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P&Q Hall of Fame Profile: Edward J. ‘EJ’ Burke III

By |  March 25, 2022
Burke

Burke

Burke’s DuPont career continued internationally across Central and Latin America, Australia and Canada.

For the better part of 19 years, he held positions in management, marketing and human resources. His international career began in the Caribbean and South America, including Venezuela and Guyana.

“Back in the late 70s, Venezuela was blessed with a lot of petrol dollars,” Burke says. “They were a rich economy and, to their credit, they were trying to build hydroelectric projects to come into the 20th century. A lot of explosives were consumed there.”

From there, Burke moved to Sydney to oversee marketing in DuPont’s Australasia region. Due to Australia’s population at the time, Burke says coal mining and iron ore were larger economic drivers than quarries.

While the Burkes lived in Sydney, DuPont purchased Conoco for $7.2 billion.

“We got a telex that said to stop all capital expenditures because of this acquisition,” Burke says. “Growth slowed down an awful lot.”

Burke returned to the U.S., taking an HR job with the company and remaining there until the DuPont explosives businesses were sold to Canadian Investment Capital in Toronto in 1987. He followed the company up north for another eight years.

With each stop he made, Burke embraced the culture and atmosphere of his homes.

“You need to remember that you’re a guest in somebody else’s home,” he says. “In Australia, the first thing I did was sit in front of a television set and learned cricket, Australian rules football and rugby. Nobody in Australia wants to hear about the New York Yankees or Dallas Cowboys.

“In Guyana, it’s 50/50 minerals and agriculture,” Burke adds. “Most people, when they dealt with Guyana mining, which is a very large bauxite mine, would stay in Georgetown, Guyana. They’d go up to the mine and go back at night. I didn’t do that. I went up and stayed at the mine and drank beer with those guys. They respected me for that because I was trying to be a part of their company and their society.”

One of EJ Burke's key principles during his career has been caring for and about customers. Photo: Dyno Nobel

One of EJ Burke’s key principles during his career has been caring for and about customers. Photo: Dyno Nobel

Caring for customers

Jim Hurley, president of White Rock Quarries in Florida and one of Burke’s longtime friends, describes Burke as the ultimate salesperson and a constant leader who knows how to build relationships.

Hurley first met Burke over a business lunch nearly 37 years ago. Their friendship started there and has blossomed ever since.

“If you went to the dictionary and looked up ‘class,’ you’d see EJ’s face there,” Hurley says. “He is a first-class individual. You go through life and you have a lot of acquaintances but, at the end of the day, you don’t meet a lot of people like EJ.”

Burke’s emphasis on people and customers drew the attention of Dyno Nobel. He joined the explosives manufacturer in 1996 to put together a team of industry managers looking after metal construction, seismic quarries and coal mining.

In the 24 years he spent with Dyno Nobel, Burke more than left his mark.

“EJ, with his unique level of passion commitment and energy, [was] instrumental in refocusing the company’s efforts back on our customers,” says Braden Lusk, president of Dyno Nobel Americas. “The customer relationships that EJ has established and strengthened over a long period of time will endure as part of his legacy.”

Lusk praises Burke for other contributions, including the establishment of quarry and mining academies and the Major Customer Health & Safety Forum.

Current Dyno Nobel employees Kelly Arnold and Ed Gallagher say Burke’s door was always open.

“EJ is just a fantastic human being,” Gallagher says. “He genuinely cares about people. EJ had time for anybody in the company that needed to talk or had questions. He made time. It could have been the janitor, and EJ would make time for them.”

Arnold shares Lusk’s view in terms of how Burke approaches customers. Both vividly recall one unique phrase Burke is famous for.

“When he would start a meeting, it didn’t matter where the meeting was, he would play a little musical theme and say: ‘In the beginning, there was the customer,’” Arnold says. “EJ approached life with both humor and humility. It didn’t matter what role. Even as a senior vice president of the company, EJ would always represent himself as having a staff position in the business, supporting those who support the customer.”

Looking back on Burke’s time at DuPont and Dyno Nobel, Hurley says Burke’s representation of the industry is a large part of his legacy.

“He was proud of that trade name that he represented and he was proud of what they could provide,” Hurley says. “Most importantly, he knew how to make the connection.

“He’s the kind of guy that you develop a trust with,” Hurley adds. “If he tells me the sky is black, I don’t look up.”

Back in the game

Burke retired from Dyno Nobel in 2020. That retirement lasted all of 11 days.

“My phone rings and it’s John Hale who owns Quick Supply Co.,” Burke says. “I knew John’s father, who was with DuPont when I started. He called me and asked if I would consider coming to work for Quick Supply. I said: ‘John, I’ve been retired 11 days and I’ve got some trips planned. Let me talk to Barbara and I’ll get back to you.’”

Burke joined Quick Supply in April 2021 as general manager for national accounts – and he’s been there since.

While Burke isn’t yet eyeing a second retirement, he says he wouldn’t change a thing as he looks back on more than 50 years in the industry.

“With the way it turned out, how can you be disappointed,” he says. “I don’t have any regrets. I’ve always believed that God answers our prayers or he does something better for us. Just do your best and everything will work out. I look back now with my father dying and that watershed event. That put me on a direction that never changed.”

Jack Kopanski

About the Author:

Jack Kopanski is the Managing Editor of Pit & Quarry and Editor-in-Chief of Portable Plants. Kopanski can be reached at 216-706-3756 or jkopanski@northcoastmedia.net.

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