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On the Job with Tom Sullivan

“Having the opportunity to be employed in a position at Phoebe that connects the countless good things our community hospital does for Albany and our region is what led me to my position.” said Tom Sullivan, vice president of strategy and development at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital.

“Having the opportunity to be employed in a position at Phoebe that connects the countless good things our community hospital does for Albany and our region is what led me to my position.” said Tom Sullivan, vice president of strategy and development at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital.

"On the Job With..." is a weekly feature on Sunday Inc. Today, Tom Sullivan, vice president, strategy and development at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, shares his responses with staff writer Jim West.

Q. What was your first job?

A. My first job was in high school working at Johnston's Men's Shop at the Albany Mall. I think I may have been the poster child in the "what not to wear series. Proctor Johnston was probably thinking he could feature one of those before and after shots.

Q. What was the first thing you spent money on when you received your first ever paycheck?

A. While I don't recall exactly, I do remember buying Bose speakers and an Earth, Wind and Fire 8-track tape for my fire engine-red Impala. Now, with that car being far from "cool" in my eyes (versus me just being grateful for my own set of wheels), I thought the music and sound would compensate. Teenage priorities.

Q. What's the single most effective technique you found over the past two years for keeping employees motivated?

A. Working in a health care setting is a privilege I take seriously. It seems daily we are presented with a unique set of challenges and opportunities. When I speak of that privilege , I am referencing directly the many professionals and caregivers with whom I have the honor of working every day. It was my exposure to their medical knowledge and compassion that first sparked my interest in this field, and it is the workforce at Phoebe that I can proudly say makes my job rewarding. As one of the many leaders at the hospital, motivation of our workforce is essential. For my areas of responsibility, that recipe is a simple one: Respect the individual, appreciate their jobs, listen to their ideas, instill a sense of risk and creativity, and create a team where all opinions are valued.

Q. What led you to your current position? What did you want to operate your own business?

A. Community. Having grown up in Albany and having seen many changes -- good and bad -- over the years, it is without hesitation that I can say our citizens can achieve whatever they set out to do. Albanians have overcome racial strife, tornados, plant closures, and floods, and we will continue to overcome and achieve great things. Our colleges, our hospitals, our industrial base, and our people, to name just a few, are points of pride. Having the opportunity to be employed in a position at Phoebe that connects the countless good things our community hospital does for Albany and our region is what led me to my position. Advancing Albany and southwest Georgia is strong motivation for me each and every day.

Q. Do you have a role model or mentor in your career?

A. There are many and I really can't name just one. My parents who taught me respect and hard work. My former boss in Nashville, Tenn., Clayton McWhorter, introduced me to healthcare. His work ethic continues to inspire. I also have "everyday mentors." Mrs. Lackland was a very special person who I will always consider the ultimate role model in terms of character building, having a strong faith, and simply for believing in me at a very early age when that is so critical for a young person.

Q. What is the biggest lesson you as a business leader learned from the recession?

A. To be patient. Downward cycles are normal. In those times, your business strategy may change, but not your business purpose. Achieving that balance takes a good team, vision, and some plain common sense.

Q. If you could turn back the clock on one aspect of technology (e-mail, automated phone systems, cell phones, Internet, etc.) what would you like to see go away?

A. None of it. Yes, we live in a time where information and access is seconds away. The speed of communication is here and we should all adapt accordingly to compete, especially in a global marketplace. With that said, often the most powerful form of communication is pen to paper. My girls once asked how we used to communicate before e-mail and texting. While I never dreamed I would have my own "back in the dark ages" analogy, I told them we used to actually "write" letters. With a smile, they too agreed that it was special to receive that hand-written letter at camp, versus an e-mail. We just need to balance technology with a little good old fashioned pen and ink every now and then.

Q. What is your favorite work-related gadget?

A. Blackberry, but the iPad is a close second.

Q. What is your favorite tradition?

A. I love Christmas mornings. One of our traditions that is a carryover from my childhood is making everyone wait until the tree is lit, fire is started, music playing, and the video camera in hand before the children see their stuff. I think the real fun for me is simply making them wait just to keep hearing their voices in anticipation yell, "can we come in yet?"

Q. What was the last book you read? Do you have things you read daily or regularly?

A. My last book was a novel, "Water for Elephants." I thought the title was intriguing, and I happened to see that it was on the bestseller list. Daily, I'm always reading trade magazines, scanning newspapers, both local and state, and searching nationally for articles of strategic interest for the hospital. The occasional UGA football blog does hit my computer screen.

Q. Finish this line, please: I'm up and going by ... ? And what is your morning routine?

A. I'd like to say that we have a nice family breakfast each day before school and work, but two daughters going in different directions, a wife attempting to coordinate it all, and tending to three dogs makes for a bit of chaos. Ward and June Cleaver would not be proud. However, after one of my dogs routinely retrieves The Albany Herald from the driveway and a quick breakfast for me, I'm usually in the office around 8 a.m.

Q. What famous person would you like to meet, and why?

A. From a historical perspective, Thomas Jefferson. As the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, I'd like to ask him what he thinks of our country today. From a business perspective, former Apple CEO Steve Jobs to ask where he thinks our technology roadmap will take us in the coming years.

Q. What are your favorite hobbies or activities outside work?

A. I enjoy challenging myself physically and trying to keep in shape. It seems every year that challenge becomes, and feels, more daunting. Running and biking with my kids is my priority now, with the occasional golf game thrown in to simply remind me why I have a love/hate relationship with the sport.

Q. If you could take back one business decision you made in your career, what would it be?

A. Without being specific, I'll say that every decision and choice in life comes with its own set of positive and negative consequences. We learn from those, and I've certainly had my share of learning opportunities over the many years in the business world. The lessons learned and the experiences gained from every decision are invaluable, and they help to continue to shape my career and decisions going forward.

Q. What is the best thing about your job?

A. I mentioned it before and I mean it sincerely that working at Phoebe with the people that make up this organization is something that truly makes this job special. When you combine that with the community aspect of my job and working and living in a community that means so much to me, well, let me just say that it makes the morning alarm ringing not such an intrusive noise.

Q. And the worst thing about your job?

A. As with any job, being away from your kids for long periods doesn't always feel right. I know that before I turn around, college looms and these school days will be a thing of the past. So, making the most of their time at soccer games, cheerleading, or even the occasional, if I'm lucky, impromptu sitting moments are not taken for granted.

Q. What was the most beneficial course you took in school?

A. Probably my last required economics class my senior year as an undergraduate. Taking that class was dreaded by economics majors for its difficulty. However, it is one which I am most proud because I tackled it with focus and determination, and with that, it wasn't so tough. I think there is a life lesson in there somewhere.

Q. What would be your dream job is you were able to pick a position outside your current career path?

A.To be a musician, singer, or songwriter ... doesn't matter. I love music and respect greatly my friends and artists with those exceptional talents.

Q. Finish this thought, if you would: On the first anniversary of my retirement, I see myself. . .

A. Traveling with my wife. I would like to take a special trip with my family and close friends. Renting a house in Tuscany sounds good about now.

Q. What is the one trait a strong business leader cannot afford to be without?

Q Ethics. Always do what's right.