T.J. Sullivan wants to listen to the Parker community.
As the new chief executive officer of the Parker Chamber of Commerce, Sullivan says his approach is to take the time to learn the community before he makes a concrete plan for the future of the organization.
“There's two ways to approach this kind of job,” Sullivan said from a picnic table outside the chamber office on a recent weekday morning. “You can come in with this big vision and push everybody along to where you want it to be or you can take the time and listen and figure out what the community needs, and that's what I'm trying to do.”
Sullivan, formerly the executive director of the chamber of commerce in Superior, began in the CEO position Aug. 2. Kara Massa, who previously served as the executive director for the chamber, will now transition to serving as the vice president for membership.
Sullivan has a background in public speaking and consulting and said he feels like working with chambers suits his personality well.
“I'm not here to impose a vision of the chamber, I'm here to act on the vision that the board creates and that the community needs,” he said. In an interview with Colorado Community Media, Sullivan spoke about the details of his background, his plan for the position in Parker and his passions outside of work.
Background in higher ed
Before coming to Parker, Sullivan, a Denver resident, ran the chamber of commerce for Superior, a town of about 13,000 people near Broomfield. After starting in the position in 2019, Sullivan helped modernize the organization through steps like adding new branding, building a three-year strategic plan and creating a “Welcome to Superior” guide, according to the Superior Chamber's website.
In 2020, Sullivan was named the “Chamber CEO of the Year” by the Association of Colorado Chambers of Commerce.
Prior to his work with chambers, Sullivan worked in the higher education field.
“I spent most of my career in higher ed and owning companies that were higher ed adjacent,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan, a father of two, adopted both of his sons and said that's been a major influence in his life.
“I felt very strongly about adoption as a path to parenting and both of my boys were a little bit older when they were adopted,” he said. “My oldest was 8 1/2 when he came to us and my youngest was 5.”
Sullivan's younger son recently joined the Army, he said.
“I've always been a pretty strong advocate for the importance of adoption, not as saving kids but as a truly viable way to build a family,” Sullivan said.
Approach to job
In Superior, the chamber was a much smaller operation, leaving Sullivan in charge of everything from high-level decisions to updating address books, he said.
“Here in Parker where we have a little bit bigger team, I will focus much more on the financial wellness of the chamber, on overall strategy and direction,” Sullivan said. “I will focus on building the board of directors and spending a lot of time thinking about the leadership of the chamber. I'll spend a lot of time on making sure the chamber is a valuable piece of the puzzle in the Parker community.”
Sullivan believes that he brings a modern approach to the chamber position.
“The old model was old dudes standing around drinking at a happy hour and talking to their friends,” Sullivan said. “The new model is much more female-oriented — so many new businesses are being started by women — multigenerational, very technology oriented. So the chamber these days has to be a nimble, relevant organization for where we are right now.”
Sullivan plans to use a similar model in Parker as he did in Superior called the “3 C Chamber model.” The first “c” stands for “catalyst” of business growth, the second “c” represents being “a convener,” or bringing people together around issues, and the third “c” means acting as a “champion for the greater community,” meaning the chamber should serve as a cheerleader for good things about Parker, Sullivan said.
“The chamber has to be so much more than a party place for business people. It has to be a vibrant voice for the business community in the context of the larger community that it serves,” he said.
As for the chamber's relationship with the town government, Sullivan hopes it can be very collaborative. He also plans to work with town's deputy town administrator Bo Martinez, who focuses on economic development for the town.
“I want the staff and the elected leaders of Parker to think of the chamber as one of their greatest assets, a jewel in the crown, a partner whenever that's appropriate,” he said.
So far, Sullivan's impression of the town is that it's much bigger than his previous community of Superior.
“My first impression is that it's incredibly busy, there are a ton of businesses here,” he said. “Parker is so much more than just its downtown and I want the chamber to service businesses all over Parker.”
Going forward, Sullivan plans to trust his expertise, learn about the community and continue to listen as he creates a plan, he said.
“I know that I can do good things here, I know I have the skills, I know I have the experience,” he said. “What I don't know is Parker.”
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