How I did it: Larry Sullivan

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The success of Construction Industry Solutions (COINS) has taken chairman and co-founder Larry Sullivan across Europe, to the USA, and now to the UAE, with the company finding a regional base in Sharjah.

Described by Sullivan as the ‘heart and lungs’ of its clients, COINS improves, supports and develops their business processes in order to help them run more efficiently.

He recently visited business students in the UAE, but rather than focusing on COINS, Sullivan talked about entrepreneurship as a force for good and how he has used his success to help benefit charities.

In 2004 he funded and established Stepping Stones, a school for children with hemiplegia and mild disabilities, and four years later he set up the COINS Foundation which works towards an inclusive global society.

More recently he established The Cookie Bar, a social enterprise which helps disabled children get experience in business and become social and economic contributors. Run for profit, the money made by The Cookie Bar will go to schools and to projects supported by COINS Foundation.

So when and how did Sullivan’s focus change from business to charity?

“About ten years ago I sold one of my companies for something like GBP19-20 million and for the first time in my life I had a lot of money.

“It made me realise a few things – that I didn’t need the money. I needed to do something useful with it.”

He explained that the birth of his daughter was the catalyst for this, saying: “My daughter was born with cerebral palsy, and we just couldn’t find the right school for her. Mainstream education for disabled children can be very cruel. It can destroy their self esteem. So I thought I’d do something about it.”

And so began Stepping Stones, which was set up to provide a caring, fun environment where they can grow socially and academically.

Sullivan added: “With the things I’m involved in, I’m working to set them free. The school was 100 percent dependent on us when it started, now it’s only 20 percent dependent on us. The Cookie Bar will be run for profit and fund itself.”

Talking further about The Cookie Bar, he added: “I go in for the ‘ready, aim, fire’ approach. I need to get it all sorted out quickly. There was a report when we started The Cookie Bar, and there wasn’t enough footfall at the site. So I contacted loads of people I knew, and clients, and asked them to stock the cookies.”

He hopes his tour of the UAE’s business schools and universities has inspired the younger generation to follow a socially responsible business path, and was encouraged to learn some of his audience expressed an interest in setting up Cookie Bars in the UAE.

COINS will also work with charities in the region. Sullivan said: “I’ll leave it to the local guys to find and work with charities in the UAE. It should be consistent to what we’re doing now, especially with the amount of money we’re donating. We give GBP 50,000 per year and we’ve stuck with that annual figure rather than handing out one big flashy thing and leaving it at that.”

“Our business is secure, and that’s really important. It’s what’s allowed us to go on and do these other things.”

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