President and CEO of Mill Creek Lumber; 2016 Tulsa Regional Chamber chairman
Incoming Tulsa Regional Chamber Chairman Jeff Dunn is the president and CEO of Mill Creek Lumber, which was established in 1934 and now has 27 locations across the region.
After a successful career as an attorney managing his own law firm, Jeff Dunn found his calling working for his family’s business, Mill Creek Lumber. Established in 1934, the building materials supplier has 27 locations and has been a member of the Tulsa Regional Chamber since 1951. He joined the company in 2001 and eventually took the reins as president and CEO from his father, Jim Dunn, in 2004.
“It takes a very special family to endure a family business,” Dunn says. “That’s an adage I hear a lot.
“But it’s easy when your father is such a stud. He’s a really selfless person, very dedicated to Mill Creek and a prince of a guy.”
What is your primary focus for the Tulsa Regional Chamber in 2016? What would you like to achieve as chairman? I have a passion for education, and I believe that education is important to the business community. I also want to focus on the development of the Arkansas River. Tulsa City Councilor G.T. Bynum has been saying over and over that we’ve been working on this for five or six decades, and it’s a tremendous resource for the community. And if we look back in 20-30 years, we’re going to be talking about what a game-changer river development was for us.
The proposed sales tax renewal of Vision 2025 is also going to be a huge priority. Vision 2025 has been the mechanism by which we invest, as a community, into game-changing economic initiatives like the BOK Center and NSU Broken Arrow. It has proven to be a very valuable initiative for economic development and growth. Without investment like Vision 2025, our community will stagnate.
And finally, we’ve got to band together and maintain momentum within the chamber in terms of regionalism. We have many regional partners that include other chambers, cities, counties, councils of government and tribes. When we work together as an economic region, really cool things happen, like the Macy’s Fulfillment Center and OKPOP Museum.
We also have a huge impact with our local, state and federal legislative delegations through the OneVoice legislative advocacy program.
What do you see as the chamber’s best value? At Mill Creek, we’re a large regional player in the building materials industry, but we’re still a small company by most standards. For a business to have adequate representation and an adequate voice, we have to band together and develop objectives, and collectively we’ll make a lot bigger splash than any of us individually.
The chamber acts as that solidifying catalyst. There is a distinct need for the chamber’s involvement on many important issues and to provide leadership and to serve as a collaborative impetus to get things done.
What’s the chamber’s biggest challenge going into 2016? There’s a crisis facing the state of Oklahoma with revenue shortfalls — because of cuts in income taxes and the fall in oil prices — so there’s going to be tremendous pressure on the state.
How do you think Energy Transfer Equity’s proposed merger with Williams Cos. might affect the community from an economic standpoint? With any acquisition or merger, there’s tremendous uncertainty. Williams has been a huge part of the business community and the community in general. I am confident and hopeful that ETE will see the long-standing beneficial relationship between Williams and the Tulsa region and will continue to manage and lead Williams from its Tulsa headquarters, if and when the merger is finally approved.
I think our challenge in that regard is to try not to overreact and to continue to focus on those variables that make Tulsa an attractive place for business. We’ve got a great, educated workforce, a wonderfully business-friendly climate, a welcoming community, and companies want to put their headquarters here.
You’re a third-generation Tulsa business owner. What does a history like that mean to you? You could not find a more talented, motivated, quality group of people we have assembled at Mill Creek. It’s a pleasure and a privilege to work with these people every day. Often my job is to facilitate and get out of their way. It’s really energizing when you build a team and a culture where you reach a real synergy.
I’m one of those rare individuals who really gets to enjoy doing his job every day.
At Mill Creek we recently had a ceremony for six employees in our 25-year club, and we’ll have more soon. That’s pretty rare today, but it shows the faith people have in us and in our community.
How is it being a Tulsa business owner in today’s economic climate? I would say that you absolutely have to embrace and be open to change all the time. The speed at which we have to change in today’s business environment is so rapid that once you think you’re the market share leader and your profits are good, someone wants to knock you off. You have to play with passion and enthusiasm and be open and receptive to change. The challenge is to keep that mindset all the time.
With all the passion and love I have for the community and our people, I’m also a realist. It’s a challenge for us to attract the people we need to Tulsa given the workforce constraints. Many businesses struggle to find the right workers for open jobs. We are constantly searching for machinists, computer programmers, CNC operators, material handlers, sales staff and designers. Most jobs today require a college degree; Tulsa is about 5 percentage points behind the national average for college degrees per capita. This translates into struggles for businesses filling open jobs. Also, it can be a struggle to get out-of-state people to consider moving to our region.
Once here, Tulsa is a very easy “sell” because of our quality of life. Once we get them here, they see a vibrant, growing creative environment where they can grow and have a lot of opportunity.
What are the community causes you’re most passionate about? In the Dunn family, it has always been about two things: the chamber and education. I’m involved with Kathy Taylor’s Impact Tulsa Initiative and KIPP programs, and Mill Creek has been involved with Partners In Education. I’m the current chairman of the board of regents for the Regional University System.
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time? I love spending time with my family. I married well above my pay grade with my wife, Mendi. We have two wonderful kids, a daughter who is a freshman at Middlebury College, and a son who is a freshman at Holland Hall. We love going to athletic events and the lake — I love to sail.
I’m also a runner. That’s my refuge — I try to run 35 miles a week. I have done 3 marathons but may have one more in me.
I’ve always loved mechanical things, so I have a collection of mechanical watches. I trade them and I enjoy making them. For our 25-year Mill Creek Club, they asked me to make each member a watch. So, it was wonderful to present our six new inductees with a handmade watch.