Maintaining a successful company is already a challenging task to accomplish. How much more if you run a multi-generational company with huge shoes to fill and extremely high expectations to meet? Eric Anderton discovers the secret to accomplishing such a feat with the Cullen Clan. This family’s fourth and fifth generations now lead JP Cullen: Jeannie Cullen Schultz (Co-President), George Cullen (Co-President), Richard Cullen (Vice President Field Operations), Laura Cullen (Training & Development Manager), Dan Cullen (Yard & Shop Operations Manager), and Sean Cullen (Director of Business Development). They share how they uphold the company values first established by their founder and how they recruit the right people who exhibit them. The family also opens up about their approach to solving business arguments, the incredible blend of young and old generations, and the impact of having a years-old business in raising their kids – or the potential sixth-generation leaders of JP Cullen.
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Secrets Of A Successful Multi-Generational Company With The Cullen Clan
How well do you get along with your siblings and your cousins? What does that have to do with building a construction company that spans 130 years and 5 generations? We answer those questions and others in this episode. It is my privilege and pleasure to welcome George, Jeannie, Laura, Dan, Richard and Sean Cullen onto the show.
We’re going to have a great time in this unique episode. I’ve never had six guests on at the same time. We have a tremendous time discussing why the Cullens have been successful in building and sustaining a construction company for over 130 years and 5 generations. Enjoy my chat. Feel free to share it with other people. Reach out to the Cullens on their website, JPCullen.com. Thank you for reading.
“Your ability to plan, improvise and schedule construction operations on each of these jobs has materially expedited this urgent war work and made it possible to use these facilities to shorten the war and return servicemen to civilian life promptly. Each project was greatly expanded after construction was started and your ability to expand and expedite operations were of great value to the government. I wish at this time to express my appreciation for the cooperation offered and the efficient work done by your company.”
“In my opinion, the manner in which the work was accomplished was exceptional in view of the many war restrictions that had to be overcome. You are to be commended for the satisfactory completion of these very jobs. I extend to all members of your organization my thanks and sincere appreciation for their cooperation in this vital war program.” That was a commendation from Colonel Winard of the War Department on November 7, 1945, to Mark Cullen. I’m welcoming here the 4th and 5th generation of JP Cullen leadership to the show. Jeannie, can you tell me a little bit about Mark Cullen?
That was pretty powerful and I know it’s from our book, The Cullen Way. It speaks to the rich history and how long our company has been in the position to serve our clients and people. We’re celebrating our 130th year in 2022. I’m going to flip it to my brother, George, who’s our family historian and can expand on that quote and Mark and share a little bit about the history of our company.
Thanks for having me, Eric. I’m excited to have this conversation. What’s neat about that letter is Mark was our second-generation owner of the company and Mark’s son JP was a World War II combat veteran. While we are building that facility, I would wrap up the third-generation owner of JP Cullen in Europe. He was a machine gunner.
It’s special to think that our company was able to build that building while he was fighting for his country in Europe. The company was founded in 1892 by JP Cullen, who was the son of an Irish immigrant. He passed it on to his son, Mark Cullen, to who the letter was written. Mark Cullen pass it on to his son, another JP. JP pass it on to our fourth-generation owners, which are Richard Cullen, Mark Cullen and David Cullen.
Mark and David Cullen transitioned the business to their children in the business, which is our fifth generation. That facility where we worked in 1945, we went back there a couple of years ago and it’s been repurposed to test rockets for a private company. Not only were we there in 1945 but we were also back there a couple of years ago in 2010. It’s pretty special when you think to be able to span that long.
My brother Mark and I worked one summer up at that plant many years ago. It was very interesting. Some are very heavy construction and concrete. There are some interesting old construction guys that I got to work with and be around. It’s very memorable. I’ll never forget it but Mark and I worked in that plant.
Jeannie, can you introduce everyone that’s on the interview here?
Thanks for having us. I’ll start with George Cullen. He’s our Co-President alongside me. He is my younger brother. He leads our overseas, industrial and Milwaukee divisions. We have Sean Cullen, who is in business development in our Milwaukee market and is pursuing work in healthcare, commercial, education, higher ed and K-12. He also lives in Milwaukee. He’s George and I’s cousin. Next up is Dan Cullen. He is Sean’s older brother. He leads our yard and shop operations, which are housed in our Janesville office about 45 minutes South of Madison, Wisconsin. Their dad, David, transitions to his next phase of life. They don’t like to use the word retired but things like transitioned or step back.
Up next is Laura Cullen, who is George and I’s sister. She leads our corporate training and development and is very heavily focused on hiring and recruitment. Like everybody across the country, we’re looking for great people to add to our team and Laura’s integral to that, then also continuing the education for our team members. Last but not least, we have Uncle Richard Cullen. He is the 4th generation, a family member that is sticking on with us in the 5th generation. He is our VP of Field Operations.
Richard has grown up in the field and knows our field operations. He prides himself and is incredible. He knows all our guys’ names. He can walk onto men and women and shakes their hand. He instills that in the next generation how it is critical to have a pulse of the field and your boots on the ground because that’s what makes us successful. I’m Jeannie Cullen Schultz. I’m a Co-President alongside George. I oversee our health care, Janesville divisions and office out of Madison.
Everyone, welcome to the show. I’m tremendously excited to have you all on the show because one of the fascinating things about having a multi-generational company, specifically I’m thinking about in the United States, is that as we trace the various generations of the Cullens, we get a real sense of the history of the United States and how it’s a history of immigrants who come from difficult circumstances, establish themselves, grow, thrive and put down roots in a very profound way. That’s something that is underlying everything that we’re talking about as we’re going through the interview process. I would like to start by asking you, guys. You’ve got an uncle, cousins and siblings. How do you handle the intergenerational aspect of the ownership of the business?
Richard should go first from his perspective as being a member of the fourth generation that’s seen a lot over time. Dan, if you want to speak for the fifth generation group, that’d be great.
I want to thank Eric for having us on his show. I appreciate it.
You’re the uncle and the old head in the room. You’ve known these guys since they were pooping their diapers. How do you handle that intergenerational aspect of ownership?
It’s a lot of fun. I came up through the field and I have deep respect for my partners. They are a bright bunch that is fun to be with and interact with. We have our moments. We’re in an embryonic stage because this started in January 2022 when we became partners. If you asked me this question years from now, I would probably give you a better answer but now, we’re interacting well.
My nieces and nephews are very bright individuals, much smarter than I ever was. I lean on them. I look for their help and insight to help me with my business and the things I do. They are very well and have great knowledge of construction already because they grew up in it. It’s been a good transition. We have gotten along well. I enjoyed it.
Can you think of a specific time with any of the other folks here, in our discussion, when your perspective on them shifted from, “This is a teenager,” and it shifted to, “This is an adult. This is a serious person, someone who I can even learn from or can make a contribution to this business?”
I could say something about all of them but I will pick George and Jeannie because they are Co-Presidents. They, along with me, meet from time to time. Even though I’m quite a bit older than them, I look towards them for their advice, insight and intellect. The other thing that they do, and George is probably the best at, is calm me down. I am a very high, strong Irishman. I can get on with the best of them. George seems to have a calming air about him that helps and makes me think of things that, in perspective, I’m not looking at because I can be stubborn and be set in my ways. He helps me get out of that. I appreciate that.
Jeannie, as we think about this intergenerational aspect, what has been your experience in terms of the dynamics and challenges associated with that?Establish relationships as soon as you can. Click To Tweet
One thing we started, we worked with a family business consultant and it’s something the fourth generation set up many years ago. I remember they brought us all together when none of us were in the business. Maybe some had done an internship and some were planning to do a whole bunch of different things. They set the tone, “If you’re going to come back to the family business, you’re going to come to the family business for the right reasons. You’re going to earn your stripes somewhere else. You’re going to get experience so that when you come back, your heart is in it and you’re in it for the right reasons. You’re going to probably learn a lot of stuff working elsewhere that you can bring back.”
From there, we set up. We met quarterly as a fifth-generation. At first, there wasn’t a lot to talk about but it was about building relationships and getting to know each other better as we had gone off to college and spent time apart. We knew that if we built that foundation and those relationships to have tough conversations, they’re going to come in a family business and they have. We’ve worked through them with each other but we have a regular cadence.
We are partners with Richard. He comes to what we used to call our G5 Meetings. Now we call them shareholder meetings. For a while, they were G4 or G5 meetings. It’s having that regular cadence and being able to have that opportunity to talk to one another, not only as cousins or siblings but also as business partners and challenge one another.
Dan, give us a little bit of your perspective on the intergenerational dynamic.
One thing that was key for us is we are cousins who grew up in the same neighborhood. We were two blocks away, so we knew each other from a very early age. We did a lot of things together. We went to our grandpa together. We threw the football around, played in the ravine and had a lot of different interactions at a young age. That helped our relationships. When we came into the business, we already knew who we were. We understood each person’s personality, strengths and weaknesses.
Growing up, Richard, Mark and David put an emphasis on making sure that the family got together. When we got together, we had fun. We always go out and learn how to drive the boat or throw the football. There was always something that we were doing. I’ve always thought that Richard was someone that you could call if you needed anything growing up. I had a lot of times when I needed to get a call on him and I could confide in him. Those relationships happened organically but we put work into them at a very young age. That’s key, especially if we look into future generations, to establish those as soon as you can.
What you’re speaking about is the importance of getting to know each other and that brings strength to any relationship in any business. The advantage of having a family business is that if you’ve grown up together and stuck together, which is often the challenge for many families, sticking together, you have that opportunity to get to know each other and find out your strengths and weaknesses.
I’m curious about the sense of place because there’s a phrase that I took from the Cullen book that Janesville is the town that JP Cullen built. Give me an idea of this sense of place that the company has in the geographic areas that you’ve served over the years.
We’re a modest company. That book was something to celebrate what we’ve done as a company and very specifically what our people have done because we’ve got the Cullen’s on the show but this company has been built by people who are not Cullens, along with the Cullens. There are great names throughout the history of our company. Those roots are deep here in Janesville, which is a town of about 65,000 people. Our company was founded here in 1892. We have a long history of building here specifically, in 1908.
We built the Samson Tractor factory, which then turned into a General Motors, one of the third largest general motors manufacturing plants. We built roughly 3 million square feet of manufacturing space in that facility. In Janesville, it’s pretty neat. As a kid, I used to drive around with my grandpa and he could point out the things that we were able to accomplish as a company in this community, in Madison and throughout the state of Wisconsin. That history runs deep.
It’s easy to be inflated by our success and get a fat head but you pride yourselves on being a company of what you call regular people. What do you mean by that? I’m here on the West Coast. West Coast people tend to get a little cocky and arrogant but you all are from the Midwest and you strike me with that Midwest flavor. How do you stay with that regular people mentality?
I’m going to answer that question but on the other question, as it relates to building Janesville, George touched on General Motors. I won’t go further into that. I don’t know if this is something that people around the country know of anymore but we built the Parker Pen Company, which was a very popular pen that is no longer in Janesville but when we started that, the actual Parker was a family in Janesville that I grew up with along with my brothers. That’s another part of building Janesville. The neat thing is I was on a phone call. We were talking about some work coming up in some of the schools in Janesville. We’re doing some refabrication, remodeling and security in some of the schools. We’re going to be working at eight schools in and around Janesville.
I asked the superintendent, “How many schools are we working on?” He said, “We’re working on eight.” As he rattled them off, we built 7 of the 8 of those schools. It’s neat that we’re going back, refurbishing and remodeling schools that my grandfather and my dad built. It makes you prideful for what we’ve done with Janesville.
It’s a sense of being regular people and humility that helps to sustain the company.
We are a family-owned business. We treat our people in the field and the offices like they’re our family. We repeat that over and over again. I was in a meeting with my concrete division group. We were talking about mental wellness and construction. It was something that people don’t talk about but there’s a lot of trouble in the construction industry as it relates to mental wellness. What I started with my speech or talk was, “You are our family. Your family is our family. We want to take care of you.” Another cool thing is we have a very modest office in Janesville. That’s a home office.
That office is modest for a reason. The reason that we have a very modest office is we want our field people with mud on their boots to know they can come into that office at any time and walk up and down those hallways. Even if they got mud on their boots, they’re welcome. I look around Madison, Wisconsin and I see some of our competitors. Their buildings are like the Taj Mahal. Not one field person is even allowed in their buildings. That’s part of what we are. We’re family and everybody that works for us is our family.
Laura, can you touch on it because you’re spending a lot of time focused on our culture and hiring for the right fit? What do you think about JP Cullen, the humbleness and the work-hard mentality?
Something that I stood up to grab is our mission, vision, values and beliefs but our value is being loyal, accountable, integrity-driven, humble and being a leader. When we’re interviewing new candidates to join the JP Cullen team, I always make a point to discuss those with them. I ask them to think about those values and make sure that they resonate with them and align with what they’re looking for.
When we’re hiring somebody to join JP Cullen, our mission is to identify, hire and train the best people to serve our customers. It’s important to us to find the right fit that JP Cullen is going to be a right fit for them and that they’re going to be a right fit for JP Cullen. Those values need to align with the people that we’re interviewing.
Most construction companies put their values on their websites. One of the things I like to do with my clients when I’m doing an initial workshop is I’ll put a slide up with the company’s values and I’ll ask them, “Do you know whose values these are?” Many times, they won’t know. What I’m curious about, Laura, from your perspective, particularly as you’re involved in this hiring, is how do you know when someone isn’t in alignment with your values while you’re interviewing them?
Years ago, we had a strategic initiative. That is all about our mission statement. We had a subcommittee that falls under the higher part of our mission statement. We rewrote our interview questions. Those interview questions are targeted at those values and attributes that we know make up a good JP Cullen team member. We have boxes that we’re listening to check off while they’re explaining their answer.
We went far to interview about 60 of our team members here at JP Cullen to get that baseline of what we’re trying to hear and know that will be a good culture fit but at the same time, understanding, we also want diversity of thought. Not necessarily around the values, we want those to stick to JP Cullen but one of our beliefs is to do things better or process improve. If somebody has a different opinion and has a good reason around that, we’re always looking for that too.
You consciously went out and interviewed people that you would say, “These are A players in our business,” and filtered that into your interview process. Sean, you’re in charge of business development.
Business development in Milwaukee. George is in charge of business development for the company.
Back in the day, we didn’t have computers, email or social media. If you’re going to do business with people, first, you’re going to go belly to belly. You’re maybe going to pick up the phone or shoot someone a fax but there was a lot more human interaction. As a young person yourself, relatively speaking, how have you seen the importance of maintaining those personal relationships? How do you go about doing that so that people understand that construction is a personal type of industry and is built by those personal relationships?
There are twofold to that. Part of that is going into that process of us pursuing a project and a client. We have a pretty rigorous process that we’ve got to make sure that we’re hitting certain steps so that we’re going through the next step to make sure that we’re employing our resources properly. A part of that is me being the business development person, getting them involved with those people, getting those upfront meetings, asking the right questions, doing the back research on a company, see if it is a cultural fit and if they’re looking for a true partnership and not just looking for a builder. There’s stuff that you’ve got to go beyond.
We’ve got a lot of processes that we go in there and that’s a matter of myself getting to know them, talking to other people in the industry and the network to get some background research on them, to see if they are a true partner that they want to get with us. The other difficulty of that is when they’re our first client. It’s always hard to go through to build that trust in that relationship. You typically go through maybe some rough patches or a project like, “We’ve got to figure this problem out. I know you’re going to be that responsible partner that we’re looking for.”
That’s a lot easier to do when you’re going through a project to build that relationship with someone. Upfront, that’s where it becomes a lot more difficult. It’s a matter of picking up the phone, setting up those meetings and talking about stuff that isn’t necessarily a project or work-specific. You want to get to know them as a person to understand what makes them that company or individual tick so you can get to know them better before going after a project.
Let me go back to you here, Jeannie. I’m fascinated by the family dynamic because I got 5 kids and they spend 80% of their time throwing blows, if not physically, at least verbally. How do you handle sibling disagreements? Ultimately, people say, “You got to separate the personal from the professional,” but let’s get real. We’re human beings. We probably don’t do that as well as we think we do but tell me what your strategies are for handling those arguments and disagreements.
I’ll speak about my relationship with George and Laura. I can give several examples but first and foremost, we’re brothers and sisters. We love each other. Anything that happens at work or personally that we disagree with, we got to come out of that at the right time, seeing eye to eye and being brothers and sisters. With Laura, we’re also best friends and spend a lot of time together. Sometimes we approach things differently and maybe squabble a little bit but because we grew up on the basketball court, having arguments or butting heads, we know how to get over it pretty quickly.
We’re in a unique situation where George and I are Co-Presidents. We’ve been incredibly blessed to be in this position. Rewind a couple of years ago, when we went through the interview process, which was rigorous, they put us through the phases, which I would too because we’re going to lead a $450 million operation that’s been around for over 130 years.
At the time, George and I were both going for it individually. We thought this was a one-man job and one of us was going to get the position. I’m not going to call it an argument but in the end, they said, “You guys were very close. We think we, as a company, are going to be better if you do this together.” George was pretty upset about that. He expressed his emotion. I was upset too but the difference between George and I is he expresses his emotions a little bit more. He’s quicker to make a decision and move forward. I’m more of a processor. I remember I was like, “George is mad. This is going to be tough.”
I remember we walked out. We both were concerned about how are we going to make this work. We went through all that and this is where we ended up but we went to our favorite lunch spot. We had lunch and said, “Let the dust settle a little bit. Let’s calm our emotions and then figure out how we can make this work together.” We did that. That was awesome because it shows how George and I can work together.
We are going to disagree on things. Sometimes I have to tell him I need more than 24 hours to respond to an email or give him an answer. Sometimes he tells me, “Jeannie, I need an answer now.” I wouldn’t call them arguments because, as Dan alluded to, we have a great family history of being brothers, sisters, cousins, uncles, nieces and nephews. There are squabbles that we get through and there haven’t been any real arguments. I don’t know if you feel like I’m missing a blatant argument.
What I’m interested in is the second JP passed the business onto Mark and David, I got a sense that there was a similar sort of co-leadership of the business at the time. Did I get that right or is it at all analogous with the co-presidency with the fifth generation? Were there similarities or differences there?
From a high level, JP passed the business equally onto his three children, who were David, Mark and Richer. Mark was the President for a length of time and then David became the President after mark. Rich, you maybe want to touch on the history and the transition from JP to you guys, your roles and how you were set up?
It was back in the ‘80s. The interesting thing was when he gave the business to us, our business was doing $30 million worth of work per year. We now put in place $50 million of work in 1 month. That shows you the difference. Back to the question, at that time, I was out, trying to find myself, while Mark and David finished college. They were the first two owners. I was not an owner right away. Sophisticated as it was to get to the Co-Presidents and I was part of the panel to choose, it was a flip of a coin in my dad’s office who was going to be president. Mark won the flip, so he became the president.
I came up through the field later and brought that field expertise. I brought that to the group. When it was Mark, David and Rich, we certainly had disagreements. All three of us, I would categorize as alpha doubled the triple-A personalities but also very competitive as my new partners are. The one thing that kept us together is we were brothers and we had a business to run. When we were in some meetings, we went toe to toe. I don’t mean that figuratively.
Nothing ever happened. We finally settled down. In our whole career, we never had to bring something to a vote, which is cool. We got close. We’re brothers. It always seemed like I’d sit in the middle of the conference room, David would be on one end and Mark would be on the other end. I felt like I was watching a tennis match.
Mark would say something and then I look at David saying something and Mark is saying something. The two of them would look at me and go, “What do you think as a younger brother?” It all was good. I’m looking forward to the same relationship with the next generation that your cousins but your brothers and sisters. Always remember to never walk out of a meeting without resolving things and try not to bring things to a vote.Don't ever walk out of a business meeting without resolving things. Click To Tweet
Jeannie and Laura, I noticed your head nodding when the word vote came up. Jeannie, if you’d like to address or distribute that idea of voting in the context of having five people in the room who are involved in leadership. Tell me a little bit about that. What’s your perspective on the whole voting issue in terms of decision-making?
I’m going to flip this one down to Janesville with Dan and George because they are working alongside Rich with setting up our boards as we move forward. They’ve been very integral in getting the process and expectations laid out.
The ability to transition this business requires a ton of credit to Mark, David and Richard. They had about a twenty-year process to get us to where we are, which is tremendous and it set us up for success. This planning process was well thought out and had very good steps. It wasn’t something that just came out of nowhere. They were very thoughtful about it. That type of planning has been transitioned and ingrained into us. I’m proud of our cousin group and uncle that we, as six individuals, came together and came up with our list of items. These are the things that, if we had to vote, would be a vote and would have to be decided at that level of the ownership.
These are the things that the owners have empowered Jeannie and me to make decisions on. We’re very thoughtful about what type of topic would require a vote. I also foresee Richard, David and Mark being able to do that. We probably wouldn’t need to get there because we do a lot of consensus buildings. We do what we can to get everybody’s input and make sure that we have full alignment before moving forward on something. We’re doing a good job of that and I’m proud of our group for being able to do that.
What are some examples of things that you would vote on? What are some of the things that would come to the vote?
It’s things that would have an impact on the balance sheet. A significant investment would be something that would come down to a vote. That would be an example.
Richard, you were speaking to this when you go from the 1980s and the volume of work you were doing then to the volume of work you are doing now. The company has radically transformed. The culture has probably stayed the same or very similar but there’s a big difference in who you are now as a company. What was the catalyst for that transformation and journey that you’ve been on from a smaller, more locally-based construction company to a regionally-based company that’s larger in your volume? Can you talk about that a little bit, please?
It’s been a long journey. I don’t know if there’s just one catalyst. Mark was the President. David was the business development guy. We had a consultant that helped us to figure out how you go and start marketing and building this business. He called it earning the work. David was very instrumental in getting with clients and know them. It wasn’t as planned out as it is now. We started to get work. We also started the different divisions, which we have Missouri, Milwaukee, Healthcare, Industrial and Janesville divisions.
That all started with Mark, David and Rich. We became larger because of the different divisions. We’re a self-perform contractor. We do bid and negotiating work but our industrial group has grown a lot. They’ll go out and do outhouse work in all different places in the United States. That’s grown us quite a bit. It’s been a long process but in my mind, it started with David learning how to be a good business developer.
David got charisma. When he walks into the room, he’s always got a smile on his face. He was perfect. Sean is the same way. He was perfect at helping grow the company. We’re one of the best in the field. We can perform almost anybody in the field. We’ve got great people in the field. We need more if anyone wants to come work in Wisconsin because we got the work. We’ve got the greatest people in the country, as far as I’m concerned, as the people in the field, putting our work in place.
I want to call attention to a couple of points. One is Rich mentioned the focus on the field. As self-performing general contractors and CM, we have what we sometimes call a conservative growth rate because we need to be the best in class in the field to be successful. You can only grow so fast there. We would rather have the conservative growth, knock it out of the park day in and day out for our clients and keep that steady workforce than chase growth.
The second thing is we’ve been very fortunate to have some very large flagship projects about once every 7 to 10 years that allowed us to grow as a company and give us new opportunities. I’m sitting, looking across from the beautiful state Capitol here in Madison. We touched every square inch of that many years ago.
Think about the Camp Randall Stadium, where the Badgers play and is integral to who we are in the state of Wisconsin. We’ve done three major projects over the last years there to help grow. There are medical records company out in Verona about twenty minutes from where I’m sitting that has had growth, similar to what you see in California Epic Systems. We’ve been their partner for many years. That has allowed us to grow as a company, which we’re fortunate.
The last thing we’re talking about is we have so many talented people. We need to be looking for strategic opportunities to grow, whether it’s starting a new division or growing a division. Those people can continue to grow, develop and be challenged. It’s everything Richard said. I wanted to share those additional thoughts as we do talk about growth but smart, conservative growth.
Let me talk to the younger generation and be as transparent as you feel comfortable. What is it that you bring to the table that has benefited Cullen? What’s unique about the younger generations’ perspectives and abilities that have helped to grow the company and move it forward?
Generation 5 is the first generation to work outside of the business as a requirement. Richard worked elsewhere possibly early on. When we came into the business, it was a requirement that you had to go work somewhere else for at least 3 to 5 years. You’ve got to earn a degree if you’re going to go through the office route. If you go to the field route, you have to earn an apprenticeship. We have a work employment policy that we put in place in 1997 or 1998.
To your question about what we bring differently to the company, the first thing is that outside experience. Every single one of us, in addition to that, on this interview, went to school outside of the state of Wisconsin. We do have some outside perspectives, different geographies and trades. Some of us have worked for mechanical contractors, refrigeration or architects. Laura worked with an architect. Sean worked with historical restoration. I worked with a traditional general contractor. That is the one thing that we’ve brought.
The other amazing thing is everyone has got an extremely acute business acumen and sharp business. Everyone in this interview, whether they went to school, paid attention growing up. There’s a business pedigree that this generation you can tell. It’s not a knock on the previous generations. It’s just we evolve with education and things like that. It seems like the business side of it is sharp in this generation.
Dan hit on it but part of it is we’ve got as our generation five very unique different brains. We’d be able to find where each one of our strengths lay as an ownership group. As opposed to having a smaller ownership group, I’m seeing that we’ve got five owners that we can say, “These are the experts so we can bounce things off of.” To Danny’s point there, we’ve got the business acumen but you can focus on different operations within the industry, look at different sectors in the industry and marketplace and be able to say, “We can focus on that and make that your pride and passion to bring it to the larger ownership group or make it a more cohesive ownership group that is smart in all aspects of the business.”
I’d like to speak for Generation 6 because they are in the mix. They are alive. What are you doing differently with Generation 6 that maybe Generation 4 or 5 didn’t experience? What changes are you making as you’re thinking about the next generation?
My oldest is so young, so it’s a little tough to hit them up differently. What I do think is important to convey, as I like to say to our new hires, is, “My job specifically is to be a steward of the entrepreneurship of my great-great-grandfather who had the courage to start this business.” This was instilled in us. What I’m going to instill in our children is the responsibility of that and the impact that this company can make in the communities where we live by employing people with great jobs. It’s not going to be different. It’s going to be the same thing of instilling how much pride there is in this business and making sure they all understand that it’s something that needs to be taken seriously and you need to be prepared if you’re going to join the business.
From a personal standpoint, it’s busy. I have 5 kids, George has 3, Dan has 4, Laura has 2 and Sean has 2. That’s a lot of kids. I can’t even add it up that quickly. We are trying as best we can to be intentional about getting the 2nd or 1st cousins once removed but all the 6-generation together and then also our spouses together as well to build that personal connection that we were able to have because we grew up together as cousins and we all went to the same school. Rich, you should touch on Peyton because there is one more fifth generation that’s about to start a sophomore year of college. He just finished up his freshman year at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. He’s working in the field for us for the second summer in a row.
We were never exposed as young children to the business. My dad never pushed the business on us. I can always remember him saying, “You don’t have to come into the business.” We used to have a company airplane because we did a lot of work in Iowa. He must have had a method to his madness because I remember him as we were probably more in middle school on that, putting us in the plane, going and visiting some of the jobs in Iowa. Silently and a little quieter, he was nudging us towards the business but he never did what this generation is going to do, which I fully commend.
I don’t know that I’ll be able to look forward to it but it’s the right thing to do. I have two daughters that are not in the business that are Jeannie, George and everyone’s age. I have a younger son who is a good young man. He’s going to school in Platteville, Wisconsin, which is a good construction school. He just finished freshman year. He is doing well there and likes it a lot. He did a youth apprenticeship when he was going to high school.
You have school hours and work hours that you have to have so many to become a youth apprentice. He liked that so much. He is going to work for us as a carpenter apprentice. I must have rubbed off on him because his passion is concrete and that’s where my world came from. He’s a good kid. The neat thing is his cousins involve him in the business. He’s allowed to participate in our meetings. He’s busy at school but I thank them for allowing him in that way. I know Peyton, my son, enjoys that also.
Let’s wrap up. You have been very generous with your time here. I do want to ask one question that is important to reflect on as you look to G6. It’s early days but I get a sense from the way you were describing the cousin interactions that there was a lot of time spent together. We know that with newer generations that are digital natives, we no longer have that blended generation where you spend some time away from your phones and some time on your phone. What are you doing as parents to intentionally bring the kids together so that those deep relationships can be built early?
From ours, George, Laura and I all live ten minutes apart. George and Laura happened to be next-door neighbors. We’re very close in proximity. We get together very frequently, whether it’s a Saturday morning, get the kids to the park or a birthday party in the afternoon. We’re together at least 2 or 3 times a month, intentionally with our kids. That’s been great. We are continuing to look for opportunities to get them in front of all Dan and Sean’s kids as well. It will be easier when we don’t have so many car seats, naps and things like that but there’s the intentionality of that.
We have a charter statement that we read at every one of our meetings. Part of that is ingrained in passing on to the next generation the same legacy that was passed on to us. Our kids are young but as they get older, we are going to build into our social calendars. Probably twice a year where everyone gets together, even though we’re a little further apart, we get to know everyone to be social. Let it be organic. My four kids were growing up in the Yorkshire area, which is not Janesville. It’s got a lot of legacy with JP Cullen.
It’s going to be interesting to see how my kids grow up without having that connection to the city of Janesville, this company and that legacy. They’re well aware and very proud of it but it’s going to be different for them growing up in a different city. I’m available to them if they want to ask questions about it but my approach is going to be they can do whatever they want, as long as they’re happy. They’ll have the opportunity if they want and we’ll take things from there.
I appreciate your time. It has been tremendously helpful. I do have one vital question, Jeannie, that I want to ask you specifically and Laura, you can pilot on this one as well. MJ or Giannis?
Michael Jordan is the greatest ever was and his impact on the world. Giannis is pretty incredible but I’m taking MJ.
Shouldn’t Giannis get a little more run from you specifically because in Wisconsin, you hold your championships very dearly and Giannis brought the championship to town?
His impact on the state of Wisconsin is pretty incredible. You gave us a no-win situation here. I’m a Jordan fanatic. I used to collect Jordans.
Let me rephrase that for you. How about Giannis or LeBron or Giannis or Kobe?
I’m not a huge NBA fan but when I watched that man play basketball, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere near the lane when he’s coming for the basket. He is an animal.
I appreciate your time. Thank you so much for joining us. I know that the audience will get a sense of the family dynamic and the importance of the legacy that you have built and looking to carry on. It’s tremendously significant that construction companies specifically are able to do this because what you do is local and physical. It sustains over a long period. We’re not just producing some software that may be used for a while and then goes away but it’s something that sticks for generations.
The fact that you have built the generational company and have a generational impact in the area that you’re living in has a tremendous positive impact on those communities. I want to commend you for that and also for sticking together through all the family challenges and committing to making sure that it’s something that goes forward into the future.
I look forward to talking to you again soon.
I enjoyed that interview with the Cullens. Thank you for reading. You can tell that they like each other and that’s encouraging. Succession planning is a challenge. If it’s something that you’re giving some consideration to, reach out to me on my website www.ConstructionGenius.com/Contact. If you’d like some help with the frameworks that I use for succession planning with my clients, put in your details. I’ll contact you within 24 hours and we can discuss how I can be of some assistance. Have a terrific day.