Pat Sullivan ’80 uses his Transylvania science background and Texas MBA to find financial solutions for industry
by William A. Bowden
Pat Sullivan ’80 was sitting in an orientation session at ExxonMobil’s Baytown Refinery in Houston in 1987, listening to a chemical engineer explain the basics of the crude oil refining process to a roomful of support staff—accountants, finance and marketing managers, and human resources employees.
The instructor threw up a chemical structure on the board and asked, “Does anyone know what this is?”
Sullivan, who had just joined the company as a financial analyst, answered, “Yes. It’s methylcyclohexene,” surprising the engineer and everyone else in the room. “It kind of blew him away,” Sullivan said, in a recent interview.
It’s this combination of scientific insight and financial acumen—a real bonus in his profession Sullivan says—that has given him the expertise and tools to succeed in a variety of industrial and manufacturing settings over a professional career of almost three decades. It continues to pay dividends in his current position in Dallas as controller at Luminant, Texas’s largest power company.
Transylvania professors key
Sullivan was already serious about science when he arrived at Transylvania in the fall of 1976 with the idea of eventually doing research and teaching in that area. His encounters with several Transy professors confirmed Sullivan’s belief in the college’s excellent reputation in natural sciences and mathematics. These included chemistry professors Monroe Moosnick and Jerry Seebach, biology professors Lila Boyarsky and J. Hill Hamon, and mathematics professor Charles Haggard.
“I was considering several careers at the time,” Sullivan said. “The nice thing about Transylvania, being a liberal arts college, is that, in addition to my natural sciences courses, I was exposed to other disciplines like economics and statistics. I also took some film art, religion, and philosophy courses. It was good to get that varied exposure.”
After graduation with a double major in biology and chemistry, Sullivan enrolled in a physiology and biophysics graduate program at the University of Kentucky. While there, he also taught chemistry and physics at Lexington Catholic High School.
Two years later, Sullivan decided to veer away from academia and set his sights on a business career. He was recruited—by a Transylvania alum in the executive search business—to a sales and marketing management position with a plastics company in Houston. After three years with the company, he enrolled in the MBA program at the University of Texas in Austin.
“I needed to become more familiar with the language of business,” said Sullivan, who graduated summa cum laude and first in his class at Texas. From this point on in his career, finance and accounting became his areas of concentration and expertise.
ExxonMobil comes calling
Sullivan was recruited off the Texas campus by Exxon (now ExxonMobil) and began work in 1987 at Houston’s Baytown Refinery, one of the largest such facilities in the world. He would stay with Exxon for the next seven years, including the final three years at the corporation’s San Francisco refinery.
“I was promoted through five positions at Exxon,” Sullivan said. “At Baytown, at what would be a $40 billion business today, I was the light clean products economist, with responsibility for planning our gasoline, kerosene, jet fuel, and chemical feed stocks products. In San Francisco, I was controller for a $10 billion refinery.”
It was at Exxon that the advantage of being an MBA with an undergraduate degree in biology and chemistry really began to pay off for Sullivan. His science background had first served him well in his sales and marketing position with the Houston plastics company, but was now a key factor in his growing success.
“It’s been an excellent combination of knowledge and skills,” he said. “When you’re talking with engineers in the refinery and they can see that you understand things on a molecular level, it gives you immediate respect. Being a senior financial analyst with that kind of scientific insight allowed me to make a lot of contributions in lowering costs and increasing profits.”
As an example of the kind of work he did for Exxon and the contributions he made to the company’s efficiency and profitability, Sullivan mentioned a situation where he recommended a consolidation of product lines.
“We had a very small aviation gasoline business out of the Baytown Refinery that was still leaded at a time when most of the gasoline pool had become unleaded—deleaded we call it,” he said. “We were tying up facilities and pipelines with a leaded product for a very small product line. I convinced management to consolidate manufacture of that product with our sister refinery in Baton Rouge, which was also producing a very small stream. We were able to free up facilities in Baytown, put more deleaded fuel through there, serve broader markets, and still serve the aviation gas business, but in a much more efficient way.”
Pipelines and donuts
In 1994, Sullivan was lured away from Exxon by Clark Refining and Marketing, Inc., in St. Louis, where he was vice president and controller of the corporation’s $6 billion refining and supply division. He was responsible for integrating an initial public offering of stock and the acquisition of a Chevron refinery in Port Arthur, Texas, into the company’s financial structure.
Sullivan’s next stop was a start-up company in Dallas, Longhorn Pipeline, where he was chief financial officer for nearly a decade. “I did nine different financings and raised about $700 million during those years,” he said. “It was a great experience, working with a brand new company. I felt I could be CFO of anything I wanted to after that.”
In 2004, Sullivan sold his interest in Longhorn and spent the next three years commuting from his home in Dallas to St. Louis and Chicago, helping a friend he had worked with while at Clark to successfully recapitalize his Krispy Kreme Donut franchise business.
Wanting to rejoin a larger company and settle back into one location, Sullivan joined Luminant, his present company (then known as TXU Corporation) in March 2007 as controller of the development and construction business unit. In October of that year, the company went through a $46 billion leveraged buyout that created Energy Future Holdings, of which Luminant is a wholly owned subsidiary. By December, Sullivan had received another promotion and had mining and power generation responsibilities added to his controller position.
Luminant is a power generation business with plant and mine operations, wholesale marketing and trading, and construction and development of new power plants, serving industrial, commercial, and residential customers. Coal is the dominant source of its power generation capacities, but the company also has significant gas, nuclear, solar, and wind operations. It’s the 11th largest mining company in the nation.
With fossil fueled electric generation plants the mainstay for power generation by Luminant, and in the U.S. overall, Sullivan has been involved in, and learned a lot about, environmental issues surrounding emissions of such plants.
“We will be installing the best available technology for controlling emissions in our new plants,” he said, “and retrofitting our older plants in a similar way. We are also trying to skew our future incremental power generation away from fossil fuel to nuclear and renewables, such as solar and wind. Each of those sources of generation has its own issues. I think there will always be a healthy mix of fossil, and a growing mix of renewables and nuclear.”
Sullivan’s career to this point reveals a person willing to retool when necessary, take risks when appropriate, and seize opportunities that appear promising.
“I’ve never been afraid to take on a new opportunity,” he said. “I have this insatiable thirst to learn, and I always like to be challenged. I like being in a room with people who are a lot smarter than I am. I learn quite a bit from those situations. At the same time, with my background, my education, and my experience, I’ve made important contributions to the companies I’ve been involved with.”
Sullivan and his wife, Laurie, live in Dallas with their four sons, Jack, 21, Michael, 19, Kevin, 15, and Luke, 8.