January 2024

Bill Dunn: The Heart and Soul of JE Dunn

It’s hard to encompass everything William H. Dunn Sr. (Bill) means to JE Dunn and the greater Kansas City community. His legacy and leadership can be seen and felt in every facet of the company. “Mr. Dunn,” as he is affectionately referred to by employees nationwide, is a simple man who has made an immense impact. He is the cultural bedrock of JE Dunn and serves as a moral North Star to many.  

Bill started working for his father’s company as a laborer during summers in the early 1940s. Following military service and his college graduation, he was hired as a project manager and estimator in 1946. He worked a variety of roles over the next 73 years before retiring as chairman emeritus in 2020.  

He took his dad’s philosophy of building from the heart literally. Money didn’t matter to him; he didn’t care about material things. He always gave 110% and did what he said he was going to do. That heartfelt way of working is why the company gained clients and prospered.  

As business grew, so did his reputation for giving back. Mr. Dunn heralded JE Dunn’s corporate philanthropy of investing 10 percent of net income in charitable causes across the country in the communities where we build. But his spirit of generosity is felt beyond his philanthropy, it’s evident in the culture he fostered of doing the right thing and treating people the way they ought to be treated. JE Dunn’s guiding principles were molded by his actions and values.  

He learned the business by doing the work through a hands-on approach. He was responsible for project estimation until his father’s death in 1964. Bill and his brother ran the company together until the early 1970s and Bill bought out his brother and took over as president and CEO in 1974. Over the years, Mr. Dunn became a jack-of-all-trades as he learned about every aspect of the business, from estimating and design build to understanding and stressing the importance of safety and quality.  

Outside the office, Bill met the love of his life, Jean, at a holiday party. The two were married on February 15, 1947. Together, Jean and Bill raised five sons and a daughter. His children recall that despite their father’s dedication to his work, including days that started in the field at 6am, moved to the office by 10am, and picked up after family dinners, his family was his pride and joy. He made time for playing catch in the yard, helping to coach teams and offering advice along the way. Mr. Dunn’s devotion to his wife and his family is why there is a strong emphasis on putting families first for employees at JE Dunn to this day.   

Throughout his life, Mr. Dunn was dedicated to improving communities and helping those in need, with the idea that people are always more important than money.   

Perhaps the only thing bigger than Mr. Dunn’s heart, is the long list of nonprofits he supported and number of boards he sat on for various organizations including the Cerebral Palsy Foundation, Rockhurst University, St. Mary’s Hospital, United Way, Salvation Army, Boy Scouts, Catholic Charities, and Operation Breakthrough. In addition to gifting his time, he also made substantial contributions to numerous organizations, truly making a difference in people’s lives. 

If there’s an award recognizing generosity, giving back or making a difference in the Kansas City community, Mr. Dunn has likely received it. Here is a snapshot of awards he has received over the years: Mr. Kansas City from the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, the William Booth Award from the Salvation Army, and the Spirit of Caring Award from the Heart of America United Way. 

His legacy of philanthropy, love of family and building a business with integrity and passion for service lives on. Now in his 100th year, JE Dunn will celebrate its centennial alongside him. To our fearless leader: thank you.