SUMMER 2017 / VOL. 17 ISSUE 1
There is something to be said about "building" on one’s heritage. At least that maxim has gotten the Irish Cullens far ahead in the construction business. This year, 2017, the Janesville, Wis., family is celebrating its 125th year in the field, stretching over five generations of hammering, sawing and pouring concrete for hospitals, schools, public buildings, corporate headquarters, sports facilities and a host of other structures mainly throughout the Midwest. You name it, and if you think Green, a Cullen construction crew is sure to be on hand.
When the folks at Cullen exclaim, "We're Cullen, the Tough Job Experts," it is more than just a slogan. Since its founding in 1892, the firm has provided extensive management and general construction services to the healthcare, industrial, commercial, educational, institutional and restoration markets in Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa. A recent signature feat was the multimillion dollar restoration of Milwaukee’s City Hall, a venerable old lady built in 1896.
The roster of projects continued with building much of the whimsical campus for Epic Systems Corporation, a healthcare soffware developer in Verona, Wisconsin, and the state-of-the-art Milwaukee Bucks training facility in Milwaukee.
It’s the Irish in ‘em: to do a job and do it right.
A brief overview of the family’s Celtic connection back to Dublin, Wicklow and Wexford, can be found in the first chapter of their 125th anniversary book, The Cullen Way – Amazon.com click here)
A plethora of cousins, the McAdams clan from the Cullen great-grandmother’s ancestral line, still till land in Co. Monaghan where they also raise sheep and cattle.
Mark Cullen, retired president of Cullen Construction, has visited Ireland some five times and regularly drops in at the family farm there to talk and enjoy the generous servings of soda bread. "When you get to Monaghan, it’s definitely Old Irish. In the pubs, the older guys are speaking Gaelic. Even their English is hard to understand. They are humble, modest people." One cousin, Michael McAdams, has also visited Janesville to check up on the Yankee familial contingent.
Long a Celtic stronghold, Janesville is proud of its "Irish Mafia," a far-flung group that includes Ryans, Fitzgeralds and a host of others, many of whom were in the construction trades. ""They battled their way into prosperity," said Mark. "The construction industry involved a lot of hard work and entrepreneurship. It was an opportunity for the Irish and they took it," he pointed out.
Embracing contemporary times, the Cullen firm was rebranded as J.P. Cullen Construction in 2015. Yet the company remains true to its hometown roots as a major business player in Janesville. Its headquarters are sited in an unobtrusive, low-lying red brick building on the city's south side. Cullen also has major satellite offices in downtown Madison and Brookfield, a Milwaukee suburb. The firm is about to move to a larger, downtown Milwaukee office to be closer to the hustle and bustle of Beer City’s burgeoning building scene.
The initial J.P. was John Patrick Cullen, a skilled carpenter who built numerous homes and businesses in the Janesville area in the late 1800s and early 1900s. His company’s first major job was erecting the Samson Tractor Company facility which was eventually taken over by General Motors. J.P.’s son Mark joined his father after serving in World War I, with the company becoming J.P. Cullen & Son.
Mark’s son, a second J.P., took over the reins in 1960 and "Sons" became part of the company nomenclature. He had earned a Bronze Star while serving as a combat infantryman during World War II in France, Germany and the Philippines. Under this J.P.’s watchful eye, Cullen expanded operations around the Midwest and also moved into world of cable television, becoming part-owner of the Milwaukee Bucks. Long interested in his family’s Irish heritage, he took the Cullen clan to a trip around the Ring of Kerry in 1994. J.P. died Feb. 12, 2017, at age 91.
His sons Mark, David and Richard Cullen eventually graduated into corporate positions in the1980s, pushing the company’s limits ever outward. Ensuring the corporation longevity with a nod to the Irish penchant for having smart, creative youngsters, the fifth generation of Cullen sons and daughters is now coming into their own. They include Mark's offspring Jeannie, Laura and George and David's Sean Michael. With this crop of eager new Cullens on the job, the company's corporate mien underwent a major updating of its clarifications statement and graphic design elements.
By 2015, the three brothers felt that the company's overarching objective was to enhance and sustain its growth in the marketplace. Subsequently, the new identity was developed to reflect a more contemporary image.
Part of the rebranding included dropping "& Sons" from the firm's title. With Generation Five coming on board to include both Jeannie and Laura Cullen as managers, the original name no longer made sense and the shorter designation was also considered more current. While most people now reference Cullen or J.P. Cullen, the official corporate name remains J.P. Cullen & Sons, Inc. Acting as a transition between Gen 4 and Gen 5, the firm is currently headed by Ron Becher, the first non-Cullen to serve as president.
By 2016, Cullen had become a $400 million-plus full-service pre-construction and construction company with 600 employees. It has always taken the team approach, with skilled professionals working in tandem at every level from the building trades to high tech.
The firm has built or remodeled cultural, community and civic centers, libraries and museums and is no stranger to working on theaters and performing arts centers, exhibition halls and conference centers.
As with other longtime clients, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and J.P. Cullen & Sons have grown together for five generations, working on almost $400 million in major undertakings. These range from Cullen’s early years of Bascom Hall construction, through the 1960s' dormitory boom, on to the opening of the remodeled School of Education and then breaking ground on a new School of Human Ecology. Challenging renovations of historic buildings included the Student Athlete Performance Center and Sterling Hall. Cullen also updated the university's sprawling Camp Randall. Such deep ties over the years demonstrate Cullen’s strength and stability.
Plus, the company has tackled commercial and retail construction, along with manufacturing facilities, power plants and structures housing contemporary science and technology industries and educational complexes as the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's School of Freshwater Sciences.
The company has a long list of other major building projects that have put a distinctive stamp on Wisconsin, from the Wisconsin Law Library in downtown Madison to the West Campus Cogeneration Facility for Madison Gas and Electric (MG&E), a joint venture between MG&E and Alliant Energy. Each of these meant utilizing the latest technology and construction methods to control costs, meet deadlines and ensure safety. All these features have contributed to the company’s overall success for all these years. Cullen is considered an industry leader many engineering fields, from prefabrication, to high definition laser scanning and on to Integrated Project Delivery (IPD).
No stranger to awards for its work, Cullen has been recognized by the Steel Erectors Association of America and numerous other trade associations. It is considered a favored employer, for its intense workforce development and training in partnership with trade unions; top pay scales and extensive benefits; and compliance documentation. It is a company where management is known for mentoring younger hires and dedication to educational causes.
Cullen employees assist with myriad charitable causes in the cities where they work, from serving on boards to raising funds for cancer research. The J.P Cullen Foundation alone has distributed more than $4.26 million in gifts and grants since 1992, when it was founded by Mark, David and Richard Cullen in honor of their father.
With all these strengths, Cullen’s future remains assuredly strong…for at least another 125 years.
© Irish American Post
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