For someone who grew up in the village of Mount Horeb in Dane County — with a population that’s just a hair over 7,000 — Sean Cleary ’85 has always been drawn to more metropolitan-sized crowds. It’s one of the reasons he wanted to attend UW–Madison.
“Obviously being close to Madison, I knew of the university’s reputation and rankings,” he says. “That all played a part in it — knowing I’d get a great education. But, actually, I liked the size of it. I liked the idea of going to a large school.”
“The size of the university and the size of some of the lectures were very large,” Cleary recalls. “The transition for me from high school to the UW — you had to be independent and self-sufficient. And those qualities bode well for running companies and starting companies. They help you to be innovative and help your entrepreneurial side as well.”
After graduating from the UW in 1985 with degrees in accounting and economics, he joined the family business, Cleary Building Corp., which his father founded in 1978. At the time, the company had one office and few employees. Being the people person that Cleary is, though, it’s no surprise that working with his father on a strategy to grow the company has resulted in a business that today has 82 offices and nearly 1,000 employees nationwide.
“When I step back and think about it, I’m proud to offer opportunities and jobs — especially to those in Dane County, where our world headquarters and largest office is located,” he says.
Cleary Building Corp. manufactures pre-engineered buildings, from livestock housing and storage to horse barns, shopping centers, airport hangars, and churches. It makes nearly all of its own components, including trusses, and has its own transportation company and construction crews.
“When I step back and think about it, I’m proud to offer opportunities and jobs — especially to those in Dane County.”
But characteristically, Cleary doesn’t see the company as a manufacturing business; it’s a people business. “Helping people to develop and grow professionally is such a cool thing to be a part of.”
It’s also a business that takes pride in being a steward of the many communities of which it’s a part. “Whether it’s the lupus foundation or cancer society or various things, we’re trying to make an impact that way as well,” he says.
Cleary himself serves on the Wisconsin School of Business Dean’s Advisory Board. He is a past president of the Verona Area Chamber of Commerce, sits on the Verona Chamber Economic Development Committee, and was on the committee to formulate the business plan for Thrive, which promotes regional growth and quality of life. He is also active in the Greater Madison Area Chamber of Commerce.
Thank you, Dane County, for Sean Cleary, who not only builds pre-engineered structures but also builds up employees for future success in the community he still calls home.