January 30, 2011
The Ethical Executive
VALDOSTA -- Twix and Butterfinger bars line the silver grooves of an elegant bowl in the vice president’s office. The adjoining room is dotted with feathers of the CEO’s exotic officemate -- a talking bird named Doc. Down the hall, employees reminisce about an office skydiving trip as they prepare lunch in the full service kitchen, equipped with pub-style seating, a cappuccino machine, overflowing candy dishes, and the kind of artwork you are afraid to touch. Everyone wears jeans.
Patrick Sullivan, ’88, and Chris Williams, founders of ClientTell -- the largest privately owned automated appointment reminder and lab reporting service -- are not your typical businessmen; their corporate model is as unconventional as their comfortable, yet eccentric, office in downtown Valdosta.
Sullivan shared his story to budding entrepreneurs in early February as the spring installment of the LCOBA Lecture Series, which aims to expose the public to business experts. Sullivan said he hoped his speech, “Succeeding as an Entrepreneur,” introduced the audience to innovative concepts and ethical approaches.
A Refreshing Perspective
“Now, I could sit and talk all day about marketing and planning, but I am going to come at it from a different angle. I am going to show people how the choices they make now and in the future will impact the rest of their lives,” said Sullivan, who founded ClientTell in 1999. “I want to make them think. I want them to understand the things they need to snag the job and the kind of money they deserve.”
Sullivan, who previously worked in pharmaceutical sales, said he and Williams are committed to maintaining a work environment that feels like home, business relationships that feel like old friendships, and services second to none. With more than 20,000 clients worldwide and a 96 percent performance rating, ClientTell’s success is a little bit of luck, a whole lot of hard work and equal parts respect and drive.
“Chris and I both came out of management scenarios where we were micromanaged and felt like we didn’t have the freedoms to grow. We vowed ClientTell would be the opposite of that,” he said. “We are always asking for input from our employees, vendors and clients. Everyone in the process feels empowered because they have a say and are proud to be a part of this company.”
Client Services Specialist, Amy Cameron, ’06, is convinced she will never work for a company with as much heart and spunk. The 27-year-old from Newnan, Ga., said Sullivan and Williams show their employees gratitude every day; that respect encourages Cameron and her colleagues to work with more efficiency and passion.
“The attitude is a happy employee is a good employee,” said Cameron, who majored in mass media. “But I would have to say my favorite thing about working for ClientTell is dressing up for Halloween every year and going to lunch downtown as an office with everyone in costume. Some of the looks we get are priceless.”
Continued Growth Through Economic Downturn
The wounded economy has hit entrepreneurs hard and stifled many potential business owners from taking the leap, Sullivan said. ClientTell, however, has managed to grow during these difficult times. Since June 2009, the company’s automated appointment reminders -- recorded in more than 27 languages -- have fielded calls from Canada and Europe. Sullivan said the company’s continued growth is the result of ClientTell’s solid business plan and refreshing operating philosophy.
“If you have a good plan and know who you are and what you stand for, the economy will impact you, but not drag you under. Word of mouth is key, so maintaining respectful, quality relationships with employees, vendors and clients is essential to success,” said Sullivan. “Running your own business is very tough. You better love what you are doing. I have a lot of people I am responsible for -- families and children. It weighs heavily on you, and you carry that home with you. Like I said, though, it all comes back to a solid foundation.”
The animal lover, who has fostered Human Society animals for more than 20 years, said he is at a point in his life when he wants to give back. As president of the Downtown Valdosta Business Association, Sullivan gives back to his hometown by building relationships and fostering growth to enhance downtown life. A board member of the Valdosta Heritage Foundation, Sullivan is also dedicated to the preservation of the region’s historic sites. In 2008, ClientTell restored the oldest building in downtown Valdosta (built in the 1860s) into its corporate headquarters. Speaking to area groups and universities enables him to give back professionally.
“I am proud to have been asked to be a part of the lecture series. I take it very personally that my alma mater asked me to come back and speak about what I love,” said Sullivan, who holds a Bachelor of Business Administration in Marketing. “I am not a genius. I feel fortunate to have been in the right place at the right time and to have built a good foundation. It is time for me to share my journey to hopefully inspire others. “
Sullivan lives in Valdosta with his wife, Michelle. Learn more about Sullivan and ClientTell at http://www.clienttell.net/.