Look across the university skyline today and you can see the impact that Tom Gunkel’s close ties to his alma mater have had on the campus. Under his leadership, M. A. Mortenson Company, the 19th-largest U.S. contractor, has constructed one of the most beautiful buildings on campus—the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery—and currently is hard at work on its counterpart for energy research, the Wisconsin Energy Institute.
During his 29 years with the company—including 12 years as president and the last five years as president and CEO—Gunkel has played a key role in Mortenson’s emergence as one of the nation’s most respected builders.
A Madison native and West High School graduate, Gunkel received his bachelor’s degree in construction administration from UW-Madison in 1982 and immediately joined Mortenson as a project estimator. Just four years later, he relocated to Milwaukee, where he oversaw construction of a 39-story building. Following its completion, Gunkel led the team that opened the company’s new Milwaukee office, which soon became the largest construction firm in southeastern Wisconsin. His past successes propelled Gunkel to other positions at Mortenson, including vice president overseeing Mortenson’s commercial building division nationwide—and eventually overall construction operations as its chief operating officer. He was appointed president of the company in 2001 and chief executive officer in 2008.
Under Gunkel’s leadership, Mortenson has constructed many high-profile buildings, including the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago, the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, Target Field in Minneapolis, and the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee. Experience gained through working on some of the most advanced medical facilities in the world has put Mortenson on the forefront of healthcare facility design, and its experience developing wind and solar power facilities has made the company North America’s leading renewable energy builder and a leader in sustainable construction.
Throughout his career, Gunkel has leveraged his professional and personal success to support UW-Madison and the College of Engineering. He frequently arranges construction industry experts to speak to engineering students and has been a fund-raiser, guest lecturer and strong supporter of faculty and expanding construction education at every opportunity. He also has served on departmental-level advisory committees and was a longtime member and past chair of the College of Engineering Industrial Advisory Board.
Gunkel married his high school sweetheart, Kelley, also a UW-Madison graduate. They have been married for 31 years and have three children: daughter Cori, 25; and sons Taylor, 22; and Erik, 19. Gunkel enjoys spending time at the family cabin, fly fishing, antiquing, hiking, reading and spending time with family and close friends.