Jumping through hoops

A former basketball star and coaching wannabe finds success in the family construction business.

From the pages of In Business magazine.

Inside JP Cullen’s new Madison location on the Capitol Square, Jeannie Cullen Schultz settles in behind her desk, surrounded by photos of family, particularly her 18-month-old son, who is aptly named Cullen.

At age 31, Cullen Schultz, the firm’s health care construction director, is relatively new to a family business that dates back to 1892. JP Cullen, a Janesville-based construction firm, now employs more than 600 workers and handles hundreds of millions of dollars in construction each year. “We’re pretty big,” she humbly notes.

In her formative years, she may not have understood just how big the family’s footprint was becoming because she was busy zeroing in on sports-related feats. In high school, Cullen Schultz lettered in several sports, but she excelled in basketball.

After graduating from Janesville Craig in 2002, having scored a record 434 points during her senior year, she was recruited by Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. Four years later, the 5-foot-10-inch shooting guard had racked up 1,481 career points, fifth best in the Ivy League college’s history.

This past May, she was one of five athletes admitted to the Janesville Sports Hall of Fame, following in the footsteps of her father, Mark, and grandfather, J.P. We sat down with Cullen Schultz recently to discuss the athlete’s transition to the family business.

IB: So, how did you get into construction?
Cullen Schultz:
Actually, the plan was to be a basketball coach. I wanted to be involved with basketball for the rest of my life. I just love it!

When I came back to Madison and started grad school, I was a graduate assistant to [former UW women’s basketball head coach] Lisa Stone. I liked being around the game but quickly learned that I didn’t like the other part of it — the recruiting and all the travel. If I wanted to be a head coach, I’d have to move every couple of years to gain experience. I realized I just didn’t want to do that.

IB: You gave up on a life-long dream?
Cullen Schultz:
Right. I was 24, attending grad school at UW, and was within three credits of completing a degree in educational leadership, and suddenly everything I thought I wanted changed. I didn’t know what to do.

So I went to my dad for advice. I’d never worked at Cullen. It was never even on my radar. He suggested I talk to some women in the construction field. I did, and it was eye opening. I thought, ‘I can do this! I want to do this!’

I was a little nervous about getting into the industry. There were expectations — because of my brothers and my dad — that I would have a knowledge base in construction, but I didn’t.

My biggest fear was being able to talk the language. Even now, I’m still learning about tools and pieces of equipment.



IB: So, you went back for a master’s degree related to the construction field?
Cullen Schultz:
Right, I finished the educational leadership thesis while working on my second master’s in construction management. During that time, I also interned at North American Mechanical and ended up working there for three years. They challenged me, and I loved it!

IB: You joined Cullen in 2012 as a project manager. What is your role now?
Cullen Schultz:
I focus on procuring work, meaning trying to get opportunities to bid on projects. It’s all about relationships and proving that your team can do the project.

IB: What is the health care division’s focus?
Cullen Schultz:
Right now, it’s renovations, remodels, and clinic additions, so working within existing infrastructure. That’s kind of the trend in health care construction right now.

IB: No new hospitals?
Cullen Schultz:
We’ve certainly done them in the past, but I think the uncertainties in the health care market are causing people to hold back a little bit. It’s interesting. It used to be about getting people into hospitals, but now, because of health care changes, the focus is getting people out so they don’t have to return. That means upgrading technology and equipment and providing the space necessary for whatever changes are needed.

IB: What’s the best part of your job?
Cullen Schultz:
Working with our team to grow a new division. JP Cullen always worked in health care but never had a separate division before.

IB: The worst part?
Cullen Schultz:
Not knowing why you lose a project. You put together a heck of a plan but may not hear back. Also, I’m struggling to find that work-life balance.

IB: While you’re no longer pursuing coaching, has basketball helped shape your career?
Cullen Schultz:
There are so many similarities! This industry is very competitive. Everyone wants to win, and you win together and lose together. We want to win every project we go after, and if we lose, we have to figure out how to rebound. In basketball, I was the captain of the team, but more importantly, I had to lead by example. That’s what I try to do here.

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