTSA campus completed in 1975, the firm’s growth accelerated again with its work on the new USAA headquarters, a building larger and heftier than the Pentagon and completed one year later on a former horse farm along Interstate 10.

Members of the United States Air Force overlook a large model representing the USAA headquarters. Photo by Scott Ball.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Members of the U.S. Air Force observe a large model representing the USAA headquarters built in the 1970s.

“I don’t ever remember going onto the [USAA] project site beforehand, but I think that the confidence that the local architectural and engineering community showed, and their faith in Mom and Dad to be able to do two very large projects like that – that was a good start,” Gary said. “That was a good family moment for the company to be able to be on projects like that.”

Richard Kistner, who joined the Rabas in 1974, bringing the practice of construction materials engineering and a name change to the firm in 1978, is retired. Gary joined the firm as chief operations officer in 1999. “I was in that role for a couple of years, and then this whole big design-build thing just started taking over the country by storm,” he said.

By then, the firm had already been working for the Texas Department of Transportation, which recommended Raba Kistner for the $1.4 billion State Highway 130 project. “That’s when we said, ‘This is the business model we ought to be chasing,’” Gary said. So he stepped away from his position as COO, started the company’s infrastructure division, and began pursuing design-build projects across the country.

“Right now, that division probably represents 50 percent of the revenue stream and certainly the great number of bodies that we have,” he said.

Growing and Expanding

Four years ago, the company – which is owned and managed by Gary, William, and five other shareholders – set a revenue goal of $100 million by 2021. “And we’re already going to be there this next year,” Gary said. “We beat our plan by two years.”

The plan is to keep growing, he added. From its headquarters on Golden Lane near DeZavala Road, Raba Kistner runs offices in California, Arizona, New York, Utah, and Mexico. The firm has 500 employees, 120 of them based in San Antonio. In October, Raba Kistner acquired Conroe-based Timber Creek Environmental and is currently pursuing a project control company in Houston, plus two other firms.

Those acquisitions will add competencies to the firm that support its quest of design-build jobs stretching from coast to coast – including high-tech transportation and infrastructure contracts – even as it completes archaeological work on San Antonio’s most notable landmarks, from the Alamo redevelopment to Hot Wells.

Raba Kistner’s stamp is also on projects at University Hospital, the Henry B. González Convention Center, the San Antonio International Airport, the western expansion of Loop 1604, and ongoing renovations at City Hall and the Frost Bank building.

In Texas, the firm has been involved in countless engineering projects to include buildings, roads, bridges, utilities, and of course, the deadline-driven $485 million Kyle Field redevelopment at Texas A&M University in College Station – alma mater of Carl, Bunny, Gary, and William.

But Raba Kistner also has its hand in transportation system projects from Boston to the Los Angeles International Airport. “We’re looking at ways, quite frankly, to stay in California,” Gary said. “Everybody goes, ‘You wanna go to California?’ The answer is, well, yes. When you take a look at it, in 2022, they have the Super Bowl. In 2024, they’ve got World Cup Soccer, and then in 2028, they’ve got the Olympics.”

Still, being a Texas company has its advantages, he said. “Transportation, the sciences, just the growth that we’ve had in Texas. So yeah, we’re very happy to be in Texas. Everybody wants to come to Texas. All the multinational companies want to come in. All the international companies want to come in. They’re just coming in force.”

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

A Raba Kistner employee waits at a job site.

What Raba said the company doesn’t do design construction projects as architects or engineers; rather, it provides a variety of professional services across the lifecycle of construction projects. The company leaves design-only work to peers like Pape-Dawson Engineers, and that keeps what Gary called a “big target” off the firm’s back in terms of competition.

“Our motto for our balance scorecard is to grow and get better,” Gary said. “If each of us individually can’t grow in our talents and our skill sets and get better at what we do … and then get better at serving the client, we’re going lose to our fiercest competitors. And what we want to do is … beat those guys.”

500 Charitable Activities

But first, they have to win what Gary called the war on talent. “In the engineering business and in technical businesses, environmental businesses, and the service lines that we run, it is hard to find good, new talent,” Gary said. “We’re recruiting heavily at the college level, we’re doing internships, we’re recruiting away from competitors as best as we can, and it’s helped us that we have more of a national presence now. But it’s all about people.”

Carl remains one weapon in that effort, and in weathering the ups and downs of business, Gary said.

“He’s still a good resource in an outreach program for a lot of the younger engineers,” Gary said. “He still attends all the board meetings. I think people still probably call him for advice. He’s a hell of a resource for everybody … he’s been through, what, six recessions probably and four or five good high peaks, so it’s always nice to have people that have been through those before on your side.”

To mark the company’s 50th year, Raba Kistner is participating in 500 charitable activities in the communities where it has offices. The goal is tied in to what the leadership sees as the firm’s ultimate reason for being.

“We exist because we want to contribute back to the community,” Gary said. “We’re here to create a better environment for our employees, their families, our clients, and ourselves. And what better way than each of our offices giving back?”

 

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