President, The Sullivan Co. Inc., Newton, Mass.
Number of employees: 12
Q: How did you get involved in the remodeling industry?
A: I’m a third-generation builder/remodeler on my mother’s side and third-generation painter on my father’s side. I decided to go to business school; instead of becoming an accountant, I became a remodeling contractor and started my own business. Oddly enough, my son just left business school and is now working for us.
Q: As you were growing up, what did you want to be?
A: A racecar driver. I still do!
Q: How has the remodeling profession changed since you’ve been involved?
A: I thought I had an enormous advantage when I first started in remodeling because I came into it with a business approach. I also had been working for a remodeling company while putting myself through school, so I had working knowledge of the craft and understood it. Now our business is full of people with MBAs and law degrees, which is great. It has evened the playing field and made our industry more professional.
Q: What is the most unusual project your company has completed?
A: About five years ago we were asked to build an exercise room on the back of an 8,500-square-foot home. The owners kept changing and adding until two years later we had built 11,500 square feet of additional space onto the home. It was all done on a time and material basis.
Q: What is your favorite item in your office?
A: My wife. She handles all the accounting and human resources for the company.
Q: What is the best advice you’ve received in your career?
A: When I was first starting my business, my uncle Charles who was my mentor and running my grandfather’s construction business told me to avoid partners. He offered me anything I needed to start my business—equipment, tools, credit—but on the condition of no partners. I followed his advice and started the company without partners. Ten years ago, I took on two partners and it turned into a very bad situation. I should’ve listened to my uncle.
Q: What does being involved with NAHBR mean to you?
A: It lets me give back to the industry that supports my family. We’ve done very well over the years, and if NAHB wasn’t making sure we aren’t overregulated we probably wouldn’t be enjoying the success we’ve had. Without the constant updates from NAHB about RRP and other regulations, we could find ourselves liable for things we were unaware of. It’s also like a second family. You make long-term friendships and business relationships with people from all over the country who do what you do. It’s a great organization and community.
Q: What motivates you every day?
A: The fact that I have five children: The oldest is 23 and just graduated college and the youngest two are in nursery school.
Q: What has helped your business survive during recent years?
A: Before it was fashionable we established a handyman division called DOMO because our clients were asking us to come back and fix little things. When the economy took a nosedive, our bread-and-butter projects that average $200,000 to $2 million essentially evaporated. DOMO wasn’t perceived to be a substantial part of our company, but in the past three years it has been more than 50 percent of our business.
Q: If a movie was made about your life, who would be cast as you?
People say I look like Kevin Spacey, but I don’t agree. I’d like Jason Statham to play me. I just think he’s very cool and has an interesting background. He grew up poor and was a street vendor and then became a model which launched him into movies.
2011 NAHB Green Remodeling Committee, chair
2011 Task Group 7, NAHB Research Center Green Building Standard revision, chair
2011 NAHB Remodelers Council Trustee
2010 and 2011 Board of Directors, Builders Association of Greater Boston
BAGB Remodelers Council, chair
Past BAGB President
Sullivan supports The Second Step, Newton, which is a shelter for battered women. He attends various events, offers sponsorships and provides Christmas gifts for an entire family each year.