By: Brian Sullivan
January 28, 2021
January of 2020 feels like it was many years ago, doesn’t it. Over the summer someone jokingly shared with me that relationships, experiences, etc were aging in dog years and that certainly feels true especially for everything PC (pre-Covid). For example our new Executive Assistant, Jessica Orol, started in January and her game-changing impact for me definitely makes it feel like she’s been here for at least 7 years.
Also in January we had our Sullivan Annual Planning Retreat. Our theme that we established for 2020 was “Momentum”. I distinctly remember speaking about how difficult 2019 was but our strong team pushed really hard and put ourselves in a really good position for whatever 2020 had in store for us, even a possible recession…….. I’ll never be so bold to say that again. Little did we know in January what March would bring; however the reality is that the strong foundation that we have built, supported by so many great people over the past 10 years had put us in a good place, perhaps we didn’t even see just how good.
Like so many, we were cruising along for another solid year of growth in 2020 when we were figuratively punched in the mouth by Covid; and as Mike Tyson says “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth”. Fortunately for us we started tracking Covid relatively early, thanks in large part to Tom Khoudary, and his brother Chris, and our EOS Implementer Mark O’Donnell, who voiced their concerns early. Our Leadership Team began planning several weeks in advance and decided to roll out a work form home test date for Monday, March 16th. Little did we know that would become the new normal and as of the writing of this article we still are not back in our offices the way we were PC.
On Friday, March 13th; we had an emergency all hands meeting, with most of our team in person in the NYC office and the rest streaming from their respective offices. We laid out a preliminary plan but most importantly we left the meeting with the mantra that everyone on the team was going to continue to live our Purpose and Core Values, and do everything that they could to keep everyone else on the team employed. And I am very happy to report that most people on our team did that and then some. We also established a regular bi-weekly Coronavirus Continuity all hands virtual meeting with the entire team where we discussed items like work from home best practices, Covid safety guidelines in the field, how we were doing financially (size of our emergency fund, collections, etc) and the economic indicators that we were seeing from external and internal metrics. It was a point of pride for us that so many on our team commented in the anonymous monthly surveys that they felt “safe” and “secure” in their future at Sullivan.
I am certainly not here to pretend like we got everything right; because I certainly made many mistakes throughout 2020. For starters in that first meeting on March 13th, I stated that we would one day look back at this time as “a little interruption”, I certainly wish that I could have those words back. I never envisioned the level of physical, emotional, spiritual and financial devastation that would result. Similarly in the first few meetings, I was projecting how long I thought NYC on Pause would last and it seemed as if every single time the Mayor would hold a press conference simultaneously announcing something contradictory. Fortunately we were running several plans ranging from best case scenario to worst case scenario and were able to quickly adjust. Also, since one of our core values is Forward Thinking we have a running Winter To Do list of items that we seem to never have time to catch up on and our One Year Plan established by our Leadership Team. We put considerable effort into addressing those items and accomplished most well ahead of schedule including rolling out over 30 Sullivan University courses, enhancing the content and use of our intranet, Empower, and rolling out our first edition of our field reporting software.
Recognizing that we were fortunate to be in a compliance driven industry with pent up demand we kept our foot on the gas throughout because we stayed in very close communication with clients, contractors and manufacturers to keep our finger on the pulse of the industry and all signs guided us towards a busy second half of 2020. We also kept a close eye on many of the typical leading economic indicators as well as some that were more local but moving very rapidly like NYC rent statistics.
We also sought a lot of wisdom and guidance form outside trusted coaches, mentors, advisors and even competitors. A concept that was critical for us was the First 100 Day Plan encouraged by Dan Sullivan at Strategic Coach. Using this concept we laid out a detailed plan for what we wanted each time to accomplish within the first 100 days after work restrictions were lifted.
Why did I share all of this? I guess to reinforce the fact that we became even stronger during 2020. By planning in advance, using the tools we already had developed and some new we were able to put fear and emotion aside and execute. As such we were able to add 12 more great people to our team; some of which likely would not have been available, if not for the financial impact of the pandemic. At the Administrative level we added Darline Morel whose work ethic, enthusiasm and smile have already had a big impact, at the Project Manager level Ben Powell, David Gries, Madeline Mule, Taylor Sim and Jeff Lai have all already become valuable members of the SE family and are proving that their intellect, desire to learn and shared purpose will continue to strengthen our team moving forward. Shahendah Algendi, and Anthony Ngadimin joined the team at the Associate Project Manager level and have similarly proven to be incredibly valuable members of the team and family, late in 2020 Steven Whalen brought his experience and knowledge to the team as a Senior Project Manager and has had a quick impact already. At the Director level we added Bill Davis and Ed Pon; two great guys with a wealth of experience each who have enhanced our technical and management capabilities. Last, but certainly not least, Mark Sheeran joined the team as our CSO/COO (Integrator for those familiar with EOS). Mark’s impact has been felt up and down our organization and has set us up to accomplish both our short term 1 and 3 year goals as well as our Target 2030.
In addition to adding some great people we also empowered some of our key people to take on new challenges. Kevin Duffy, our VP of Operations, while continuing to lead and manage this great, growing team of engineers and architects also launched our Boston office (with the help of several others who became very familiar with the Amtrak schedule). Similarly, while serving his clients exceptionally, Mike Lopez took on the role of VP of Knowledge Management which encompasses QA, QC, knowledge sharing, our CAD team, our intranet, Sullivan University, for “in the business” (technical) training and Sullivan Institute for “on the business” (Leadership & Management) training. Furthermore we rolled out several external seminars with some great feedback so far.
In the spring recognizing the impact that isolation would have on our otherwise social team we started weekly internal mental health check-ins to make sure that everyone was holding up okay. As spring headed towards summer and the impact of the pandemic became more prolonged the concept of Covid fatigue was observed so we openly acknowledged it and discussed it; which seemed to help simply by recognizing that many of us were felling it, as were many of our family/friends, clients, contractors and the public at large, so we developed an awareness towards it and added a theme of “Appreciation” to remind us to be more positive, optimistic and appreciate all the good in our world.
In the 3rd and 4th quarter we significantly increased our altruistic efforts recognizing that we are fortunate to have a very strong team around us and are in a compliance driven industry, and therefore did relatively well financially so we wanted to do more to help those around us. Additionally we rolled out our first ever Incentive-Based Compensation distributions which were more predictive and formulaic compared to the typical “blind-bonuses” that we used to give out. The incentive-based compensation plan was a tremendous success with almost everyone in the company receiving significantly more than ever before.
In summary, much of the large events of 2020 created a year that I hope we never experience again in our lifetimes, there were definitely some silver linings personally and professionally including a very successful year for Sullivan Engineering. Looking forward to keeping the year in our rear view mirror and rolling on through 2021.
We thank all of our loyal family, friends, clients and contractors for your continued support throughout 2020 and look forward to another great year ahead….