January 2024

Building a Company on Faith, Values, Trust and Love – John Ernest Dunn

One hundred years ago, John Ernest Dunn, known as Ernie, started a construction company based on his own personal values and the Golden Rule: Treat people the way you want to be treated. He set out to build a company that treated its employees, its clients and everyone in between with kindness, honesty and respect.

In 1921, Ernie started Dunn Electric Company, but he was more interested in building and selling homes, so he made the switch from an electrical supply business to construction, starting JE Dunn Construction in 1924. His philosophy was simple, treat people fairly and offer clients quality service at a fair price.

A gruff man, Ernie also had a big heart. The quiet love he had for his family, his faith and his company helped JE Dunn prosper. His employees were paid well, and he was true to his word – qualities he passed on to his sons as they assumed larger roles in the business. Later, his interests shifted to real estate, and Ernie left the day-to-day of the construction business to his two sons.

Several years before Ernie’s death in 1964, he wrote a letter to his sons, Ernie Jr. and Bill, detailing how he felt the company should be handled following his death. The letter would influence the environment of JE Dunn long after he died.

June 12, 1948

My Dear Sons,

I am writing this last advice as a guidance in the future operations of this company as times change. I know you can’t continue to operate as I have in the past. In a letter to your Mother, whom I have willed half my earthly possessions, I ask that as soon as possible the stock belonging to Mary Ellen and Rosalie be purchased by the company so you boys will not have any outside suggestions as to how you should run business and also future profits should be yours on any new work you get after my death. Mother then can dissolve the corporation paying you boys for your stock and you can form a new company as a partnership or corporation. Also, I hope Mother will turn over to you boys for $5,000 all office and construction equipment belonging to the company. If you wish to retain present quarters for business a rental of not less than $250.00 (por/pas) should be paid to Mother. I make the above suggestions as I think you boys should be free to do business as you see fit.

1st Remember you have nothing to sell but your services and that is what the customer pays you for. It must be honest, efficient and constructive.

2nd You must assume all responsibility when the customer trusts you with his work. Keep him always satisfied as he is your only salesman, he is always right.

3rd Be on the alert for business for sometimes from some little favors you do will be the source of a big job, it always pays to be helpful to everyone.

4th In bidding on any job, don’t be influenced by what your competition will bid. Be sure your bid is right and that you can make a profit. Don’t take a job just to break even.

5th This is very important. Be honest and fair with your subcontractors. Don’t chisel and if they are a low bidder, give them the job. You can’t stay in business if the subs lose faith with your business ethics.

6th Build up some clients in the industrial field, as this work is always cost plus and fills in with your other work. Don’t write too many letters trying to get work, unless you follow up with personal contact. You must know people or have friends.

7th The above rules I have applied all my life and with a little charity in the name of the Lord you boys will succeed in business and in the eyes of your fellow man. If you expect to stay in business, always watch your costs from the time you start a job until it is finished. 96% of the contractors in the last 5 years failed because they did not maintain costs. Again, watch costs.