Next Up Columbus 2020: Adrian Sullivan

Adrian Sullivan
Adrian Sullivan

Photo by Matt Reese / CityPulse Columbus

Interview by Sarah Shumick

Name: Adrian Sullivan
Age: 39
Profession: Manager, Diversity & Inclusion at Cardinal Health
Neighborhood: Westerville
Education: Currently attending Western Governor’s University to complete a Bachelors Degree in Human Resources Management
Quote: “If you live here, you know Columbus is definitely calling ‘next’ on bigger cities. This is the place to be if you’re a creator. And the place to be if you want to know what trends are next.”
Connect: LinkedIn | Instagram | Twitter

As a child, Adrian Sullivan aspired to be several things: a chef, construction worker, athlete, designer, and architect, among others. Never would he have said he wanted to work in Human Resources – the very field that his father made his living. Sullivan ended up spending a large portion of his career-to-date in banking, working his way up through roles as a call center representative, as well as in data analytics and workforce planning.

“One day I decided to ask the Chief Diversity Officer of my previous company if I could offer my help,” Sullivan remembers. “That turned into being the Affirmative Action Program Manager for one of the largest financial institutions in Ohio. It also introduced me to one of the best mentors I’ve ever had, Dr. Rhonda Talford Knight.”

“As much as I enjoyed my role, I never felt I was doing enough to help others. I knew I wanted to work directly with and be an advocate for people,” he said. That’s when he got a call from Cardinal Health about being their Manager of Diversity & Inclusion. “Not only do I have an opportunity to do the work I love, but I have a great boss who’s dedicated to helping develop my skills, who is supporting me and my long-term goals. It has even given me the opportunity to sit on the Board of the Central Ohio Diversity Consortium. The D&I team is small but mighty. We have an amazing team and share in the belief that our work makes a difference. Keep an eye on us, we’re going to do some amazing things!

Give us a snapshot of your career path:
Most of my career has been in banking. I’ve done everything from call center rep to data analytics and workforce planning. I’ve been a facilitator off and on for ten years, and one day I decided to ask the Chief Diversity Officer of my previous company if I could offer my help. That turned into being the Affirmative Action Program Manager for one of the largest financial institutions in Ohio. It also introduced me to one of the best mentors I’ve ever had, who was also a member of the team, Dr. Rhonda Talford Knight. As much as I enjoyed my role; because it was so data driven, I never felt I was doing enough to help others. I knew I wanted to work directly with and be an advocate for people. That’s when I got a call from Cardinal Health about being a Manager of Diversity & Inclusion. Best. Feeling. Ever. Not only do I have an opportunity to do the work I love, but I have a great boss who’s dedicated to helping develop my skills, who is supporting me and my long-term goals. It has even given me the opportunity to sit on the Board of the Central Ohio Diversity Consortium. The D&I team is small but mighty. We have an amazing team and share in the belief that our work makes a difference. Keep an eye on us, we’re going to do some amazing things!

What gets you up in the morning? And what gets you through the workweek?
My two dogs! I have an Olde English Bulldogge and a Teacup Morkie. They wake up insanely early no matter what! But as far as purpose, I love what I do, it’s that simple. My motivation is derived from the thousands of people counting on me and my team to advocate for them. We have the ability to touch millions of people in the communities we operate in. Customers, colleagues and communities alike all rely on the power of inclusion and diverse thought to thrive. It’s about putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and sharing the lessons of that experience to foster equality. I can’t say it enough, I’ve got a really good team who’s equally as passionate about the work. We work hard and we laugh just as hard. You can usually find us trading movie quotes and rap lyrics!

What advice from mentors have helped guide you along the way?
I can be extremely introverted at times. My mentor made it clear that I was using it as a crutch. I appreciated her honesty, however harsh it felt at the time. She let me know that it’s one thing to recharge in the way I needed to, but I was hiding from my abilities and not asking for help when I needed it was hurting me. She taught me a lot. She taught me the value of speaking my mind and how to get my ideas out. She showed me how to use the skill of reading people and situations to build real, lasting relationships, which in turn help build a strong network. She continues to teach me things to this day. We work together, bouncing ideas off one another. More importantly we support each other and listen. I don’t know that I would have been ready for some of the great things that have come my way without her encouraging me to be the best version of myself.

What do you do or where do you go to unwind?
A long time ago, I figured out it’s extremely difficult to dwell on having a hard day when I’m in the kitchen. So, I cook! And as of last July, I run a food blog. I believe that food unites people. Food to me, is one of the original forms of inclusion. We share stories, life events, ideas, discuss conflicts and disagreements all over food. Whether I’m trying a new restaurant, visiting one of my favorite places, or working on a new recipe…cooking is my outlet. It’s how I decompress and at the same time share with those around me. My goal is to have 100 original recipes by thefirst anniversary of my website! When I’m not cooking, I also like to read, although right now it’s currently a tossup between textbooks as I am currently earning my degree in Human Resources Management, and recipes.

When you were a kid, what did you say you wanted to be when you grew up?
Honestly, I wanted to be a chef, construction worker, athlete, designer and architect. (I actually have an award from the State of Ohio I won in high school for a design). I just knew I didn’t want to be like my dad and work in Human Resources, a field that’s constantly stigmatized as being stuffy and boring, and especially not diversity and inclusion. At the time, I didn’t understand his job and I thought it seemed boring and didn’t make sense to me. Ironically, life has a funny way of showing you what you’re supposed to be doing though, and I wouldn’t trade a single lesson that got me to where I am now. I wanted to be anything and everything, but never did I think I’d be so happy doing what I am now.

What books or podcasts are you reading/listening to right now?
I am a huge fan of the Joe Budden Podcast – don’t always agree, but it’s great to see someone who looks like me, express themselves transparently and be okay with how it feels to put themselves out there for critique. They also spotlight great music!

I’m also reading a couple books, including: What Works – Gender Equality by Design from Iris Bohnet, Articulate While Black by H Samy Alim & Geneva Smitherman, and my Bible.

What does it mean to you to be chosen for the Next Up Columbus award?
Means more than most will probably realize. I have a sneaky suspicion that I know the person(s) that nominated me. If I’m right, they know me inside and out, and have helped me build so much of the good around me. I really love them, and hope that I’ve done the same for them. It’s also validation of my hard work. We don’t really talk often about the emotional growing pains of a career path, especially when it goes in a different direction than you envision, but I’ve lived them. The long nights wondering if I was good enough, getting passed over for a role I really wanted, feeling like I’d never catch a break. I would experience it all again to experience the sheer joy of having someone take a chance on you and being confident that you are enough and will be successful. Essentially, being selected for Next Up Columbus means that my hard work is paying off, I’ve crossed the starting line and the race is on. It also means I’m helping put my city on the map! And hopefully, paying back all the investment my family and the people who love me, have made in me as a human being. It’s humbling to think of the sacrifices people make to help you reach your goals. There are so many great cultures, artists, creators, leaders and trailblazers in our community, and I get to be a part of that. I know we will continue see all the amazing things that make Columbus so special and unique.

If someone were to ask you what the “pulse” of Columbus is, what would you tell them?
Columbus is full of “Makers.” We’re no longer doing things the way they’ve always been done. Forget craft beers, there’s craft everything here. We’ve got a local vendor doing craft cocktail mixers, we’ve got another doing custom donuts far better than the chains! Barbershops, hair salons, brow bars and skin treatments from talented local entrepreneurs! There’s even a raw food-based dog treat business operating out of Westerville. Columbus is also home to one of the best sneaker shops in North America. They’re one of the few shops to have collaborated with Vans for consecutive years, and their pieces become collector’s items. If you ever want a celebrity sighting, check it out! Columbus also has amazing initiatives in place, led by independent investors dedicated to the revitalization of several underrepresented communities. The culture is young and bright and breaking free from past obstacles that kept creators more underground and is bringing them into the mainstream. Supporting diversity and inclusion is easier than ever before especially in a city that prides itself on opportunity and community. And yes, there are still plenty of opportunities for us to keep growing in that regard. We must continue to support those people and places that promote inclusion as a way of life. If you live here, you know Columbus is definitely calling “next” on bigger cities. This is the place to be if you’re a creator. And the place to be if you want to know what trends are next. The pulse of Columbus is the pulse of the next generation.


The Next Up Columbus Awards highlight emerging leaders who are connectors and ambassadors in Central Ohio and who are making a positive impact on the future of Columbus. Special thanks to the Columbus Young Professionals Club, Discover Financial, and Zipline Logistics for their support of this awards program. Meet the entire “Class of 2020” »

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