Sullivan to move HQ of $2 billion manufacturer from Orlando to Milwaukee

Tim Sullivan
Photo from the 2017 IndyCar race at Road America. Les Tension Photography

Tim Sullivan, former chief executive officer of South Milwaukee-based Bucyrus International Inc., is leading an effort to move Orlando, Fla.-based REV Group Inc. to Milwaukee.

Sullivan
Sullivan

REV Group, formerly known as Allied Specialty Vehicles, manufactures specialty vehicles such as ambulances and shuttles at 15 locations, many of which are in the Midwest. The company has more than 5,000 employees. Sullivan has served as CEO since 2014.

Milwaukee beat out Chicago in attracting the headquarters of the company with $2 billion in annual revenue, which Sullivan said was because of Wisconsin’s strong manufacturing heritage. The decision was sweetened by undisclosed competitive tax incentives offered by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., he said, which the company will receive in return for creating 50 jobs over the next two years.

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. has been talking to REV Group, but a contract hasn’t been signed yet for the incentives, said Kelly Lietz, a spokesman. Neither Sullivan nor Lietz would specify a timeline for completion of the incentive contract.

Sullivan said he is moving the company to Milwaukee because this is a great place to run a manufacturing company.

“I think it’s a reputation (Wisconsin has) of being kind of the manufacturing center of the Midwest,” Sullivan said. “We’ve gotten it through both hard work but also some attrition in adjacent states (such as Michigan and Illinois). It’s not an anti-business environment in the State of Wisconsin right now. It’s a very pro-business environment, which is not exactly what you have in Illinois and Chicago. In fact, I think it’s the complete opposite.”

This isn’t the first time Sullivan has brought a major headquarters to Milwaukee. He left Bucyrus when it was acquired by Peoria, Ill.-based Caterpillar Inc. in 2011, and in 2013, moved the corporate headquarters of Fortune 1000, $2.4 billion manufacturer Gardner Denver and about 40 to 50 jobs from Philadelphia to Milwaukee.

Sullivan was unable to convince the 18 employees in REV Group’s Orlando headquarters to move to chilly Milwaukee, so he will hire a whole new 18-person executive team in the next few weeks as he works rapidly to move the company’s operations.

“Replicating the people I have in Orlando is not going to be that difficult because there’s a lot of people who know manufacturing in Milwaukee and Wisconsin,” he said.

Sullivan said if he could make the move to Milwaukee tomorrow, he would. But more likely, REV Group will move in the next month or two, and will have another three months of transition as he hires his new team.

A final decision has not been made on the Milwaukee office locations. The company will have a 6,000- to 8,000-square-foot administrative headquarters office downtown for senior leaders, close to its legal and accounting firms, and a 10,000- to 12,000-square-foot operational office location immediately outside of downtown, Sullivan said. That location could potentially include manufacturing operations in the future, he said.

REV Group is currently owned by New York private equity firm American Industrial Partners, which is nearing the end of its investment window, Sullivan said. So he plans to take the REV Group public in the next 12 months to expand its available capital and growth potential.

“We’re about a $2 billion company today and I believe we can double that size within a couple of years, but to do that, you’re going to need access to capital,” he said. “Obviously, with private equity capital somewhat limited, once you’re in public markets you have the capital to grow the company much more rapidly.”

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Molly Dill, former BizTimes Milwaukee managing editor.

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