My great-great-grandfather, J.P. Cullen, was an Irish immigrant who came to this country like many at the time: with limited means but a strong work ethic and desire to better his family’s life,” says Jeannie Cullen Schultz, today Co-President of the Wisconsin-based construction company JP Cullen. “In 1892, he decided to build a house, then just kept going.”
Today, the company that bears his name is responsible for hundreds of iconic buildings throughout Wisconsin, northern Illinois, northeast Iowa, and across the country—everything from schools, hospitals, and government buildings (including Wisconsin’s State Capitol, Milwaukee’s City Hall, and the VA Milwaukee Soldiers Home) to Fortune 500 food and beverage facilities. JP Cullen has earned a renowned reputation as a builder that tackles projects others might shy away from: the very complex and those requiring deep, industry-specific expertise.
“Since we work a lot in the health care and industrial markets, we might be remodeling a floor directly above an active surgical suite, or we might have to shut down lines of a manufacturing plant in order to install new equipment,” says Cullen Schultz. “Not to mention job sites in urban areas like Milwaukee or Madison require enormous planning and coordination. There is no room for error. Our teams love these complex projects because every day is different and exciting.”
A Necessary Shift
Being a leader in the family business was never part of Cullen Schultz’s plan. “I had no experience in building and construction; my goal was to be a college basketball coach,” she says. “But my dad asked me to meet with three women in the construction industry, and those meetings changed everything. They told me that construction is like any other business: If I learned how it worked, I could be successful.”
Today, Cullen Schultz shares leadership of the steadily growing $400-500 million company with her brother, George Cullen, overseeing a wide range of projects and 500-plus employees. As the first woman at the helm of this venerable family business, she is also steering a sea of change.
“Construction has been a male-dominated industry, but that’s changing,” says Cullen Schultz. “The people and companies we do business with are certainly more diverse—many are led by women. To best serve our customers, we need an inclusive workforce that brings different perspectives and experiences. Diversity sparks innovation and creativity, and that leads to better solutions and results for our customers.”
JP Cullen is working with colleges, trade schools, and chambers of commerce to encourage young, diverse individuals to consider the trades. “Employing more women in the ranks and leadership roles has fostered an emphasis on a healthy work-life balance throughout the company, improving the employee experience, which has resulted in a positive impact on our clients,” says Tricia Braun, Director of Client Strategies.
“Identifying, hiring, training, and retaining a more diverse workforce isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s great business,” says Cullen Schultz. “At JP Cullen, we believe that our people are the greatest assets to our company culture. We are on a mission to build a diverse workforce—qualified, hard-working team members whose unique perspectives empower us as we take on construction’s tough jobs.”