“At Rutgers, I learned to be a leader. I learned problem-solving skills—I learned to gather facts well and talk to different people to find answers.” --Stephen Bray
Steve Bray holds BS and MS degrees in Industrial and Systems Engineering from Rutgers and an MBA from Monmouth University. He is a founding partner and the president and chief operating officer of KMB Design Group, a full-service engineering firm headquartered in Wall Township, New Jersey. The firm guides projects from conception to completion to provide comprehensive engineering solutions to clients both in the U.S. and Europe. A licensed engineer in 49 states, he is also a member of the National Society of Professional Engineers and the Institute of Industrial Engineers. He has recently established the Stephen and Kerry Bray Scholarship for students from the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering.
Are you from New Jersey?
I grew up in Oceanport and live in West Long Branch now.
Why did you choose Rutgers School of Engineering?
Obviously, it had a great reputation. I went to the University of Virginia for my first two years. I had a good summer job at DLB Associates, an engineering firm in Eatontown, NJ, where I had a great mentor who encouraged me to look into Rutgers SoE. I did and ended up transferring for my final two years.
What was your first job after graduation?
I worked throughout my undergraduate degree at DLB Associates, commuting up to Rutgers. After graduation, I stayed with DLB Associates, for four years.
My first mentor there also encouraged me to go back to school for my MS and MBA degrees. My bachelor’s degree gave me a good broad base. My master’s in industrial engineering let me fine-tune that.
What is your focus at KMB Design Group?
I’m a partner in KMB Design Group, which we started in 2008. It now has a team of 125 employees and contractors that covers the country. I’m also the president and COO and the engineer of record on the majority of our projects. My main job these days is running the company, overseeing financial aspects, and doing long-term strategic planning.
What prompted you to establish the Stephen and Kerry Bray Scholarship?
As we’re continuing to grow the business, I really wanted to come up with a structured plan to give back. I’m on the ISE department’s Industry Advisory Board and like that aspect of giving back, but I’d like to help more personally as well. The scholarship is set up with some oversight to identify students pursuing an industrial engineering degree on a need and merit basis.
What “merit” qualities are you looking for in the scholarship recipients?
It’s all about a student who is really focused on extracting the most out of his or her education, who shows potential, and who is making a concerted effort. It’s not a GPA issue. I’m trying to help the next generation.
Are there other Rutgers graduates at KMB?
There are six or seven Rutgers grads here. I’ve seen students from Ivy League schools and from Rutgers and I’ve seen that Rutgers graduates are as strong – if not stronger.
Have you had interns from SoE?
Yes, one or two. That’s actually something that I hope to grow. It’s amazing how much I benefited from working while getting my degree. For students today, getting an internship does make a huge difference as well.
Do you see yourself as a mentor?
I mentor as much as I can, absolutely. Logistically, it’s not always possible to do it directly, but I encourage managers and supervisors to help our interns understand the company and that they can do this.
What do you most enjoy about mentoring?
When students get validated and know they made the right choice by choosing engineering. They think, “wow – it’s not just books, or not just different labs.” They see that engineering is something they can do in the real world.
What do you look for in a new hire?
I look for the same traits as for the scholarship. It’s a combination of energy level, and communication. You can see it in their eyes that they want to make a concerted effort. That’s important to us.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I try to be even-keeled and not let things upset me. Instead, I try to convey confidence that we can solve any problem and make any process more efficient.
Did you learn any early leadership lessons at Rutgers?
Absolutely! Throughout my undergraduate and graduate programs, there was an emphasis on improving systems. What’s neat is that I had classes in things like machining that have nothing to do with my business now, but that taught me problem-solving skills. I learned to gather facts well and talk to different people to find answers.
What career advice would you offer new SoE graduates?
I think it’s fairly important to really keep your eyes open for a strong mentor who can help you along the way. In addition, I highly recommend pursuing your professional engineering license – it will considerably enhance your future work opportunities.
Did any particular professors at Rutgers influence you?
All my professors had different styles and I learned to be open to that and to knowing that you can solve problems from different perspectives. I can’t speak highly enough of my Rutgers education.
What do you most value about your School of Engineering education?
The problem-solving skills and the good diversity at Rutgers. I learned to work with people from different walks of life and work in teams.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your student self?
I’d tell myself not to get so stressed out with juggling everything. Learning is what’s important – not getting the grade. It’s also important to have fun along the way.
What did you do for fun as a student?
Football games were fun. I liked playing golf. My experience was unique because I was commuting up to campus. Still, I had a good time.
What do you do for fun these days?
I love to go to the beach with my wife and four kids. We have a beach club with a cabana. My kids love it—the whole summer is like a nice vacation. And I also love reading good books.
What are you reading now?
Shoe Dog, a memoir by Phil Knight, the founder of Nike. It’s the best autobiography I’ve ever read.
Do you have a guilty pleasure?
I’m a Netflix binger. I recently watched Justified – I love that show.
Do you have a favorite app on your phone or tablet?
If you could take a vacation tomorrow, where would you go and why?
Iceland. My family is from there. I love visiting there. The air is clear, the food great, the people are nice. The tap water is the best you’ll ever have