Tom Sullivan, longtime leader of RPM International and Cleveland philanthropist, dies at 83

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Tom Sullivan, the enterprise large who for many years led coatings firm RPM Worldwide whereas additionally incomes a repute as a serious philanthropist in Cleveland, died Monday.

Sullivan was 83 and struggled with dementia. The Bay Village resident was concerned with RPM, based by his father Frank C. Sullivan, from 1961 until his retirement as board chairman emeritus in 2016.

A funeral Mass, which shall be non-public attributable to restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic, shall be broadcast at 11 a.m. Saturday. Anybody wishing to look at can view a livestream of the service here.

Sullivan made his mark by way of his a long time within the ever-growing Medina-based firm – which owns subsidiaries that make and market high-performance coatings, sealants and specialty chemical substances – by serving to purchase dozens of companies. His repute outdoors the corporate grew because of the charitable work carried out by each he and his late spouse Sandra.

RPM reported $5.5 billion in gross sales in fiscal yr 2020 and stays linked to the Sullivan household. Tom Sullivan’s eldest son Frank Sullivan serves as the corporate’s chairman and CEO.

However Frank Sullivan mentioned his father by no means fairly found out correctly retire. Whereas modest, he thrived off his connections and conversations with folks.

Sandra Sullivan, whom Tom Sullivan married in 1960, handed away final yr. Frank Sullivan believes each occasions took a toll on his father.

“He wasn’t a fisherman; he wasn’t a golfer. His hobbies have been his household and RPM,” Frank Sullivan mentioned. “And so I do suppose that when he went off our board and his direct connection to RPM was over … that and my mother passing away a yr and a half in the past have been two issues that have been powerful for my dad.”

Frank C. Sullivan based RPM Worldwide as Republic Powdered Metals in Cleveland in 1947.

After becoming a member of the Navy and serving as a communications officer on a destroyer within the western Pacific, Tom Sullivan returned to Northeast Ohio to work at his father’s firm as a divisional gross sales supervisor.

His father taught him in regards to the enterprise, and people classes and his acumen have been put to the check in 1971. That yr, Frank C. Sullivan died from what the household believed was a large coronary heart assault.

Tom Sullivan, then 34, was a father of six kids and located himself in control of an $11 million household enterprise. He needed to make powerful selections, together with promoting off household shares to generate money.

“It was that commerce that gave me the braveness to take the dangers that allowed RPM to develop to the $2 billion world enterprise it’s immediately,” he instructed The Plain Supplier in 2016.

From there, the corporate grew as gross sales elevated, and it acquired dozens of firms. At the moment, its merchandise vary from Rust-Oleum to industrial adhesives to nail polish.

Household, enterprise companions, and mates marveled at how Sullivan was in a position to develop the corporate and the way he was in a position to do it. He shared a objective with then-company President Jim Karman in 1971 that he would look to unload the corporate if it didn’t hit $50 million in gross sales by 1976, and figured he received shut sufficient when revenues have been $47 million that yr.

Frank Sullivan mentioned that his father, when the corporate was value $20 million, already had his sights set greater. Tom Sullivan’s father typically instructed him that the three best firms within the coatings and development chemical enterprise have been Carboline, Rus-Oleum and Tremco.

“When my dad heard that, my dad determined that sometime he was going to accumulate all three of these companies,” Frank Sullivan mentioned.

By 1997, RPM had purchased all three companies.

Thomas McKee, senior chairman of the Calfee, Halter & Griswold legislation agency and lawyer to RPM’s board of administrators, mentioned of Tom Sullivan that “he loves the hunt, he loves the aggressive spirit.”

Chief amongst them was a philosophy that RPM executives nonetheless use immediately – permitting well-run firms that it acquires to maintain the present administration group in place and inspiring the homeowners to maintain working the enterprise underneath the brand new company umbrella.

Sullivan additionally made it a follow to convey on a board of administrators made up of older and extra skilled folks than him. He wished individuals who weren’t afraid to inform him when he was incorrect.

The corporate grew yr after yr. That’s to not say it didn’t face bother, although, corresponding to dealing with lawsuits for folks uncovered to asbestos by way of its merchandise.

Cleveland businessman Albert Ratner, who served on RPM’s board for greater than 20 years, mentioned he appeared ahead to board conferences – a uncommon feeling within the company world, he famous – due to the joy attributable to Sullivan’s exuberance for his firm.

“(Firms) have ups and downs, however he didn’t,” mentioned Ratner, a former chief government and member of the founding household of Forest Metropolis Realty Belief.

He did all of that whereas elevating six kids and later tending to an ever-growing Irish Catholic prolonged household. On the time of his dying, he had 16 grandchildren, one nice grant-child and three dwelling sisters.

Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan, one other of Tom Sullivan’s sons, was 7 years outdated when his grandfather died and his father took over at RPM. He remembers it as a troublesome time for the household, with the enterprise stress and his father dropping such a monumental determine in his life.

“However you understand, I by no means felt that stress from my dad. He’s simply remained an amazing father all through, though I’m certain was a really, very annoying time in his life,” Dan Sullivan mentioned.

Frank Sullivan, who was 11 when his father took over the enterprise, recalled Tom Sullivan working 6 1/2-day weeks for a number of years within the early Seventies, spending solely Sunday afternoons with the household at a lodge at RPM’s headquarters.

The success continued all through the Nineteen Eighties and Nineteen Nineties. In 1997, at a gathering to have a good time the corporate’s fiftieth yr, the Cleveland Orchestra carried out a personal live performance for these in attendance.

Tom Sullivan stepped down as CEO in 2002, handing over the reins to his son. He remained on the board till he introduced on the firm’s annual shareholders assembly in October 2016 that he would totally step away from the corporate.

“That was Tom’s love. RPM. The those who work there,” mentioned Invoice Papenbrock, an legal professional and buddy of Tom’s who served on RPM’s board.

Nonetheless, family members mentioned his enterprise efforts have been just one a part of his story. Pushed by their religious Catholicism, Tom and Sandra Sullivan have been well-known in philanthropic circles in Cleveland. They established the Thomas C. and Sandra S. Sullivan Household Basis in 1991, which supplies cash for applications that assist the poor. Their daughter Julie Graham is its present CEO.

Each have been closely concerned with Metro Catholic Faculty and City Neighborhood Faculty. The latter has a library named after the couple and a science wing named after RPM.

City Neighborhood Faculty President Tom Gill mentioned Tom Sullivan was instrumental in elevating cash for the varsity’s services on Lorain Avenue on Cleveland’s West Facet and for an endowment that’s now value greater than $20 million.

The varsity “is totally thriving, and none of that may have been attainable with out Tom’s management,” Gill mentioned.

Different organizations the couple was concerned in embody the Boys Hope Women Hope of Northeast Ohio; the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, the West Facet Catholic Heart and Malachi Home.

“Lots of people do philanthropic work as a result of it’s anticipated” of individuals within the enterprise neighborhood, Craig Morford, a former RPM board member and present vice chairman and basic counsel for Exxon Mobil, mentioned of Tom Sullivan. “He did it due to his love for folks.”

And that was to say nothing about his proud service within the Armed Forces, some extent that bonded him and his son.

Dan Sullivan, himself a Marine who continues to be a colonel within the Marine Corps Reserve, mentioned he and his father went to the Military-Navy school soccer sport yearly.

“And my dad would all the time remind me, ‘now keep in mind, son, the Marine Corps is the Division of the Navy.’ And in the event you take a look at the Marine Corps emblem, it really says, ‘the Division of the Navy.’ I’m like, ‘Sure, dad, I keep in mind.’ However this was a this was a joke that my father would spotlight with me on a really common foundation.”

The household plans to carry a celebration of life July 17, 2021 in Cleveland. Whereas the pandemic signifies that those that liked Tom Sullivan can’t get collectively immediately – a state of affairs a person who liked folks a lot might discover unfair and maybe cosmically merciless – they hope they will share completely satisfied recollections when it’s secure to take action.

“We hope to have a great outdated Irish blowout,” Frank Sullivan mentioned.

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