Lifetime Achievement Award
J.P. Cullen, J.P. Cullen & Sons Inc.
Nothing gets past J.P. Cullen.
The 85-year-old scion of John Patrick Cullen, the founder of J.P. Cullen & Sons Inc., Janesville, is still “sharp as a tack,” according to sons David and Richard Cullen. Though he stepped down from direct management of the 118-year-old company in the early 1980s, J.P. still comes into the office everyday, often surprising employees who walk by his office with probing questions about ongoing projects.
“He’s genuinely interested in everything that’s going on in the company,” his middle son, David, president and CEO, said. “He enjoys work and he’d be disappointed if he didn’t have it. This is one of his hobbies.”
J.P. even comes into the office on Saturdays and though he spends his winters in Hawaii, the tropical views never distract him from the day-to-day business back home, said his youngest son, Richard, vice president of field operations.
“When I call him in winter, he asks all the questions,” Richard said. “I envision him there with a checklist. He never lets it go.”
J.P. did a good job of letting go, however, when his eldest son, Mark, took over as president and CEO in 1982, said David, who at that time was vice president of the company. Though their father certainly had opinions, he respected his sons’ ability to lead, David said.
“I’m sure there were times he disagreed with something we decided to do, and he could have stormed off, but he’s never been like that,” he said.
J.P. was the third generation Cullen to take over leadership of the company, missing his college graduation in 1950 to hurry back when his father fell ill. Though it was earlier than anticipated, J.P. was able to step up to the challenge due to his years serving in the 86th Infantry Division during World War II, David said. By 1955 when J.P. officially became president of the company, he had already helped oversee the postwar building boom.
The elder Cullen continues to be a great resource for the company, Richard and David said, as he is still a master of negotiation and a wealth of knowledge.
“He remembers things that went on on jobs from years ago,” Richard said.
Retirement is one subject J.P.’s sons don’t bother discussing with him, however, as he’s made it clear he has no interest in leaving the company completely, Richard said.
“It keeps him going,” he said. “He still lives, eats and breathes construction.”