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If you want to go far, go together

Michele Sullivan, Caterpillar Inc.’s director of Corporate Social Innovation and president of the Caterpillar Foundation, speaks at the 41st McCord lecture Thursday morning.
photo by Brien Jackson

Bradley’s 41st McCord lecture offered students, alumni and community members an opportunity to hear about the experiences of a Bradley alumna who achieved her dream job.

For the past six years, Michele Sullivan has been Caterpillar Inc.’s director of Corporate Social Innovation and the president of the Caterpillar Foundation.

In her lecture, “Moving from Transactional to Strategic/Influential in the Caterpillar Foundation,” Sullivan opened with the story of when she heard her dream job, the position she holds now, was open.

According to Sullivan, the position is likely the most wanted job at Caterpillar, and only three people were interviewed despite the vast number of applications.

“I was not the leading candidate,” Sullivan said.

When she interviewed, Sullivan said she was asked what she would do if she had the position and how she would continue the success of Caterpillar. Sullivan said she responded with, “I believe that we should use our iconic brand and influence to help those in poverty.”

After that, Sullivan said she was hired and has aspired to improve the company ever since. With the slogan “Together. Stronger.”, Sullivan said she thinks Caterpillar’s best option is to focus on collaborative efforts with private, public and non-profit entities.

“I run the foundation like a business,” Sullivan said.

By investing with grants, Sullivan said she uses the grants to help those in poverty. The different areas for the investments Sullivan cited were with basic human needs, environment and education.

According to Sullivan, every receiver of the grant has to report back on how the grant has helped them improve and how they measured the improvement.

Additionally, another perspective of the slogan “Together. Stronger.” is “To get her. Stronger.”, which represents another issue Sullivan said she is passionate about — the female population.

Sullivan said she utilizes her role in the Caterpillar Foundation to educate young girls and women by using Caterpillar’s brand and reputation.

McCord Professor of Executive Management Development Joshua Lewer said he views Sullivan as a role model.

“She has to overcome more obstacles than [the average person], and yet, she’s been able to do it, so it makes her an inspiration,” Lewer said.

Lewer said hopefully students will also see Sullivan as an inspirational figure to motivate them.

“Students are going to come away from [the McCord lecture], I hope, inspired to knock down those challenges they see in front of themselves, to [not] take ‘No’ for an answer, to overcome life’s challenges and move forward in a positive direction,” Lewer said.

According to Sullivan, she said a specific African proverb represents her view of how the Caterpillar Foundation should be run.

“If you want to go fast, go alone,” Sullivan said. “If you want to go far, go together.”

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