By Amy D’Onofrio
Nov 30, 2012
Every Wednesday, Texas on the Potomac presents “Where are they now?” Each week, we update you on the whereabouts of a Texan who played a role in national politics and policy. Our subject today is Kevin Sullivan.
Texan on the Potomac: Kevin Sullivan
Job on the Potomac: White House Communications Director for President George W. Bush
Best known for: Directing White House communications in the final years of George W. Bush’s presidency, unflappable demeanor, uncanny resemblance to actor Oliver Platt
Early Life: Kevin Sullivan was born November 9, 1958 in Evergreen Park, Ill. He grew up on the southwest side of Chicago and earned a Bachelor of Science in management from Purdue University and a Master of Arts in mass communication from Iona College in New York.
Sullivan said he became interested in communications because it was a way for him to be involved in sports.
“I started out to be a sports writer, and then there was an opportunity in the (Purdue) sports information office,” he said.
After college, Sullivan began working for the Dallas Mavericks in June 1980. He was with the franchise from the beginning, and stayed with it for nearly two decades.
During his time with the Mavericks he rose to the position of vice president of communications and the media honored him five times as the Outstanding Public Relations Director in the NBA’s Western Conference.
He also was a recipient of the NBA’s 2004 Splaver/McHugh Tribute to Excellence Award for his achievements.
In February 2000, Sullivan made a big career change.
“I was ready for a new adventure when NBC called. It was an opportunity to take my experiences and skills and apply them on a national scale,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan made the move to New York City, where he started with NBC Sports and then moved to the corporate side, NBC Universal.
“New Yorkers get a bad reputation in Texas, but I had a great experience there…it was a great adventure,” he said.
Sullivan credits NBC executives Dick Ebersol and Ken Schanzer for helping him grow in his career.
“I learned a lot about communications by working so close with Dick and from his perspective as a producer,” Sullivan said.
He worked for NBC Sports until November 2004 as vice president for communications, helping lead communications for a variety of events from golf to NASCAR, including three Olympic Games.
It was after the Athens Olympics that he made the move to NBC Universal, working as senior vice president of Corporate Communications & Media Relations.
Sullivan was in that position for seven months when Washington came calling in early 2005.
Public Life: Sullivan said that he had never heard of then-Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings when a friend from Dallas, attorney Tom Luce, told him he’d be getting a call from her.
Despite his attempts to decline by repeating, “Madame Secretary, you have the wrong guy,” Spellings persisted and the two met for lunch.
“I connected with her immediately,” Sullivan said. She told him about the team she was putting together for the department, and he told her he wanted to be a part of it.
About a year after moving to Washington to work as assistant secretary of Communications & Outreach at the Department of Education, another job became available on the Potomac.
With White House Communications Director Nicolle Wallace preparing to move to New York, Sullivan was considered for her position.
“There was an eagerness to hear what I thought– they were hungry for a new perspective on things,” Sullivan said of the multiple interviews he had with White House staff, culminating with President George W. Bush.
Sullivan said he was committed to serving Spellings’s office and would have stayed there until the end if he had not gotten the White House opportunity. Sullivan called working for President Bush the “honor of a lifetime.”
While in the White House President Bush began calling Sullivan by his nickname, “Sully,” which he’s been called since he was 11 or 12 years old.
“He jumped on it right away,” Sullivan said.
Where he is now: Bush and Sullivan have kept in touch, and Sullivan recently met with the former president in Bush’s Dallas office.
Sullivan has kept in touch with other White House staff as well. “We get together once a month. There’s a lot of e-mail traffic,” Sullivan said.
Though he doesn’t miss getting up early, Sullivan said it’s the people he worked with that he misses the most.
“We had just an incredible group of people–fun, talented, and devoted,” Sullivan said.
Unlike some other former White House staff, Sullivan was able to get back to work fairly quickly–now he is the founder of his own consulting firm, Kevin Sullivan Communications, LLC.
He said he pulled from his previous job experiences in deciding to create a consulting firm.
“It was the best way to take all my experiences and be helpful to people,” Sullivan said.
He admits he did not have the best timing with the economy to start his business, but Sullivan said he’s doing fine and enjoying it.
“It’s been refreshing…I can control my own schedule,” Sullivan said of his new job.
Sullivan has also been working as a consultant at Weber Shandwick since February.
Though his business only started at the beginning of the year, Sullivan said he looks forward to “more adventures to come” for him.
Sullivan currently lives in northern Virginia and with his wife and four children.