Vulcan Inc.’s Tim Mulligan Charts Resilience in Career Path

By Becky Kramer

Tim Mulligan works for the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, where he is leading HR. (Photo courtesy of Tim Mulligan)
Tim Mulligan developed a model for resilient organizations during his tenure as the chief human resource officer at the San Diego Zoo.

His work inspired the 2016 bestseller ROAR: How to Build a Resilient Organization the World Famous San Diego Zoo Way, which he coauthored. Resiliency work continues to shape Mulligan’s current career at Vulcan Inc.

“We used the resiliency model at Vulcan after our founder Paul Allen’s passing and during COVID-19,” says Mulligan (’90 Hosp. Busi. Mgmt.). “With the times we’re in, I’m asked to speak about it more and more.”

Resilient organizations adapt quickly to disruptions while maintaining business operations and safeguarding people, assets, and brand equity. They’re also proactive—developing a sense of purpose, acceptance of risk, and transparent communications that help employees respond to change, he says.

Mulligan recently talked about resiliency in his own career, which has spanned the hotel industry, nonprofits, several years as Vulcan’s chief human resource officer, and a recent move to the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence. He credits his time at WSU and the Carson College of Business for laying the foundation for his professional life.

I feel indebted to WSU. It helped shape the person I am, the leader I am, and the success I’ve had in the workplace. I loved my time there, and I made the most of it. I was president of Sigma Iota, the hospitality club, and I worked as a banquet captain for Catering Services in the Compton Union Building.

I recruited my friends to work with me. We had fun and got such good work experience. It led to my two internships and my early career with Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide.

When I started at the San Diego Zoo, the board tasked me with scrapping everything in the HR world and starting over. It was an exciting opportunity. The San Diego Zoo had a worldwide reputation for its animal care and beautiful grounds, but the strategy had not been on being an employer of choice or creating a great culture for the employees. That’s what I was brought in to do. A year later, we won “Best place to work in San Diego,” and the zoo’s reputation as a great employer continues.

ROAR was published during the zoo’s centennial. We wanted to tell the story of how a nonprofit that had been around 100 years was weathering the storms and doing so well. We told the story through the HR space. I had spearheaded some innovative projects at the zoo on a nonprofit budget. We were at an all-time high for employee satisfaction, and other metrics were ticking up—customer satisfaction, revenue generation, donor base, and fundraising. We put together this model of resiliency that any organization or team can use.

ROAR continues to trend on Amazon, and book sales continue to support the zoo’s mission.

A head-hunting firm approached me about the chief human resources officer position at Vulcan. The opportunity to come back to the Northwest in 2017 and work with Paul Allen and all these great things happening at Vulcan was too good to turn down. Vulcan focuses on areas where Paul was interested in making a difference—sports, real estate and community redevelopment, philanthropy, and conservation projects such as ocean protection, biodiversity, and stopping illegal trafficking of wildlife. Vulcan has about 700 employees, although that figure doesn’t include the Seattle Seahawks, the Portland Trailblazers, or our two institutes.

I shifted to the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence on August 1, where I’m leading HR. Many of the Vulcan employees working in our “tech for good” projects in conservation moved with me. We’re using technology to solve some of the world’s toughest problems, so I’ll continue to be involved with programs doing great things for the planet and for wildlife.

I give back to the University in various ways. I’ve hired hundreds of WSU interns over the years. I’m a mentor for some students, I teach classes from time to time, and I serve on the college’s Human Resources and Management Advisory Board. I also set up the Mulligan Hospitality Scholarship. These are ways to give back to an organization I feel strongly about.