Eyes wide open

Many people don’t think about what happens to the poverty-stricken and the homeless when they are too sick to care for themselves. There’s no telethon or flashy advertising campaign for the organizations that do the job, and oftentimes, the old adage rings true: Out of sight, out of mind.

But Thomas Sullivan, CEO of RPM Inc., is acutely aware of the needs of those living at and below the poverty line. He has selflessly given his time, money and motivation to help address the problems that plague some of the city’s poorer communities. It’s one reason why RPM has been honored with a 2001 Pillar Award for Community Service.

“I made a pact with my wife,” says Sullivan. “She is very civic-minded. We have six children, and I said if she stayed with the children and I had time to grow the business, I would join her in her work later.”

Both Sullivans were successful. Today, the children are out of the house and RPM, originally Republic Powder Metals, has experienced an explosion of growth over the past 30 years. Under Sullivan’s leadership, it has grown from a $7 million company in 1969 to a $2 billion company today.

So, as any good husband and father would, Sullivan has kept his word. Not only has he become actively involved with outreach programs including the Malachi House, the May Dugan Center, Cleveland Tomorrow and City Year Cleveland, he has also set the tone of philanthropy within his business.

Over the past fiscal year, RPM’s contributions totaled more than half a million dollars. Beyond financial contributions, the 700 local employees have painted murals for City Year Cleveland, built houses for Habitat for Humanity, participated in walks and races and raised funds for Cleveland Tomorrow and the Hunger Task Force.

And, although RPM has been extremely generous with many local and national organizations, there is a definite theme of working with and within the Cleveland community.

Sullivan is directly involved with The Malachi House and the Urban Community School, both of which serve low-income and poverty-stricken communities. The Urban Community School is for underprivileged youth, and more than 90 percent of those enrolled graduate from high school. The Malachi House provides care for people with limited resources during the final stages of life.

The May Dugan Center, another RPM causes, provides housing, food, counseling and other services to families at and below the poverty line.

“It (the center) caters to those that live in the community,” Sullivan says. “The children need a good education to break the cycle of poverty. There is no doubt in my mind that education is a key need.”

All three programs are based on the West side, in part because Sullivan believes those areas have the greatest needs.

“The West side of Cleveland gets overlooked often,” he says. “Most heads of industry live on the East side. You drive through poverty on your way to work. If you live on the West side, you drive over it.”

Sullivan says we will always have to fight against poverty. And, with the downturn in the economy, the needs of the poor are growing in comparison to the resources, which are becoming more limited.

“You are looking at corporations that don’t have as much to give out,” Sullivan says. How to reach: RPM Inc., (330) 273-5090

Kim Palmer ([email protected]) is managing editor of SBN Magazine.