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Updated: October 18, 2020 Lifetime Achievement Awards 2020

Sullivan reinvents, then helps Standard Builders Inc. thrive

“I was newly married and I came home to my wife and said, ‘We have a great opportunity. But it was a good-news, bad-news story — the company was failing.’ ”

Bob Sullivan laughed as he told the story of his decision to become an owner of Standard Builders of Newington. Now president and CEO, Sullivan first decided to sign on with Standard as a project manager in 1987 and ended up helping turn the company around seven years later.

“Standard Builders had and still has a great reputation for how it treats its people, the quality of the work that it did and the quality of the clients. We had to reinvent ourselves,” Sullivan said. “As a young engineer, I took on that challenge.”

A UConn graduate with an engineering and mathematics degree, Sullivan had worked for Pratt & Whitney for nine years prior to joining Standard, internalizing the aerospace giant’s “culture of improvement.” He decided to look for new opportunities when he was asked to take a job that required extensive travel.

“They had a great foundation and client base,” Sullivan said of Standard Builders.

What the company didn’t have was an analytic approach to seeking new business in the midst of a national economic slowdown; traditional markets for new construction in sectors like insurance, banking and defense had slowed dramatically.

Sullivan applied his engineering skills to the problem with the support of the company’s senior leadership. Investments in training and technology helped raise the firm’s profile and attract new business.

“I learned by fire — trial and error,” Sullivan said.

The firm soon secured new projects across New England at hospitals, universities and major retail centers.

“Getting into the healthcare market was a huge deciding factor for us … that helped us expand our client base,” he said.

Current and past clients include UConn Health, Hartford Hospital and Yale New Haven Hospital.

Standard Builders now specializes in building and renovating clinical and educational facilities and managing complex projects like the construction of the Tanger Outlets at Foxwoods.

That retail complex alone required specialized work with utilities, foundations, bridges and integration with the casino structure.

A $60-million company, Standard currently employs 200 people and handles projects valued at up to $100 million in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.

Further opportunities may await the builder as healthcare and higher-education institutions contemplate retrofitting their facilities in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“They’re rebuilding their infrastructure and that’s really our market,” Sullivan said.

In the process of leading Standard Builders, Sullivan said he is most proud of nurturing a strong crop of junior executives well placed to guide the company into the future. In one recent episode, a team managing the renovation of a hospital emergency room was forced to change course as the pandemic intensified.

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