Conversations with Leaders: Tracy Sullivan
There are people who love to shop, who pride themselves in being resourceful, and finding the best product at an incredible price. For Tracy Sullivan, it’s part of her job description as Assistant Vice President (AVP) of Procurement and Business Services at Governors State University, where she is responsible for sourcing and contracting all of the products and services needed to make for smooth operations across campus.
“I tell people I get to negotiate contracts and shop for a living to help students succeed,” she laughs.
It’s a short description for a big job in a complicated industry where, over two decades, Sullivan has carved a stellar reputation as a “go-to” for state lawmakers and university purchasing leaders who want to problem solve.
As former Chairwoman of the Illinois Public Higher Education Cooperative (IPHEC) Board of Trustees, Sullivan remains in a position to help influence policy that governs everything from how goods and services are purchased to ensuring minority vendors are made aware of potential contract opportunities.
“We work collaboratively with IPHEC to secure goods and services. And, as one of the senior-most procurement leaders in IPHEC, I’m always willing to help improve operations that help students succeed in the classroom. We’re not just buying the widgets. Those widgets are used by students in the classroom so that when they graduate, they can get jobs applying what they have learned in the classroom.”
At Governors State, Sullivan’s team receives and delivers nearly every single widget purchased from paper clips to wild coyote urine (a request from the Biology Department).
Sullivan follows the Illinois Procurement Code, a law she would like to help update in order to better assist vendors and keep pace with national best practices for universities across the state.
“The code is quite complex,’’ Sullivan said. “Navigating it can be like the procurement hokey-pokey,’’ with all the steps sometimes required for purchases.
It’s a dance she’s learned to do quite well in the last 20 years as chief collaborator on projects large and small. Her scope scales from purchasing toys for the Family Development Center to awarding multiple contracts for firms that designed and built the university’s first residence hall, Prairie Place, a $20 to $25 million project that represents Governors State’s largest endeavor in 2013.
Lately, Sullivan’s procurement efforts have been focused on securing supplies during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Trying to order personal protective equipment (PPE) has become a sport. You have to be prepared and able to respond instantly, or you miss an opportunity.”
Always up for a game, Sullivan engaged strategic partners, including IPHEC, vendors and community colleges, to share PPE information constantly. “I call it contingency planning Olympics,” she said.
Her PPE strategy and relationships are hailed as models worth writing about. In fact, this fall, the National Association of Educational Procurement will be publishing Sullivan’s “Pandemic, Procurement, Professional Relationships" in its quarterly magazine, “Educational Procurement Journal.”
Relationships lie at the center of Sullivan’s success.
After earning her M.B.A., Sullivan took a job as the Purchasing Agent at Moraine Valley Community College in the late 90s. She also taught Marketing classes for several years.
She built relationships with her purchasing counterparts in the IPHEC, a group of purchasing leaders within higher education. Through IPHEC she worked collaboratively to reduce the cost of purchases through cooperative bidding and best practices. For the past two years, she has watched from the seat of the Chairwoman with pride as the group flourishes because of the commitment to increase the quantity and quality of strategic procurement opportunities.
The group’s commitment to diverse vendors mirrors that of Governors State and is one Sullivan drives home with nearly every interaction with minority vendors.
“We’re reaching out to minority, female and disability owned firms—to educate them about how to qualify for the Business Enterprise Program (BEP), which certifies diversely owned businesses.,” Sullivan said. “We hope to improve relationships, encourage certification, and connect diverse vendors with our own campus subject matter experts that may have a need for their products and services.”
To assist, Sullivan and her staff make frequent presentations and participate on several panel discussions annually to engage vendors. She even trekked through the snow on a Friday night to make a presentation to a group of African American contractors seeking contract opportunities.
“I want them to see GSU is committed to assisting diverse suppliers and that they can come to me to help them. We can help to connect them with other suppliers or contractors. When legislators ask, I want to make sure I can say I’ve done everything I can to increase GSU’s spend with diverse suppliers, within the limits of the law.”
Her deep understanding of the law has not gone unnoticed, and it’s not uncommon for others around the state to consult her on the nuances of the code. Sullivan said she enjoys working with legislators and legislative staff to improve procurement procedures.
Sullivan moves through the complicated world of procurement with confidence and grace because she’s a natural.
The daughter of a “super-shopper” mother and executive CPA father, Sullivan is grateful for their incredible example of generosity, hard work and inspiration.
She said they raised her to make good choices, work hard and help others and she reflects on that everyday she’s at the university. Though she no longer directly interfaces with students, Sullivan is changing lives just the same.
“Every purchase we make has an impact on our students and the educational mission of Governors State,” she said. “The best day for me is commencement. Knowing each of us had a part in the education that our graduates receive makes me very proud. My goal is always to make a difference in the lives of others.”