June 2024

Bill Dunn Sr.: Lessons on Leadership

Bill Dunn Sr.’s leadership style stems from lessons from his own father, John Ernest “Ernie” Dunn.

In fact, Bill attributes the success of JE Dunn Construction to simply following his father’s advice. Ernie Dunn believed in hiring the best people, treating them the way you want to be treated, and if you make money, share the benefits with your employees. It’s a philosophy that has carried on throughout the construction company’s 100 years.

Growing up in the Dunn household, Bill’s mother was a stickler for education. She would give him a book a day to read during summer vacations and insisted that the grade reports were top notch. This instilled a lifelong love of learning, and his discipline in education helped guide his leadership style from the beginning. His father would eventually send him to Notre Dame to study engineering in hopes of learning a different side of the construction business.

While at Notre Dame, he ended up becoming the student teacher for a course on celestial navigation. When he later wanted to become a pilot after watching his brother earn his wings to be a Marine dive bomber pilot, Bill was required to take a test on celestial navigation.

He aced the test and was accused of cheating because no one had ever received 100% on the celestial navigation exam. He told them they could talk with his professor at Notre Dame because he taught the class on the subject.

Ernie Dunn was tough on Bill and worked him pretty hard. He started out as a water boy in 1946, making roughly $1 a day at the time. However, since he was such a good worker, Bill ended up becoming a laborer for the construction company.

Following years of mentorship by his father, he was then asked to be in charge of operations, marketing and administration, and ended up wearing many hats at JE Dunn.

After buying his brother out of the company in 1974, Bill would leave for work at around 7 a.m., come home for dinner, and then head down to the basement where blueprints were rolled out on a Ping-Pong table. With his dedication, the company started growing. He took the company from a small one with zero net worth located in a 1,000-square-foot rental office to one of positive net worth and growth.

In addition to treating employees right, Bill had a philosophy of treating everyone with respect, including trade contractors, architects, engineers, and the building owners. Bill believed if you live by the golden rule, good things can happen to you, and he treated everyone like an extension of his own family.

This love of family and traditional Christian values translated into Bill’s extensive community giveback and philanthropic efforts that still take center stage at JE Dunn today.