Hoya Highlight: Tim Sullivan (C’03)

Tim Sullivan
Tim Sullivan (C'03) Chief Executive Officer, New Jersey Economic Development Authority

Chief Executive Officer, New Jersey Economic Development Authority

How do you pass the time on your commute to work?

I listen to a lot of podcasts, Bruce Springsteen songs, and books on tape. I like all sorts of podcasts: serious, frivolous, sports, news, economics, and comedy. And I recently finished a book called Panacea, written by my uncle, a Georgetown grad.

You read a lot as an English and government double major at Georgetown, too. What do you say to critics who lambast English as a useless major?

That's total hooey. English is great training for lots of paths in life. The ability to read critically and write quickly on the fly are essential skills as the economy speeds up and becomes more interconnected. Those skills will serve you well in any career.

After graduation, I began a career in investment banking. I had a lot of catching up to do in that industry, but one of the ways I was able to be somewhat useful was by being able to write and process dense information quickly. My background in critical reading and writing and working on the school newspaper was helpful.

How did your time on The Hoya student newspaper shape you?

Working for The Hoya was a hoot! At the time, we were twice a week in print, and frequently updated the website. The friends I made on The Hoya staff are some of the best friends I made during my time at Georgetown. My now-wife was the photo editor when I was the news editor. It's tough to find a favorite memory that tops meeting my wife.

Getting to cover and write about the men's basketball team was also a once-in-a-lifetime experience, even if those were relatively lean years for the Hoyas. The Hoya was an enormously great group of people from all over the country and with lots of different interests and backgrounds. We worked really hard. There was no pay and not much glory in staying up all night to work on the paper. But it was incredibly rewarding, challenging, and fun—a good dry run for the rest of life.

I also got to speak with a bunch of interesting people. I covered world leaders: a then-Prince (now-King!) of Spain, and the King of Jordan; I met Jesse Ventura, governor of Minnesota and professional wrestler; at one point, I interviewed Charlton Heston, the actor and then-chairman of the NRA. He came to campus in 2000, my first year, and gave a speech that generated a lot of controversy on campus. Afterwards, I asked him a question about gun policy, and his answer ended up being featured in Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine movie.

Finally, my time as editor-in-chief and board member of The Hoya was a fun crash course in organizational management. It was formative for me.

Did you have inkling at Georgetown that you wanted to go into government work?

I loved my constitutional law classes with Professor Doug Reed. I had another government seminar where the entire course structured around what we would do if asked to edit the Constitution. Some of the people in my small working group for that project also became close friends.

Can you trace your career path from D.C. to New Jersey?

My first job out of school was with Lehman Brothers. I made the transition to public policy and government in 2010. A friend from The Hoya helped get me a job in economic development working for New York City's Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Bob Steel, his deputy mayor for economic development. I've now had three jobs in three different government administrations—Mayor Bloomberg, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy, and now New Jersey's new governor, Phil Murphy.

What do you like about your new job as chief executive officer for the New Jersey Economic Development Authority?

I'm only a few weeks into my new role, but it's incredibly exciting. I'm getting to know my home state in a whole new way. The job involves travelling all over the state, so I've been visiting Newark, Camden, Jersey City, and other towns to get a better sense of the New Jersey economy.

Economic development is an interesting field involving real estate projects, industry expansion, tourism, urban redevelopment, technology and startup policy, and transit-oriented development initiatives. It presents a really robust set of challenges and opportunities.

Tim Sullivan, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy with Tim Sullivan

What advice do you wish you'd been given earlier?

I've been fortunate to receive great advice in my life. To students, I would say, talk to as many people as you can. There are three things I would suggest:

1. You have to ask for advice. Be pushy. Maximize your networks. Three out of the five times you ask a question, you'll get a brush-off answer, but two out of those five times, the answer will be really valuable.

2. Don't get overanxious about your job search. Your first job won't be your last job. The perfect job doesn't exist for most people. Find something where you can develop a skill in an a industry or place where you want to be. Then let momentum take you further.

3. Be opportunistic. Take calculated risks. On your commute to the office, ask yourself questions about what excites you. Is the work a passion or chore? Do some soul searching.

Did you know what you wanted to do with your career?

I did not have a clear plan. I always knew from my time at Georgetown on that I wanted to do something in government and public policy. It was not immediately obvious how I'd be able to do that in a way that was exciting and scratched my policy itch. I had a gut feeling that this was the focus I wanted to have in my career. I didn't have a road map.

Not specializing—having interest in many issue areas—has been rewarding for me. That's not a path everybody takes. Some days I'm envious of those people who can say they are one thing definitively, like physicists or doctors or lawyers. But when you are thinking about your first job, think primarily about where you want to be and what kind of skills you want to develop. You'll only be there for a couple of years.

Going into finance and investment banking, my interest was in developing analytical skills and computational skills. Having a broader set of skills, interests, and appetites—that can be a path to having an exciting range of opportunities to start your career.

What trends do you see in your field?

One interesting phenomenon I see every day is the trend of economic revitalization of American cities. There are few better examples in the last 20 years than in Washington, D.C.: the growth of the economy, the challenges of gentrification. That's also true all throughout the northeastern United States. Young people and empty-nest Boomers increasingly want to be part of cities.

Our economy now revolves around cities more than it did several decades ago. Our infrastructure needs must evolve to accommodate that growth. This will be a touchstone challenge for next 25 years. Forty years ago, the narrative was that cities were failing, that people were moving to the suburbs and exurbs. Today, those areas are still vibrant, but we're seeing opportunities in cities. We're seeing a reversal of a trend that was very troubling 30 or 40 years ago.

What majors should Hoyas pursue to get a job like yours?

No matter your specific academic focus, the array of topics at Georgetown gives you the ability to pursue a huge range of careers and job opportunities. If you're interested in economic development, you could focus on psychology, sociology, economics, government, English, or finance—they are all highly relevant to this field.

Do you have any parting words of wisdom?

The real world will come knocking pretty soon. Cherish your time here at Georgetown. It's an incredibly precious commodity. If you can stay connected to the Georgetown network through a local club or the alumni association, that's valuable too. I've had the great fortune to work with Hoyas all throughout my career, whether intentionally or by accident. Georgetown grads are everywhere. Don't ever lose touch with the Hilltop.