Dan Sullivan ’73: Traveling the World, and Making it a Better Place

Dan Sullivan ’73:  Traveling the World, and Making it a Better Place

In addition to being a highly successful businessman, Dan Sullivan, a 1973 graduate of Fairfield University, has dedicated much of his life to philanthropy.

The President and CEO of the travel company Collette, with over 45 years in the travel and tourism industry, Sullivan says that philanthropy is really what the company is about. To that end, he has concentrated upon making the people in the communities that his company, employees and clients travel “live in a better place.” He says, “80 percent of our workforce gets involved in giving back, whether it be through volunteer opportunities in food banks, building schools in South Africa, or wells in Cambodia, supporting the Aboriginal committee, and helping young girls boost their self-esteem in areas where poverty is overwhelming.”
People have noticed. Sullivan was inducted into the Tourism Hall of Fame for his contributions to the community, through philanthropic endeavors and significant contributions to the advancement of responsible tourism. On the honor, Sullivan said, “I was inducted in 2007 and at the time it was a wonderful achievement. In December of 2017, I received a Lifetime Achievement Award from Travel Weekly, which is perhaps an honor that I still can’t comprehend. It really puts an entire life spent in this industry into perspective.”

Sullivan is on the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy (CECP). He chairs the Collette Foundation board, Collette’s global non-profit organization aimed at giving children in our global communities opportunities to thrive through hunger and education initiatives. He sits on the Charitable Foundation board for Bristol County Savings Bank; is the former Chairman for Tourism Cares; serves as Co-Chairman of the Pawtucket Foundation, an organization committed to the continued economic development of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, Collette’s home city; and served on the Fairfield University Center for Faith and Public Life board since 2005, and is an engaged supporter of non-profit causes including the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Hospice, Hasbro Children’s Hospital, and Amos House.

Sullivan’s father, Dan Sullivan Sr., purchased Collette from Jack Collette in 1962. The younger Sullivan broke into his dad’s business when he guided a tour to the Great Smoky Mountain in 1970 while still a student at Fairfield. “Along with the help of others I’ve been able to help grow Collette to a global company and most importantly maintain it as a family business.”
Sullivan said his father taught him the importance of relationships and networking. “I always hire smart people who can teach me, the learning never stops.”

Headquartered in Pawtucket, R.I., Collette was founded in 1918 when Jack Collette offered his first tour: a jitney bus filled with travelers on a three-week tour to Florida from Boston. Collette is still family-owned and now offers more than 160 escorted, small group and family tours in more than 60 countries on all seven continents.

Sullivan, who also has a degree from the Harvard Business School’s Executive Owner/President Management program, noted that the tourism business has changed dramatically; from that of basically a regional transportation business to a global one. “Right now, more people are seeing Europe than the East Coast. It almost feels like the world is getting smaller in that more people are really going anywhere. We’re now going to all seven continents, which is a huge change from the day we started in the industry.”

As for the future of his industry, Sullivan foresees clients seeking more local and “immersive” opportunities. “These are the specialized concierge experiences on tours, like having dinner at the Eiffel Tower, or lunch with a New Zealand family during a home-hosted meal. This is where the industry is headed.”

When he does have some downtime, Sullivan likes to hang out with “The Boss.” No, not his boss, but legendary rocker Bruce Springsteen. “I’ve seen him in concert 16 times.” Favorite song? Badlands. Family life is also vitally important for Sullivan and his wife, Kathy, who have three grown children and eight grandchildren. They live in Lincoln, R.I.

When asked about his favorite memories of attending Fairfield University, Sullivan was quick to say “playing baseball (all four years, he was a first baseman and outfielder) and grilling burgers at my house on the beach during senior year. I made so many great friends during my time there and I think of them so very often.”

He talked about how the University prepared him for his career and life in general. “Fairfield was tremendous in helping me think circularly instead of focusing on a direct question. Often times, answering a question requires taking the time to think about additional consequences and later circumstances. It has led me to really think in a holistic way.”