After 48 years in the tire business, there isn’t much that hasn’t been said about Paul Sullivan, vice president of Sullivan Tire & Auto Service. The strategies and methods behind his leadership of the company – which celebrated its 60th anniversary last year – have been chronicled in industry publications and local newspapers alike, making Sullivan Tire a household name virtually everywhere.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about 64-year-old Sullivan – as well as his brothers Bob, 72, Bill, 62, and Joe, 55, who also steer the family business – is that there are no plans of slowing down in the foreseeable future. Retirement is not on the horizon for any of the brothers, whose father, Robert Sullivan, founded the company as a single-location shop in Rockland, Mass., in 1955.
“We’re not in rocking chairs,” Sullivan says. “Though we might take a vacation or two, we still have our phones and laptops with us; we take the company wherever we go. We all have our health right now and we have great people in key positions in this company.”
Sullivan started out from humble beginnings – much like the family business itself – cleaning, sorting tires and fixing flats. He now helps oversee a business that would be unrecognizable to his father, who passed away in 1992. Today, Sullivan Tire operates 67 full-service tire and auto repair locations and 15 commercial truck tire centers throughout New England, as well as a wholesale operation.
“If my father could see the company today, his first words would be, ‘Wow, this is unbelievable,’” Sullivan says. “Of course, today’s technology would frighten him on one hand, and on the other hand it would amaze him. But mostly, he’d be amazed by just how many customers throughout New England have heard of our reputation and are willing to give us their hard-earned money.”
Those retail customers – all 200,000 of them annually – are what make Sullivan most proud to be an independent tire dealer.
“Our name is right on the building; that is the brand and that is our source of pride,” he says. “When your name is the brand, you are going to work 24/7. My brothers, sisters and parents – many of whom are no longer alive – all have been driven by that fact to make sure that we continue to grow, not only in scale, but in reputation with our staff, in our communities and with our suppliers.”
“The company’s look has changed and certainly the scale has changed, but the fundamentals are the same. Recognizing that our people are still the foundation,” Sullivan says. “It’s no different than an athletic team; it’s the players on the field who make the difference. We’re just up in the press box.”
Looking ahead, Sullivan is excited about the next generation, new technology and continued growth for the business.
“I’ve been in the industry for so long, but there are still things that surprise me,” he adds. “Just coming back from the SEMA Show, it’s the continued emergence of technology and the globalization of tires and auto parts; it’s also the interest that young people have in learning, in all facets of the business. That continues to impress me.”