John Andreoli ’82
President & CEO of Sullivan Group Insurance
“With an economics background, I knew I wanted to be in business for myself at some point, so this opportunity gave me the chance to build a business from the ground up and join a firm that had already been in existence, and then have built that for the past 35 years.”
On February 25, 2019, Ciocca Center Student Intern Sarah Anderson ’20 visited John’s Worcester office for an interview and to learn about his journey from HC into the insurance industry. John was an economics major and currently serves as the President & CEO of Sullivan Insurance.
Who/What inspired you to enter the business world? My path was a little unconventional. My dad was in the business on the life insurance side for 56 years. And I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do. I wanted to play football when I got out of HC, which I did. For 2 ½ years I played professionally with the USFL (a league that’s not around anymore). I spent a little bit of time with the Patriots on injured reserve. So, I knew I wanted to get involved in the business world at some point, but I wasn’t sure exactly where. And I had my insurance licenses, and I decided that while I was playing, I would get into this business on a part-time basis in the off-season, which I did in 1983. It’s been continuous since then. With an economics background, I knew I wanted to be in business for myself at some point, so this opportunity gave me the chance to build a business from the ground up and join a firm that had already been in existence, and then have built that for the past 35 years.
What was the trajectory of your career path? As President & CEO for the past 35 years, was this a goal of yours? I’ve been president & CEO since 1992. I started in 1983. At the time we were a smaller firm. There were 2 principals that had started the organization back in the 1960s. We acquired one of the principal’s businesses at that time, and Bill Sullivan and I started to build this business and brought a couple of other Holy Cross folks in that are still with us–Gordon Lockbaum ’88, Francis Shea, Bill and Peter Sullivan, and my brother AJ—and we’ve grown to 55 people. We have two offices, we have a benefits and health insurance practice that’s located in Marlboro. So it’s really a full service independently owned regional firm that’s in an environment seeing a lot of changes. There are a lot of mergers and acquisitions and change around us. It’s created some great opportunities for us. It’s been a lot of fun to help build this over the last 35 years, and I still get excited about the work I do.
Board Experience: My earlier involvement with boards were on the not-for-profit or volunteer side. I chaired the United Way here in the early 90’s. I was involved with St. Vincent Hospital as a member of the board for about 15 years (chairman for 4). That was an important community leadership position. The quality of care was our responsibility, the physician credentialing was our responsibility. I got to serve with some tremendous people; two of the bishops who were in the diocese, several of the physician leaders of the community, a lot of the executives who came through the hospital over that 15-year period. So that was really a great experience.
And from that, I assumed a board seat at Unibank, a community bank with $1.7 billion in assets. We have a large municipal business, we have over 250 employees who live and work here in central Massachusetts, and it’s an important institution for small business and consumer banking. And then became a member of the Executive Committee, where we meet once a week with management, and once a month with the full board. It’s been fulfilling to me, and gives you a sense for how the economy is doing both globally and nationally.
The Reliant Medical Group was an exciting board seat for me. Fallon Clinic, which is the original Reliant Medical Group, is the oldest and most successful physician practice groups in the country and based here in Worcester. It started in the 1930s. I joined that board 6 years ago, and a few of the physicians who were on the board at St. Vincent when I was there recruited me to be a community trustee [at Reliant].
The last board that I serve on is Salmon Health and Retirement, which is a family company providing a continuum of independent living, assisted living, skilled nursing, and hospice care.
Size of Boards: The boards I’ve been on have all been fairly consistent (with the exception of the family board at Salmon). Typically, boards range between 13-18 people. Executive Committees are smaller with ad hoc committees for specific projects is very helpful for governance of boards of directors. A large board with different perspectives is very helpful as long as it is managed well. Big boards are good, but board management is critical, and committee assignments and the way those are managed, and interaction with company management is very important too.
How do you balance your job as President & CEO at Sullivan with your other board commitments with the Reliant Medical Group, Salmon Health & Retirement, and Unibank Savings along with your passion and commitment to coaching football? I like it. Time management is very important to me. It’s being able to set a schedule and follow it, and schedule those things everyday that matter, whether it’s getting in the gym for 45 minutes, carving out time for making calls you need to make, having specific things that you can delegate that would probably be better off being done by somebody else that has the ability to free you up so you can do the things that you need to do. So it’s really slicing and dicing your day with a schedule you set for yourself and it’s amazing how much you can get done if you really stick to that schedule. It’s the process that matters—the outcome will be there—but it’s really dedicating yourself to the process.
How would you describe your leadership style and how do you measure leadership success? One of the great things that I’ve realized probably comes from the coaching part of my life where I’ve had kids that played for me that have gone on and done great things in college and they’ve decided to come back and be a part of the St. John’s experience as a teacher or a coach, they want to be around the program to give back for what they’ve been able to gain from being part of the program. Being a leader means attracting people who want to be a part of your organization because they want to be a part of something that’s exciting, challenging, rewarding, that they feel like they can contribute to. I think that’s the best indicator of leadership is the people who want to be a part of what you are doing.
What has your former College and NFL experience taught you about work ethic? I still coach a team which is a wonderful reminder every day of what a great experience being a part of a team is and translating that into the business world. Having a role in a company where we are a team, and every role is important, and that your objective has to be to the best in your role that you can be and help others be the best that they can be, are the principles that transcend athletics into the business world. Many other principles are the same: doing the work, being prepared, being out in front of things so you can be in control and be as predictable as possible. Control the things that you can control. Those are all transcended from sports to business. The great lessons I love to see the kids who play for me get is coming back and being part of something that is bigger than yourself. Learning to be a great teammate, help you teammates be better, those are principles that no matter whether you’re on the field or in the pool, or on a course, or are in a boardroom, those are all principles that matter.
As a Worcester local, how do you stay connected to the Holy Cross community? Does Sullivan look for Holy Cross students? Anyone you ask that ever went to and graduated from Holy Cross, they’re always willing to pick up the phone and help somebody. It’s part of the DNA of the school among the alumni. Among a lot of the contacts we have locally, there were many students who came up through the Worcester public schools and Catholic diocesan schools, went to high school here, then matriculated from HC, and ended up in the business community here in Worcester. But that’s probably changed quite a bit as Holy Cross now draws from all over the country. I think it’s the connectivity with people who are part of the community that is really one of the schools’ best value propositions.
What is your favorite memory from Holy Cross and your time spent on Mount St. James? Holy Cross has always been a part of my life. My dad was an alum, he came here to play basketball and get an education back in the 1950’s. He met my mom and stayed here and built his business right here. Holy Cross was always a part of our life growing up. I look out the window [from my office] and can see the Luth Center. I can remember going up there with my dad when that wasn’t there, the Hart center wasn’t there, he’d bring his golf balls up and hit ‘em down in the back by the field when there was nothing there. But going up there from the very earliest times, I can remember for the Easter Mass and Easter breakfast they had, that was always a part of our life growing up here in Worcester. For me, it was a real easy decision when I had the opportunity to go to a lot of different places to play football in college, for me that’s where I was going.
Being located in Worcester, how have you seen the city grow? Worcester is a really important city for New England, and now we have the Paw Sox coming and will have a beautiful new stadium in two years. That is the result of the business community really coming together and providing the necessary support for the Pawtucket Red Sox to make a commitment to Worcester. I think without that commitment that everybody pulled together, it wouldn’t have happened. It’s very exciting, it really is. Worcester has always kind of been kicked around for a lot of years, but Holy Cross has been part of it since 1843, and now there are some really exciting things happening.
When my son comes home—he’s away for 10 months a year—and says this is pretty nice, there are some nice new restaurants, there are some places to go, things to do. Growing up 10 years ago, there wasn’t much going on. But in terms of quality of life, and being able to buy a house that’s affordable, having good schools, people are taking a look. So it’s good!
Thanks for reading! Cassie
Cassie Gevry, Associate Director of Student Engagement
Ciocca Center for Business, Ethics, and Society