, Salem, MA

March 21, 2014

End of an era at Enterprise Center

Director to retire in May after 12 years

By Will Broaddus
Staff writer

---- — SALEM — Christine Sullivan, director of the Enterprise Center at Salem State for 12 years, has announced she will retire in May. The center, an incubator and resource for small-business development, was founded in 1996. They now have 6,000 registrations per year for seminars, workshops and panel discussions on a range of business topics. Sullivan ran her own small business for 16 years, Hawthorne Associates, where she handled marketing and advertising for her clients. She chatted yesterday with The Salem News about her years at the Enterprise Center and her plans for retirement.

What first attracted you about running the Enterprise Center?

The truth was I got bored with my own business. I only read one job ad in all that time and that was for the Enterprise Center, and that was the one job I wanted to do. I didn’t have a resume. I wrote a resume up and made it one page.

As you look back, what are some things that you’re really proud of, that stand out?

One of the things I am very proud of at the Enterprise Center is the scope of our reach. We are not Salem-centric and draw people from all over the North Shore, as well as Boston and many of the suburbs west and south of Boston.

The Enterprise Center has grown to be a major resource for businesses of the region, and I was delighted I was able to help it become that. I’ve had a great board and great team working here, and the university has been wonderful. That’s all really true; I’ve been lucky.

What impact can you point to that your programs have had?

We run seven different CEO groups. These are people who come together monthly and talk about what’s going on in their companies. There’s enormous growth in their ability to run a business. I see the growth, and I love it, because being a business owner is lonely, and you need to be able to talk to somebody. Most spouses aren’t really interested.

What kinds of things do people want to learn about, in your other programs?

The basics are good, but there are all these other things going on out there. The technology area is a high demand for our workshops. We also try to push the edge. Crowdfunding. We have three sessions for veterans in the spring. Other people have been mentored in a mentoring program that helps CEOs and gives them a mentor.

What other programs have been effective?

We run an annual business-plan competition, and that has helped find many businesses worthy of growth and focuses attention on this region, that there are startup companies, and you need to pay attention. The million-dollar women program, to showcase companies with women leaders with over a million dollars in revenue, to say to women in the audience they can do it, too.

In 2012, you launched some workshops on preparing for retirement. Did you learn from them?

I did learn a lot from that, and I’ve read a lot of books on that. This is what’s called the third age. You’re old enough to retire, but you’re going to live quite a long time. If you say I’m looking for another career, people look at you like you’re crazy. But you want to.

How did you come to the decision to retire?

I finally decided I love the Enterprise Center, but it is time for someone else to take it to the next level, and time for me to figure out what is the new thing that interests me. Also people think, when you say you want to spend time with your family, you’re just saying that. But I have two grandchildren, and I would like to spend more time with them. I’d like to travel more.

Do you have an inkling of what your next career will be?

I have to state that I need the time to answer your question. The first thing I have said is, I am going to take a five-month sabbatical. I’m going to travel in May, and I’m going to spend the summer in Ipswich with my toes curled in the sand. In October, I’m going to make this decision.

What else has changed about the way we look at retirement?

The recession threw a monkey wrench into a lot of people’s retirement plans. People don’t want a retirement like their parents had; they want much more active engagement, and we don’t have any models yet. So, everybody is trying to figure it out on their own. If you lived in a job you didn’t like and wanted to fish, that would be fabulous. But if you’ve always done things that interested you, then what?

But along with the uncertainty, there are perhaps more options?

When my father retired, they didn’t have part-time jobs. They didn’t have consulting. You retired, and you were done. Now, for some people, it’s volunteer work, for some a part-time job. A lot of people over 55 are starting their own business. For other people, it will be curling their toes in the sand at the beach. It’s really wide open.