JP Cullen’s 125 years of building it right

By Debra Jensen-De Hart

Special to the Daily News

JANESVILLE — Some might say it’s the luck of the Irish.

But those close to the heart of the JP Cullen Company know it has taken more than luck to achieve the monumental success of the business that has grown for 125 years.

This year marks the company’s 125th anniversary, and celebration plans are underway, said Mark Cullen, chairman of the company and a fourth generation member of the family.

The Cullen legacy in America began with the wave of immigrants in the 19th Century who came to find a better way of life. The early Cullens did not come empty-handed, however. They brought with them to their new home old world carpentry skills and that helped make all the difference.

Presently, the $400 million a year JP Cullen preconstruction and construction operation has offices in Janesville, Madison and Milwaukee and employs more than 600 people, 200 in Rock County alone.

Now, a fifth generation of family members also has joined the firm started in 1892. One of those family members is Laura Cullen, marketing coordinator, who spoke about the family’s business history.

“My great-great-grandfather J.P. Cullen was a skilled carpenter who built numerous homes and businesses throughout southern Wisconsin in the late 1800s and early 1900s,” Laura Cullen said. “J.P. Cullen’s first job was erecting the Samson Tractor Company, which was eventually General Motors and over the years had grown to three million square feet built by the J.P. Cullen Company.

“Established in 1892, JP Cullen has survived the Great Depression and Great Recession,” she said. “In 1906, J.P. Cullen rode his bike from Janesville to Mount Horeb — a distance of 50 miles — to check in on a job site. In the 1930s, during the Great Depression, Mark A. Cullen, my great grandfather, traveled to Washington D.C., to lobby for continued funds to keep a federal building project in Nebraska going after the U.S. government claimed it ran out of money to pay the firm and its contractors. He was successful in securing the additional funding and completing the project.

“We carry this determination and grit forward by working harder and smarter than our competition and conducting ourselves with the utmost integrity and trustworthiness,” she said.

“Mark, joined his father in the business after serving in World War I, with the company becoming JP Cullen & Son. My grandpa J.P. took over in 1960 and Sons became part of the company. Under his watchful eye, the Cullen Company expanded operations around the Midwest.

“My dad, Mark, and two uncles, David and Richard, graduated into corporate positions in the 1980s pushing JP Cullen’s limits ever outward. After graduating with relevant degrees and working for external architecture, engineering, and construction firms throughout the country for a minimum of three years, the fifth generation of Cullens are now employed at JP Cullen.

“My older sister Jeannie is the Healthcare Division Leader, my younger brother George is a Project Manager in our Industrial Division focusing on Power Projects, my cousin Sean is a Field Superintendent, and I am the Marketing Coordinator.”