John Sullivan: IT Adventurer

Age: 43

Title: CIO

Organization: The American Chemical Society (ACS), a Washington-based professional organization for chemists and people in related occupations that publishes 30 journals and magazines.

IT staff: 110

Previous post: CIO at AARP, a nonprofit that provides products and services to citizens age 50 and older.

Latest accomplishment: At AARP, Sullivan implemented Web services technology that integrates the organization's internal applications with those of the myriad business partners that deliver products and services to members, transforming the way AARP and its members and partner companies interact. Members can now get timely and accurate responses to requests through Web-based self-service options or by going directly to a provider, instead of having to contact multiple parties. Access to information in AARP's membership systems allows partner companies to enroll members in programs and begin providing benefits in a single call, as well as offer additional products and services.

Recent career move: The success of the AARP effort motivated Sullivan's move to the American Chemical Society. "I wanted to build something at AARP," he says. "Now I want to do it again. I get excited over the mission of an organization that has a positive impact on society."

Leadership style: Sullivan says he leads "from behind," creating an environment in which others "welcome you to the table" and invite you to lead. "That style may not work in other cultures, but it works in nonprofit environments" that are run by volunteers, he says. "Once you're viewed as a leader, you're given opportunities to extend your skills. If you are genuine and honest, people will follow you."

Tip for future IT leaders: Accept assignments that are "slightly unexpected" for an IT person. That lets you "face different kinds of challenges that help create a good leader," he says. At AARP, for example, Sullivan volunteered to lead a business process re-engineering effort focusing on how members navigate through the organization as a whole, not just the Web site. "It was an opportunity to be in front of the whole organization and demonstrate leadership skills -- and to improve the business, not just the technology."

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Other interests: Family time, and community and church activities. "Sometimes I'll show up at a zoning board meeting to speak about some aspect of development," Sullivan says. "I gravitate toward those types of things." He's also a Cub Scout leader, a "marginal but enthusiastic" fisherman, a golfer (when time permits) and a fantasy football fan.

Latest reads:Collapse, by Jared Diamond; Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell; In Praise of Slowness, by Carl Honore; The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini; the sports page. ("It's sometimes a hard choice between the sports page and 'real' reading.")

Retirement plans: None. "I keep getting presented with wonderful missions," Sullivan says. "I wake up every day excited about what I do. At ACS, it's to improve the world through better science. My pattern indicates that when my mission is done at one organization, I will likely find another. I won't get rich, but the rewards are so great."

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