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Episode 028: Entrepreneurship, Niching Down, and Empowering Others… with a Purpose

Today’s episode of the AEC Leadership Today podcast features Brian Sullivan, principal and CEO of Sullivan Engineering based in the Northeast. Our focus is on business and people and on how to lead a values-based organization. 

Entrepreneurship, Niching Down, and Empowering Others… with a Purpose

So many of us today are starving for leaders who “get it”; those inspired by something greater and also focused on doing exactly what it takes to make that happen – and especially doing so when it’s not always easy or comfortable.  Brian is such a leader and a great example of how it’s our “who” that really drives our “why” on an individual level.  There’s a lot we unpack in this episode in terms of business and life, and we hope you’ll be both inspired and empowered as a result. 

“For us, that was the key: finding the people who share our values and the purpose for the company – and get fired up about that.”

—Brian Sullivan

In this episode, we discuss:

  • How Sullivan Engineering got started.  Brian always thought of a role in leadership and watched and observed others from his early days in highway and heavy construction before eventually venturing into the “building envelope” space. Brian also knew that he’d focus more on the “people aspects” of business once he had the chance.  
  • What the early days of Sullivan Engineering looked like, how Brian began by writing a 40-year plan from his local library, and how he got his first clients through courage, dedication, and know-how.
  • What building envelope engineering entails, its direct work with owners, architects, engineers, and contractors, and its importance in building maintenance and public safety, especially in large cities.
  • What focusing on people looks like in terms of mission, vision, values, and execution. Sullivan Engineers’ purpose and values drives everything they do, including hiring, firing, and rewarding.  
  • How to “invest” in employees to encourage their growth and improve their personal well-being in the ways that can pay off for everyone.
  • How to maintain focus on serving clients and being profitable as the first step to achieving firm goals and purposes, and the benefits of having your impact goals as a “line item” in the budget. 
  • The specific ways Brian and Sullivan Engineering empowers others in their local community and around the world, and the ‘discussion and decision’ on whether and how to share your community impact goals and actions with others. Sullivan Engineering sponsors schoolchildren in Haiti, reconciliation initiatives in East Africa, and food kitchens and pantries around New York City. Brian urges everyone to visit a food pantry if they haven’t already: “It will change your perspective.”  Brian also purposely serves his community and our profession by being an adjunct professor at his alma mater. 
  • The benefits of “niching down” versus diversifying across disciplines from both a business success and growth perspective. There’s great value in having expertise and systems that support a particular area of focus and being known for that.
  • How Brian manages a growing firm and team without burning out, and the power of both delegating and being able to disconnect and refresh as a leader. Success is not just about working harder.
  • How Brian adapted his leadership during COVID-19 to better connect with and serve his team with both optimism and realism, and how he sees things changing moving forward. 

“We would rather be absolute experts in our area of practice and grow geographically.”

—Brian Sullivan

Brian is innovative, mission-driven, humbly-confident, and proof that you can be successful while being focused on serving and empowering others, including your teammates, clients, and neighbors. Having a known purpose and set of core values, like Sullivan Engineering does, can lift your company and all your people to new heights. 

About Brian Sullivan, P.E.

Through a combination of experience and continuous education, Brian Sullivan has propelled to the top of the building envelope consulting industry by striving to maintain a successful balance of incorporating new proven technologies with tried & true industry practices. As an active member of many leading industry organizations, Brian has stayed ahead of changes in the industry.

Brian and his team of building envelope professionals have enjoyed assisting owners with large portfolios of buildings, including campuses with 100+ buildings, by performing comprehensive assessments, providing capital planning and annual maintenance projections for roofing and exterior restoration.  

You can reach out to Brian and Sullivan Engineering through the office phone (973-706-8584) and the links below. 

Thanks for listening to the AEC Leadership Today Podcast!

I sincerely hope you enjoyed today’s episode. Be sure to check out Brian Sullivan’s contact information and the Sullivan Engineering website links in the resources section below for more information. If you like what you heard, leave a review on iTunes and share the podcast with your friends and colleagues. Look forward to seeing you in the next episode!

Resources Mentioned in This Episode


Sullivan Engineering, LLC on social media: 

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How to help out

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About the Host

Peter C. Atherton, P.E. is an AEC industry insider having spent more than 20 years as a successful professional civil engineer, principal, major owner, and member of the board of directors for high-achieving firms.  Pete is now the President and Founder of ActionsProve, LLC, author of Reversing Burnout. How to Immediately Engage Top Talent and Grow! A Blueprint for Professionals and Business Owners, and the creator of the I.M.P.A.C.T. process. Pete works with AEC firms and leaders to grow and advance their success through modern and new era focused strategic planning and implementation, executive coaching, leadership and management development, performance-based employee engagement, and corporate impact design.

Trace the steps to preventing and reversing burnout in you and your team.

Trace the steps to preventing and reversing burnout in you and your team.

Episode 028: Entrepreneurship, Niching Down, and Empowering Others… with a Purpose