My Conversation With Brian Sullivan, Owner of Sullivan Engineering.
Running a successful business is not for the faint of heart. Life as an entrepreneur takes grit, tenacity, passion, hard work, and smart collaborations. To grow your business, it helps to align with other talented partners who are not only skilled, but can improve your game as well.
As I mentioned in my most recent blog post, Four Tips For Effective & Efficient Project Collaboration, it takes an experienced team to plan and execute successful construction.
Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of working with some very talented and brilliant people, but my good friend and the owner and founder of Sullivan Engineering, tops this list. For over a decade, I’ve worked closely with Brian and his team, which specializes in building envelope aka building enclosure restoration projects, providing the technical assistance and expertise to maintain the longevity of a facility’s facade. Sullivan Engineering is highly respected and sought after in the building envelope field, maintaining a successful balance of new proven technologies with tried and true engineering practices.
Having worked with Brian for so many years on a countless number of construction projects, I’ve marveled at the steady growth of Sullivan Engineering and the dynamic culture he has created within the company.
I recently sat down with him (virtually via Zoom!) to talk about the industry, life as an entrepreneur, and how we’ve been able to collaborate on some really exciting construction projects over the past decade. Here are the highlights from our conversation.
How long have you been in the industry, and what prompted you to start your own building envelope engineering firm?
BRIAN: I graduated from Manhattan College, been in the engineering industry for 20 years, and started my company 11 years ago. After working for other people, I wanted to start and run a company with the values that I share. I wanted to provide growth for our team members, and empower them personally and professionally.
As entrepreneurs, we’ve been on fairly divergent paths. I’ve been so impressed with the way you’ve grown your business and the people that work for you. What does Sullivan Engineering look like today?
BRIAN: I’ve thankfully seen steady growth and expansion since I started the company. I have 37 people on my team and 3 field work offices in New York, New Jersey, and Boston. I also have 2 other offices in Arizona and Alabama that provide back office support. In addition to the engineers and architects I have on staff, I also have people that provide administrative support, business development, recruiting, finance, and marketing. Running your own business is not easy, but it’s all worth it.
Like you, I couldn’t imagine doing it any other way. I’ve been on my own for 19 years and never looked back. There’s something about doing it yourself, providing the best civil and structural engineering and knowledge I can, and putting my name on it. What’s your life like as an entrepreneur?
BRIAN: It is so much better now, but there were years where I was working 110 hours per week. As we’ve gotten larger, things have dialed down a bit for me because I now have more people I can delegate to. I don’t have to deal with things like finance and marketing anymore. Now I can just focus on what I love, mainly the people side of this business.
I primarily love the rehab work of our projects and the fact that there is never the same project twice. What do you enjoy most about our industry?
BRIAN: Without a doubt, it’s the different types of people I get to work with. From residential co-op and condo owners to contractors, there is a whole gamut of people and sophistication. I love that everyone’s level of knowledge is different, and that we work together to problem solve.
For those that may not be familiar, describe the process for how we work together.
BRIAN: No project is ever the same, but as an example…my team was working on the Parkchester complex in the Bronx. At one point, we were working on the replacement of roof membrane. Once we saw that the concrete deck had major problems, we immediately called Connolly Engineering to look at the structure itself. Similarly, when we’re on the facade of that same property and find a structural beam that’s completely rusted out, damaged or needs to be replaced, we know who to contact.
In both cases, people were living in that location. We needed practical solutions in a quick manner that were going to last for 20-30 years. Quite often it’s a struggle to find structural engineers that are practical and quick. Dan, you are unbelievable at providing solutions that are really out of the box. That particular client had peer reviews from firms all of the city, and no one could come up with a better solution. Not to mention, you saved residents from having to move, and you ultimately saved the owner millions of dollars in the long run.
It’s easy to make a building stand up, but if it’s cost prohibitive, nobody benefits! This leads me to collaboration, which is so important in our business. It’s rare to have 100% confidence in your partners, like I do with you and your team. You’ve created a top notch, well-trained, and personable culture, and we also support each other. Why do you think we’ve been able to work so complementary with one another?
BRIAN: For a leadership course I recently participated in, I had to answer the question, Who has a monopoly over you? I answered, ‘Apple, Amazon, Chick Fil-A, and Connolly Engineering.’ With Connolly Engineering, I have absolute trust -I don’t question anything, and I don’t check price. I have the utmost confidence that you’re going to represent us well. Plus, as you said, we each have each other’s backs.
From a structural engineering standpoint, material advancements, specifically the use of engineered timber for mid-rise buildings is a hot topic. What’s currently top of mind in building envelope?
BRIAN: There have been a lot of new laws in New York City requiring that buildings and parking garages be inspected every five years. Additionally, there are a whole new class of inspections around retaining walls in New York City. There is protocol in place, but this could lead to extensive repairs for owners in the future.
You and your team are always such a pleasure to work with. We have established trust, and I’m also thankful that you’ve helped expand my company’s footprint. I anticipate more collaboration between our firms, and even taking it to the next level. How do you see us working together in the future?
BRIAN: Our collaboration has been beneficial to both of us! You’ve helped train my team with your knowledge and expertise of structural engineering, and I’m looking forward to even more collaboration in the future. In the past, our teams may have worked on more parallel tracks, but it’s become an even more cohesive partnership where there is a lot of back and forth throughout the entire process. Definitely excited about future success together.
I’d like to thank Brian for taking the time out of his extremely busy schedule to virtually chat with me. Not only is he one of the most talented engineers in the business, but I’m also lucky to call him a friend.
As I said earlier, being an entrepreneur is not easy, but working with dynamic and experienced partners like Brian make my job so much more enjoyable.
No matter your construction need, my partners and I will find strategic solutions to exceed your expectations. Contact me here today to discuss your next structural or civil engineering project, and how we can make your vision a reality.