Business 100 – 2019

Michael Clune/Clune Construction

Born in Dublin, Ireland, Michael T. “Mike” Clune began his career in the construction business at an early age in Europe and the Middle East. In 1978 he moved to Chicago, Illinois. Shortly after his arrival, he secured an entry-level job at the company that would ultimately be the foundation for building his own firm. Over the years, Mike’s personal work ethic and entrepreneurial spirit guided him in transforming that company into Clune Construction.

Mike served as CEO for 30 years and personally oversaw the growth of the company from one office in Chicago to five offices across the country, with an annual volume exceeding $1 billion. In addition, Clune Construction is now an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP), or employee-owned company. Retired from day-to-day operations, Mike still serves as Clune’s chairman and sits on the company’s board of directors.

COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT

Clune Construction is actively involved in every community in which it is located and annually donates a percentage of its profits to local and national charities. Clune has also pledged to donate more than $1 million to cancer research. Among the organizations Mike supports are The Irish American Partnership; C.R.A.S.H. USA, of which he is co-founder; Mercy Housing Lakefront; Rebuilding Together; Emeritus of Chicago House, as board director; Loyola Academy on the Facilities and Building Committee; and Joseph and Mary Retreat House, on the board of directors. Mike and Clune Construction have also actively supported and sponsored many Irish athletes and sporting events, including Padraig Harrington, Michael Conlon, Saint Patrick’s Athletic F.C., Dublin Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), the Irish Everest Team, and Junior Olympics.

As chairman of the board of the Irish American Partnership, a non-profit that funds education and community development programs across Ireland, North and South, Mike has held a major role in supporting Irish education, particularly in the rural areas.

Mike with his sister Delia and brother Tom.

Partnership CEO Mary Sugrue explains: “In the predominantly small, rural schools that our grants benefit, the money goes a long way. Each school has a story, and each grant provides a unique purpose. For instance, many schools operate in very old buildings and spend all their government funding on necessary repairs; thus, a Partnership grant alleviates the burden of schools needing to choose between fixing a leaky roof and buying new books or science supplies. Parents and local communities fundraise as much as they can, but too often come up short.”

No school demonstrates this better than Inishbofin National School. The only primary school left on the island, it is the glue that binds the community together. 

Only 11 km off the coast of Connemara lies the island of Inishbofin, a stunning seafaring community with a single primary school, a church, two pubs, and a handful of seasonal hotels. Dotted with Iron Age forts, medieval monasteries, and sandy white beaches, Inishbofin has long been a popular destination for those seeking a bit of adventure. Yet, for the 180 year-long inhabitants, life can be lonely and difficult.

For Mike and his children, Inishbofin represents nearly 100 years of philanthropic commitment to a community that has profoundly impacted their lives. The association began with Clune’s grandfather, Michael J. Clune, who served as postmaster of Clifden, County Galway, from 1923-1935. Every time the postmaster visited Inishbofin, he grew more inspired by its hardworking people and more determined to give them as much as he could.

He passed this legacy of commitment and love to his son, Michael A. Clune, who passed it on to his son, Michael T.

In June 2016, Mike brought his children to the island to pledge $25,000 to Inishbofin National School through the Direct Grants to Primary Schools program. His grant has been used to purchase iPads, computers, a telescope, and a weather station for the school, connecting students to the outside world. While new technology may seem frivolous in this rugged, rocky environment, it is paramount for keeping students competitive in the modern economy. With the decline of fishing as a source of livelihood, islanders need new ways to survive. They hope that their children will harness their technological skills to stay and make a living in this tightknit community – blending the benefits of modernity with the character of smalltown life. However, this cannot be achieved without a strong foundation in STEM at their local primary school.

In 1996, Mike’s work ethic and entrepreneurial spirit earned him a place in the Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame. Sponsored by the University of Chicago, the award is given to innovative business leaders in the Chicago area who have spearheaded private companies, overcome challenges, and exhibited high levels of excellence while demonstrating consistent sales growth, employment generation, innovation, and profitability. Irish America is delighted to honor Mike with its Dreamers of Dreams Award, for his commitment to local and national charities, to building relationships between Ireland and America, and for helping to provide a steady foundation in education from which children can grow, and build their own dreams. ♦