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Leading in Style

Colleen Wischnewski

Five area women in the C-suite discuss leadership, flexibility, and generational differences.

Women have come a long way since 1920, when the 19th amendment granted them the right to vote, but long before that, Anna Bissell became America’s first female CEO, taking the reins at her husband’s carpet sweeper company after he passed away in 1889.

Under her watch, Bissell’s company grew to be the largest organization of its kind, with Anna involved in every aspect of the company, from defending patents, to sales, to training employees. In fact, she was one of the first executives to offer employees a pension plan and workers’ compensation, and she sold the Bissell sweeper to Britain’s Queen Victoria to rid the palace of dust bunnies. Bissell Corp. remains family-owned to this day.

Some may argue that the path to the C-suite has been a slow slog for women, with only 21% members of the exclusive club in 2020. In August 2021, the top Fortune 500 companies being led by women were CVS Health (No. 4), Walgreens Boots Alliance (No. 16), General Motors (No. 22), Anthem (No. 23), and Citigroup (No. 33). Two on the Fortune 500 are led by Black women: Rosalind Brewer at Walgreens and Thasunda Brown Duckett at Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association (TIAA).

Based on 10-year returns, 32 women-led companies have out-performed 468 male-run companies in the S&P 500, according to a Personal Finance Club report in May 2022. The difference in returns was 384% from women-led companies compared to 261% for companies led by men over the past decade.

In this area, accomplished women such as Epic’s Judy Faulkner have led the way, and we spoke with five others who also are leading the local charge at their organizations. We learn about their rise to the top, leadership styles, and philosophies as they carve their paths.

Jeannie Cullen-Schultz
Co-president, JP Cullen
Leadership style: Transitional leadership

JP Cullen is a Janesville-based, family-owned construction company run by the fifth-generation brother-and-sister team of Jeannie Cullen-Schultz and her younger brother, George Cullen. Jeannie first joined the family business as a project manager, and a few months later, while pregnant with her first child, she pursued a health care division manager position and got it.

Now, with five children under the age of eight, including 21-month-old twins, Cullen-Schultz oversees two divisions while her brother handles three. “It’s easier to work than be at home right now,” she laughs.

With about 700 employees and a remarkable turnover rate of just 4.5%, she manages five people directly.

Leadership qualities were evident in her athletic career. Cullen-Schultz was a talented basketball player in college, and her dream job was to be a basketball coach. Recruited to play for Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, Cullen-Schultz scored 1,481 career points and became the fifth highest scorer at the Ivy League school. Recently, Dartmouth named her to its 100 Greatest Athletes of All Time list. Back home, she was admitted to the Janesville Sports Hall of Fame.

After working as a graduate assistant for former UW–Madison’s women’s basketball coach Lisa Stone, Cullen-Schultz came to the realization that recruiting and travel, a big part of coaching, didn’t interest her, so she had a heart-to-heart chat with her dad about joining the family business and never looked back.

She’ll always draw on that team experience. “In basketball, we shared a vision we were always working toward. I learned to interact with people of different backgrounds and experienced different styles of leadership through the many coaches I met.”

What she learned has paid dividends in her career, despite never actually working in the trades herself. “I know my way around,” she says, “but we’d probably be in trouble if I had to set a door or lay the block.”

Cullen-Schultz enjoys getting to know her team members on a personal level, believing it creates trust, engagement, and a commitment to the working relationship too.

And as the co-president of a company that dates back to 1892, she’s learned to handle scrutiny with aplomb. “When your last name is on all the signage, the eyes are always on you to be an effective leader,” she says.

“Your name is always on the line, which adds expectations and pressure. We have a lot of history and tradition to uphold here.”

Interestingly, any barriers she encountered along the way were not because she was a female in a male-dominated industry, but rather because she was often the youngest in the room.

“I have to prove harder that I can do this,” Cullen-Schultz says.

With women finally making strides in construction, it’s no longer typical to be the only woman in the meeting room, she says. “Now there may be one or two of us, which is great, but whether you’re male or female, you always have to keep raising the bar because this is a very competitive industry.

“People are always watching.”

Read the Full Article in In Business here: Leading in style – In Business Madison (

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May 28, 2024