‘Quick Ten’ With Director of Business Development Robert Sullivan

This summer we’re grabbing our beach towels, throwing our shades on and cruising down to the Holy City to introduce you to our Coastal team. First up, we’ll grab cocktails on the water with Director of Business Development, Robert “Bobby” Sullivan.

DSOUTH: Bobby, thanks so much for sitting down to chat with us! Let’s start off with where you’re from. Would you consider yourself a Charleston native? What do you like best about living and working in Charleston?

BOBBY: I was born in Summerville, South Carolina and while I’ve been fortunate to do some exciting traveling, I’ve always lived in the Carolina Lowcountry. The reasons why have no ending.  The city’s beauty and gentle style is obvious. What’s not as noticeable to a casual visitor, perhaps, is the drive, strength, and passion of the city’s residents who are united in not making, but keeping, Charleston the desirable and world-class small city that it is.

DSOUTH: There really is so much to love about the South Carolina Lowcountry. A little birdy told us your education background centered in Charleston too! Can you tell us a little more about the education background that led to your current career in the events and meeting industry?

BOBBY: At the College of Charleston, my focus as an undergrad was English and psychology; I was pursuing a career in journalism.  After an internship at a newspaper, however, followed by a part-time job at a hotel’s front desk, it became clear that I’d be dedicating myself to the hospitality sales and service profession.

DSOUTH: Well, we sure are happy you changed your path while at CofC! Was there a “defining moment” when you realized working in the event and meetings industry was what you wanted to do?

BOBBY: Prior to answering my calling in destination management consulting, I held various positions in the hotel industry, working with Omni Hotels, Orient-Express Hotels, and an independently owned resort affiliated with the Relais & Châteaux collection. While still at the College of Charleston, one of my part-time jobs was as a reservations sales agent at a local hotel.  From my little carrel, I could see and hear the hotel’s sales and conference management staff talking and meeting with their customers and helping them put together the pieces that would eventually create perfectly executed meetings and rewards programs.  This, I thought, was what I was born to do!

DSOUTH: Do you have a favorite event that you’ve worked on to date?

BOBBY: Every account and every event we touch is different and has its own particular set of challenges, and goals. The components must be paired with the skill, experience, and care of a choreographer!  While an elegant affair in a private mansion might seem to be different from, let’s say, an oyster roast and barbecue on a beach, the end-goal is really quite the same: guests must feel comfortable, at ease, and well cared for, with every conceivable want and need planned in advance for them.  One event, however, certainly stands out and I doubt I’ll ever have the opportunity to recreate it:  a black-tie gala for 1200 guests at the pinnacle of the Ravenel Bridge that spans the Ashley River in Charleston.  When constructed, it was the longest and tallest cable-stayed bridge in the Northern Hemisphere and from it our guests’ viewpoints included downtown Charleston, the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown, Fort Sumter National Monument, the Charleston Harbor, and the Atlantic Ocean, to name but a few.  The event was the precursor to the ribbon cutting of the Bridge a few days later and was also a fundraiser to underwrite the costs of the festivities surrounding the free, open-to-the-public events.  On top of that, we only had three weeks to plan it.  And it was entirely too much fun!

DSOUTH: Tell us a little more about what you do at Destination South. What is your favorite part of your role on the team?

BOBBY: At DSME, I’m the Director of Business Development. I field inquiries from our Coastal office in Charleston and cultivate and nurture relationships with not only with meeting professionals desiring destination management consulting, but also with our hotel and resort partners, our fantastic suppliers, and members of the creative communities in the destinations served by DSME. Our customers rely upon us—as they should—to be experts in our fields in the destinations we represent. This means that we act as experience sommeliers. We analyze our customers’ needs, wants, goals, and budgets and pair them with our  creative and logistic strategies and solutions.  It’s exciting yet challenging to keep current and ahead of the game in not only our destinations but also in others, where trends often change with the tides!

DSOUTH: What is the one piece of advice you would share with others who are just starting their career?

 BOBBY: Listen.  Observe.  Learn.

DSOUTH: Who would you say has influenced you the most in life and in your career?

BOBBY: Now there’s a brainteaser of a question; and one I don’t feel I can answer thoroughly!  Every coach, mentor, teacher, or leader I’ve ever had influenced me in one way or another, from my eighth-grade English teacher—Melba Jean Morgan, who said, “Nothing is ‘due to’; it’s ‘because of!’”—to those others in my life, from my family to my friends, and also those I’ve not met but only read about.  Every person we encounter presents a teachable moment, from those we wish to emulate to those whose actions and words we consciously avoid in our own.  We have a saying in our office: “Every day’s a school day,” and for me it’s 100% true.

DSOUTH: What are a couple things people would be surprised to learn about you?

BOBBY: In my younger days I was a pianist and participated in regional competitions.  One of my favorite composers was Edvard Grieg and of course I played the Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16, until my parents begged me to focus on at least one other piece! I’m also the caboose of a six-kid train.  I have four brothers and one sister.  My eldest brother, Pat, had already left the house and was a cadet at The Citadel when I arrived on the scene!

DSOUTH: What do you love to do when you’re not working?

BOBBY: Yard work. Running up the balance on my Lowe’s credit card. Taking a Sunday afternoon nap.  Road trips with Hank—my ’78 VW Super Beetle convertible- fire engine red!

DSOUTH: Those all sound like a great day to us! We’ll pass on the yard work and join you and Hank for a cruise down King Street anytime! Thank you so much for sitting down with us for this ‘Quick Ten’ interview, Bobby! We are so grateful to have your knowledge and expertise on our team!