Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Joel Sullivan: Regional CEO of the Nashville Chapter - American Red Cross

At The Table with Joel Sullivan: Regional CEO - Nashville Chapter of The American Red Cross

Joel Sullivan
Regional CEO - Nashville Chapter of The American Red Cross 

I'm glad that I've finally been able to sit down and interview Joel Sullivan,  Regional CEO -   Nashville Chapter of The American Red Cross. He is responsible for providing strategic direction and support of all regional activities within nine chapters and sixty-two counties. He holds direct fiduciary, leadership and national performance monitoring accountability for the Nashville Chapter and eight community chapters.

For many years Joel was a banker and ran a successful business before taking the reigns at the Nashville Red Cross. I was a member of the 2012  Nashville Junior Chamber's Leadership Institute where Joel was one of the chief facilitators. Every Monday for 10 weeks I learned valuable leadership principles from Joel, a man who is certainly a leader in The Nashville Community. In fact, he has been honored numerous times for his leadership and in 2011 was the recipient of the Impact Award by the Nashville Chamber of Commerce.

I hope you enjoy my interview with him here!


Dr. Carmen April:   Thanks so much for meeting with me today Joel! It's always a pleasure talking with you. So, tell me a little bit about yourself.........When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Joel Sullivan:
   A truck-driving brain surgeon. 

Dr. Carmen April:    How did you think that you were going to be both a truck driver and a brain surgeon LOL?

Joel Sullivan: 
   I don’t know (LOL).  My uncle was a truck driver and I don’t know where the brain surgeon got mixed in.  As a small, small child, my mother would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up and that’s what I would say - A truck-driving brain surgeon.  You can call her right now and she would tell you that’s what I said. 

Dr. Carmen April:    Tell me where you grew up and were you went to college......

Joel Sullivan:  I grew up in a small town called Bay Minette, outside of Mobile, Alabama and went to Auburn University.   

Dr. Carmen April: You were a banker for many years before becoming the Regional CEO of The American Red Cross. How did you make the transition from being in banking to being here at the  Red Cross?

Joel Sullivan:   I was a banker for 17 years and then in 1999 I decided that I wanted to do something different.  I just jumped off the cliff and built my wings on the way down. I became a consultant.  I did troubleshooting for small and medium sized businesses to either start them or turn them around.  I started a couple of businesses myself and after 11 years of that, I decided that I wanted to go back to being around the water cooler.  I missed being with a bunch of people and I volunteered for the Red Cross.  Their CEO position opened up and I applied and got it six weeks before the great flood. 

Dr. Carmen April:  So you literally were thrown in feet first?

Joel Sullivan:  Yes, during the time of the Nashville Flood of 2010- I got my feet wet quick. 

Dr. Carmen April:    When did you realize you really like to be around other people and wanted to get back into the corporate world?  Was it hard to then make that transition, back into the corporate America structure? 

Joel Sullivan:  I’m a people person, so it was very easy to get back into what I was doing.  When I was helping other businesses by turning them around - I didn’t get to reap the benefits.  I would work with a company and help turn it around,  but somebody else owned it.  I finally decided that I need to be back around the water cooler where I can visit the folks and grow a team and a business and see the success and cherish that.  That happens at the Red Cross just about every day.  You can turn the TV on and see a house fire and see that we are there to take somebody who is having a really bad day and make it better from that point forward. 

Dr. Carmen April:  Right, gotcha.  With the flood, what is one main lesson that you learned about yourself when the Nashville flood happened?  The 2010 Nashville flood. 

Joel Sullivan:  I’m not a very good octopus!  There are only two arms to pull on and you’ve got to delegate the rest of the others. When a complicated disaster comes along, a lot of people want a lot of things and you’ve got to really depend on your team to get the job done.

Dr. Carmen April:  How many hours a day were you here or on the scene when the flood happened?

Joel Sullivan:  I usually started around five in the morning then I’d go to about eleven or 12 at night.  It went on for several weeks. 

Dr. Carmen April:  Tell me about your role as CEO of the Nashville Chapter of the Red Cross.  On a daily basis when there’s no major flood or something like that happening- what do you do?

Joel Sullivan:  On a daily basis, we are always planning and we’re preparing for disaster.  When it happens, we respond to it.  When you’re finished with the response, you have the recovery period.  So you plan for, respond to, and recover from.  We try to do that scheduled out, but we’re one of the few businesses that your day doesn’t always go as planned because it changes almost daily with the events going on. It could be a house fire, a flood, a tornado. It could be a car tank that explodes in a neighborhood. My role with our 62 counties and nine chapters is to make sure that all of the staff and volunteers have the  resources to get the job done.  My job is also to remove any obstacles that prevent us from serving our client. 

Dr. Carmen April:    What is your favorite networking spot here in Nashville because you seem to network a lot.  You know a lot of people around here. 

Joel Sullivan:  My favorite networking spot would probably now be Blue Moon Restaurant here in Nashville.  Before, it would probably be Brick Top’s or South Street.  They are both great, especially the crab cakes at BrickTop’s.  All real meat with butter sauce. 

Dr. Carmen April: 
What is your favorite dish at Blue Moon Restaurant?

Joel Sullivan:   Siamese Cat, which is catfish with plum and hot mustard sauce. 

Dr. Carmen April:    Yum!  I’ll have to try it.  What about any drink recommendations?

Joel Sullivan:     The True Blue. It’s a combination of liquors. 

Dr. Carmen April:
    I’m a member of the Nashville Junior Chamber and I know you do a lot with the Chamber.  We recently had the Rajin Cajun Catfish Boil which is the Nashville Junior Chamber's largest event of the year to raise money for charities in Nashville.  This year, the proceeds are going to support the Red Cross, correct?

Joel Sullivan:  Yes.

Dr. Carmen April:    Were you there?

Joel Sullivan: 
           I was.

Dr. Carmen April: 
   Did you have a good time?

Joel Sullivan:
  I absolutely had a good time.  Great band, great beer, the mudbugs were phenomenal, and I was sad that I couldn’t stay longer and have another box full of crawfish to eat. 

Dr. Carmen April:    Yes, it was so good.  When people make donations to the American Red Cross, let us know what they go to, what those funds go to support. 

Joel Sullivan: 
   Of any donation that goes to the Red Cross, 92 cents of every dollar goes toward the mission in the program.  So those dollars immediately go to training people how to save lives, training people how to be volunteers, to go out and help people who have been in house fires or disasters.  Training people how to be babysitters........

Dr. Carmen April:    I took that class when I was in Girl Scouts!  We earned a badge and became a certified babysitter through being trained by the Red Cross. 

Joel Sullivan:  You betcha!  We train and certify lifeguards.  We have here in Nashville a nurse assistant training program to help develop nurse assistants, which may be the platform to help launch their nursing career.  They’re very valuable folks in the medical industry. We give our services to the Armed Forces.  We’re still the quickest way to get a military member home during a crisis, whether it be a birth of a baby or a death of a family member.  Even with today’s technology, the Red Cross is still the fastest way for the military.  We do a lot of pre-deployment briefings and post-deployment briefings so the family knows what’s going on. One of our little known services is international services where we reunite families who have been separated for 20 years or more.  So you’re separated by four families and we just start the tracing process.  It’s the benefit of being an international organization.  Then we do what most people know us for - giving blood and saving lives.

Dr. Carmen April:    Yes, I was going to ask you about that.  Even if people aren’t giving monetary donations, a lot of folks know the Red Cross because of the blood donation. 

Joel Sullivan:    Right, every day of the week we have the potential to save lives through blood donations.  On any given day, our donors are sharing their time, their talent, and their treasure.

I hope you enjoyed learning a little bit more about Joel's story.

You can visit the American Red Cross Website @

--Dr. April

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