In a world where “Ready, aim, fire” has become “Ready, fire, aim,” Mickey Sullivan directs his career in terms of aiming before firing. “Some people start firing before they get their aim down,” he said. “We try to make sure our aim is down before we squeeze the trigger. Make sure to have all the facts before you try to solve the problem and always start with the end in mind. Know where you're going before you get started.”
Sullivan started his public works career after college when lie joined the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, where he worked on several large projects. One was the Tennessee Tombigbee Waterway, which parallels the Mississippi River from Memphis to the Gulf of Mexico. The waterway allows for a shorter route for barge traffic to move on the river system. “It was one of those things that private industry could not pay for themselves,” said Sullivan. “It would take the government to come in and do something like that.” Another large project was building Big South Fork, a 125, 000-acre national park in eastern Tennessee and Kentucky.
After 15 years with the Corps and seven with Nashville's public works department, Sullivan took a job with Gresham, Smith & Partners, where he has been for the past 10 years. Sullivan's biggest current project is a brownfield project in downtown Nashville, where an old hospital site is being converted to mixed-use residential, retail, and office space. The city-owned site contains an abandoned hospital, an old rock quarry, and historic trolley barns that have served as Nashville's consolidated motor pool for decades. “We are rebuilding 40 acres of downtown Nashville, which is pretty exciting,” said Sullivan.
Sullivan served as the APWA president, Tennessee chapter, in 2004. Highlights included getting the state DOT to join APWA and getting the governor to declare an American Public Works Week in May.
“There's something special [about working in public works],” said Sullivan. “If there's anything I miss since I left government it's that firsthand, up-close, personal involvement with projects where you feel like you're making a difference for people's quality of life.”