Interviews with purpose-driven leaders who are dedicated to helping others and making a positive impact in the world.
May 8, 2023
Paul Sullivan | The Company of Dads
TELL US, WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT DO YOU DO?
My name is Paul Sullivan and I’m the founder of The Company of Dads, which is the first media company and community platform created for Lead Dads. A lead dad is a man who is the go-to parent whether he works full-time, part-time, or devotes all of his time to his family. In many cases, Lead Dad is also supporting his spouse in his or her career. However, we know that 18% of fathers in America are divorced, widowed, or otherwise single and they’re very much part of The Company of Dads.
HOW DID YOU GET HERE?
I was a journalist for 25 years, primarily for The New York Times, and one day my wife decided to start her own firm very suddenly. She was worried about what we were going to do with the kids, and I told her I’d become the Lead Dad. She asked what that meant, and I said I had no idea but it’s a lot better than if I panic. Essentially what it came to mean was I had a schedule that I could control, so I took the lead with the kids.
During the lockdown, I began to miss the connection with friends and thought there must be a group out there for Lead Dads like me. If that group existed I probably would have joined in and kept my nice job with The New York Times. Instead, I was frustrated that all the social parenting groups were targeted at moms. As a journalist, I began to wonder how many dads there are in America and discovered
that of the 75 million dads in America, around 20 to 25 million men are Lead Dads or could be. I asked some women how they were able to juggle successful careers, being married, and handling children, and it all came down to this Lead Dad concept and how they are involved in their families. One woman, in particular, strongly urged me to create a media company and media platform around the concept. That’s when everything really clicked for me.
Most importantly, I wanted to normalize this role. I have three daughters and I want them to grow up and do whatever they want. I don’t want it to be predetermined that because they are women, society says they have to be a Lead Mom.
WHAT DO YOU STAND FOR? WHY IS THIS WORK IMPORTANT TO YOU?
I stand for normalizing the role of men being Lead Dads. Ever since COVID, we as a generation recognize that we can do things differently. It’s so easy to slip back into what we know but we don’t have to work set hours in the office five days a week. The best leaders can be nimble, managing people no matter where they’re working. I really am so passionate about this because I want people to open the aperture and think a little differently.
One thing we propose is the notion of a care shift. If you’re a shift worker, you know you’re going to work a certain number of hours and shift everything around that schedule. As long as you work your eight (or however many) hours, you can shift those hours around a family schedule. We should have caring built into that. Giant companies have offices all over the country, if not all over the world, so people are already working in different time zones which could empower employees and employers to shake up the status quo. This is something that really means a lot to us. At its core, if we’re truly going to change things, we believe that we have to help companies rethink their work policies.
WHAT IMPACT ARE YOU MAKING?
On the media side, podcast downloads are an easy thing to quantify. Every week, we put out a newsletter, it’s called The Dad, and the open rate continues to be around 50% with a click-through rate of around 6 to 7%. We know that we’re reaching the right people, we know that the people who are coming to us are signing up because they want this information.
On the community side, our first year was largely online just because we didn’t know where people were, and we didn’t want to lose our shirt having an expensive event if nobody showed up. This year we’re in talks to have a big event in October with the NFL Alumni Association. I have a lot of friends who are former football players and they’re Lead Dads. They played a few years in the league, retired, have gotten married, and had kids. Their wives are still working, so they’ve fallen into the role of Lead Dad and are helping redefine the image of masculinity.
On the workplace development side, we’ve had a lot of interest in dads coming to different companies and talking about what we do, and trying to help the managers and employees come to a better way of working together. We’re also showing ourselves to be allies of working moms. Stepping forward and being supportive of working moms is key to what we do.
I heard from my former high school that a math teacher wanted to talk to me, but he wanted to talk about being a single dad when he adopted two girls on his own. That’s what’s bringing us together, whether you’re a football player or a teacher, we’re all coming together as dads trying to share support.
WHAT (OR WHO) INSPIRES YOU TO DO THIS WORK?
I was very close to my maternal grandfather who was able to be involved in my life. He was a retired postal worker and able to be super-involved when my parents both had jobs. So my aim is to figure out how to take what he did and bring it forward to 2023.
Second, I’m inspired by the chance to play a role in normalizing the dynamics that have been too gendered for too long. My wife works in financial services, and it’s a cutthroat industry. It doesn’t need to be that way. I want women to get equal seats at the socializing tables to benefit their corporate careers. I want men to get an equal seat at the playground, and for there to be an ecosystem where they can show up as parents, not just as a dad because a large percentage of moms at the playground aren’t really going to engage with them. I want to be able to say that I’m here as a loving parent, and that’s enough.
WHAT’S YOUR VISION, YOUR BIG DREAM FOR THE IMPACT YOU WANT TO MAKE?
We want to be the CNN of fathers. We want to be the go-to place for whatever type of father you are. If you’re a Lead Dad, you come for community and to share stories and different parts of the journey. In different parts of the world, you get a localized version of CNN but it’s still more or less CNN. We want to go global and be that for fathers, so men can come together. There’s a bit of a global phenomenon, particularly for men in their 20s and 30s, not wanting to make the same mistakes their dads made. They don’t want to be constrained to work in the environment their dad worked in which made it so they weren’t able to be more involved with their families. We’re starting here in the U.S., but this is something that dads are craving worldwide.
WHAT CHALLENGES ARE YOU FACING?
It’s time and resources. The Company of Dads operates with myself and five other people. Right now we’re in the process of opening a $2 million seed round to raise some funding to hire more people. These roadblocks are not insurmountable.
WHAT’S ONE THING YOU WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW ABOUT YOUR CAUSE AND/OR THE WORK YOU’RE DOING?
That when we succeed, we’re going to help all families fulfill their full potential.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE QUOTE OR WORDS OF INSPIRATION TO SHARE?
A former advisor when I was in a Ph.D. program for a short time once told me, “Keep punching, Mr. Sullivan.” It sounds like a macho phrase, but it simply means don’t quit, keep at it. If you believe in something, keep going forward. Ultimately if something is beating you down, don’t stop punching, because you’re going to lose anyway. It was always inspiring, but I always think it just means to keep going forward. You may pivot into something else, but you’re going to keep that vision.
HOW CAN OTHERS SUPPORT YOU OR YOUR CAUSE?
Go to TheCompanyofDads.com, we have a pretty robust platform, and sign up for our newsletter. If you or somebody you know is interested in backing our mission financially, please reach out to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m happy to walk you through our aspirations over the next five years.
At Orapin, we believe those who are working for the greater good should be known, supported, and celebrated. We help purpose-driven organizations launch or up-level their PR program by giving them the strategy, resources, and support they need to increase awareness and expand their impact. If would like to be featured in INSPIRED IMPACT™, reach out to email@example.com.