Diane Cullinan Oberhelman

Founding Partner, Cullinan Properties

I founded Cullinan Properties in 1988 as a full-service real estate/development company offering brokerage services, asset and construction management, investment and acquisition services, market analysis, site selection, and financial analysis. Today, Cullinan Properties, Ltd. has evolved into a premier provider of real estate development and acquisitions, focusing on commercial and mixed-use developments including retail, medical, office and multi-family. Cullinan Properties has developed, managed or owned more than $600 million of projects.

I have been active on many economic development, healthcare foundation and charitable boards, and currently sit on the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago’s Advisory Council on Agriculture, Small Business and Labor. I was honored to have chaired the Illinois Development Finance Authority for a number of years. I have been the recipient of many awards for my involvement in the real estate business, such as the Illinois Chamber of Commerce Athena Award and the W.D. Boyce Council, Boy Scouts of America Distinguished Citizen of the Year Award.

I am married to Doug Oberhelman, the chairman and CEO of Caterpillar, Inc. We have four grown children—Kathleen, Maureen, Alison and Allen—and my spare time is spent first and foremost with my family, then hunting and horseback riding.

A number of Cullinan Properties’ developments remain an important part of the Peoria-area landscape, including the WeaverRidge Residential Development & Golf Course, Harbor Pointe Residences, East Port Commercial Plaza, One Technology Plaza, Shoppes at Grand Prairie, Long Term Acute Care Hospital and the Apartments at Grand Prairie.

Major Accomplishments of 2011
Despite the recent turbulent economic times we have been through, this has been a strong year for Cullinan Properties. Our team has never worked harder! Our existing portfolio continues to grow as we expand in a number of areas, including medical and multi-family development. Last year, we opened the Apartments at Grand Prairie with amazing success. We also were awarded the contract to develop a new 185,000-square-foot Veterans Administration Outpatient Clinic in Austin, Texas, which is a great addition for our team. A number of our new developments are getting traction and moving forward rather quickly, including Streets of St. Charles in the metro St. Louis market and East Peoria/Downtown, right here in our own backyard.

The Streets of St. Charles, a mixed-use development, will contain over one million square feet of space and offer a wide variety of uses. About 250,000 square feet of restaurants and shops will anchor the project, with 250,000 square feet of office space above and around the retail. The project will also include two hotels, a health club facility and movie theatre. Since the medical field is one of the largest employers in the St. Louis market, we anticipate a number of medical office tenants. The project will include several hundred upscale residential units that will initially be offered as rental apartments, but will be designed and appointed like condominiums.

East Peoria/Downtown is gaining momentum. Infrastructure and road work is nearing completion. The new Fondulac Library building begins construction in early 2012. The new Holiday Inn, and a number of other buildings, will begin construction soon after that. We are lining up several great tenants and look forward to announcing those names very soon.

We were involved in bringing Bass Pro to East Peoria. They opened in late September and are providing a fantastic draw for the entire area. Bass Pro estimates they will have over three million visitors annually, which will feed very nicely into the surrounding developments, including East Peoria/Downtown. We expect a great deal of success for the businesses that locate within the new downtown.

We also have a variety of ongoing projects in other communities, including Quincy, Illinois; Dallas-Fort Worth; Atlanta; Houston; and of course, right here in the Peoria area. We have a brilliant, hard-working team that is dedicated to what they do, ensuring the success of our company.

How has Cullinan Properties adjusted to recent changes in the business climate?
As the landscape of the economy and business in general changed, we looked inward and evaluated a number of areas, including our processes and long-term goals, our companies’ overall health, and our key strength—our team. We felt secure in the knowledge that our long-term planning had put us in a position to move forward at a time when other businesses were pulling back or even closing their doors. Our strategy has paid off as we continue to grow and find new areas and opportunities for development expanding in healthcare and multi-family.

What is your leadership philosophy?
Lead by example, surround yourself with the best people possible in your realm of business, and let them execute the plan. We are fortunate to have some of the best and brightest individuals in their specific disciplines as members of our real estate team. Our team’s management philosophy continues to stress authority, responsibility, and honesty, empowering individuals to succeed and to contribute positively within the communities we develop and invest in.

Did you have a mentor in the early stages of your career?
My parents have always been my mentors and role models. They instilled in me a sense of purpose and a desire to be the best person I could be. My earliest memories are of both of them giving me the encouragement to be the person I wanted to be by setting my goals high. I vividly remember my parents telling me that there should never be anyone in life dictating to you that you can’t achieve your dreams and goals. They never settled for second-best for their family, and in their lives and through the model they set, I have done the same. To this day, I still look up to them as my role models.

What is the best piece of advice you ever received?
Be true to yourself—it came from my parents and really resounded with me. I knew these were principles to live my life by. They also instilled a strong work ethic in me and stated that there are no shortcuts or substitutes for hard work. This advice has been at the root of my success.

Is it still more difficult for women in today’s environment?
I believe the environment today is equally challenging for men and women.

What advice would you give to up-and-coming female professionals?
Don’t ever give up, no matter what the situation. One of my mantras in business is that a “No” means “Maybe” and a “Maybe” means “Yes.” If you are persistent with this belief, you’ll achieve a great deal. Follow your path in life with passion and balance it with family. Believe in yourself and all that you stand for. Have faith in your abilities. No one can build a successful business without faith. If you lack faith, you won’t have the drive to press on even when adversity challenges you. Be willing to learn, as things change so fast in the business world. Stay on course and adapt swiftly to the ever-changing trends. Step outside your comfort zone and go the extra mile. You can never become successful by staying close to your comfort zone. And finally, have a strong sense of purpose. It will provide you with a focus and help you stay on course with your goals. iBi

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