The “sweet spot” for success lies in a perfect balance of IQ and EQ, according to Sawyer Business School alumnus Bill Sullivan.
He recently offered advice to entrepreneurship students in Professor George Moker’s Legal and Financial Risk course.
Based in New York, Sullivan (BSBA ’85) is a partner at Apax Partners LP, one of the world’s leading private equity firms. Apax manages over $40 billion globally, investing across five major sectors, including tech and telecom, retail and consumer, media, healthcare, and financial and business services.
With more than 24 years of experience buying, selling, and running healthcare firms, Sullivan attributes his success to a combination of strengths that include interpersonal skills, entrepreneurial spirit, and solid business knowledge.
Connecting with people has always been second nature to Sullivan. As a Suffolk student, he used his bartending job as an opportunity to not only network with people, but also to learn more about possible career paths. Through his discussions with clientele, he identified a possible interest in health insurance sales.
After graduating from the Sawyer Business School, Sullivan worked as a sales manager for the Lincoln National Insurance Company. This experience helped solidify his interest in the health insurance industry and inspired him to invest in a start-up.
In 1988, Sullivan joined the founding management team at Oxford Health Plans in New York, which went on to become a pioneer in the managed healthcare business. He spent 14 years as part of the founding management team, with his last four years as president of the company. Oxford Health Plans grew to over $5 billion in revenue, providing health plan services to more than 50,000 employers and over two million individuals.
Sullivan later served as the Chairman and CEO of Magnacare Holdings Inc., an Apax Partners portfolio company, which serves more than 600,000 individuals throughout the metropolitan New York marketplace.
Sullivan encourages all entrepreneurs to either start their own businesses or become involved in early startups. “Don’t be afraid to fail,” he said, because even unsuccessful endeavors are important learning opportunities.
While the capital requirements to start a new business can be daunting, it should not be a reason to pass on a great idea, Sullivan said. “There’s always money available to back a good idea.”
Setting high goals is also key to becoming a successful entrepreneur. Sullivan, who played hockey while attending Suffolk, always knew he wanted to “do big things in business,” he said, adding, “I never wanted to play for the Bruins, I wanted to own the Bruins.”