Vulcan Inc.’s HR director headlines WSU Tri-Cities brunch

This inaugural Tri-Cities Area Journal of Business feature, Tri-City Connections, will be a series of occasional profiles of Tri-City natives and former Tri-Citians who have excelled in the world of business. If you have one in mind, let us know at

If you go

What: Carson College of Business Point to Success brunch to benefit the Carson College of Business at WSU Tri-Cities.

Tim Mulligan, chief human resources officer of Vulcan Inc., is the guest speaker. The event features live auction for Laser Genesis treatment and Botox injections; a Miss Madison/Oberto/HomeStreet U-1 team shirt autographed by Steve David and Jimmy Shane, the two drivers who won nine national hydroplane championships; a condo stay on the beach at Seaside, Oregon; tasting at Solar Spirits; dinner for eight prepared by Executive Chef Jamie Callison at a riverfront home; and a professional group portrait session. There will be three rounds of heads-or-tails and a $25 wine grab.  

When: 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. March 7

Where: Anthony’s at Columbia Point in Richland.

Cost: Tickets are $100 per person, or $125 after Feb. 27. Admission includes a signed copy of Mulligan’s book, “ROAR: How to Build a Resilient Organization the World-Famous San Diego Way.”

To register:

Hanford High grad’s book focuses on building better businesses

Tim Mulligan

Hanford drew Tim Mulligan’s family to the Tri-Cities. His grandparents worked at the site.

His parents met in high school in Richland and Mulligan followed them, graduating from Hanford High School before heading to Pullman to study hospitality at Washington State University.

He’s gone on to make his hometown proud.

His hospitality career led him to law school, success in one of the nation’s largest hotel chains, a top job at the San Diego Zoo, and now Vulcan Inc., the Seattle holding company for many of the late Paul Allen’s real estate, sports and philanthropic efforts.

Along the way, he wrote an influential book about building resilient organizations and was named CRO magazine’s Chief Human Resources Officer of the Year for 2016.

Mulligan returns to the Tri-Cities on March 7 to headline the Point to Success brunch, a fundraiser to support business education at the Carson College of Business at WSU Tri-Cities.

Mulligan lives in Seattle now, but he’s kept his Cougar connection front and center throughout his career. Almost from the day he first stepped out from WSU, he’s supported the school and students, helping them find jobs.

Where it began

His own career started with Starwood Hotels and Resorts, a holding of Marriott Corp.

The freshly minted WSU grad joined the hospitality giant in a management post at the Westin St. Francis San Francisco on Union Square, in the very heart of the city.

It was, he said, a big, complicated operation with employees represented by unions.

Mulligan established himself as someone who could solve employee issues and maintain relationships with unions.

Seeing his future in human resources, Mulligan decided he needed a law degree and headed back to Washington state, where he earned a J.D. at Gonzaga University School of Law.

He even returned to the Tri-Cities, though briefly. He spent about two years working on labor and employment in a local law firm before moving again, this time to Seattle.

He advised hospitality students at the WSU branch campus in Everett and returned to Starwood.

After a series of promotions, he was managing the company’s Southern California properties, a job that entailed opening new properties, staffing, management, training and other duties.

A headhunter calls

An unexpected call changed his path.

A headhunter asked if Mulligan would be interested in the nonprofit sector.

The San Diego Zoo was looking for a human resources chief, part of a mission to overhaul its culture and transform the zoo into the nation’s best place to work.

The timing was right. The Mulligans were adopting two children.

“I thought it would be great to raise a family and have the kids grow up at the zoo. I took it,” he said.

He entered with a mission to help the zoo become not only a good place for its animal residents, but a great place for its human workers. In 2010, the CEO put him in charge planning for a year-long centennial celebration in 2015.

For five years, he delved into all aspects of the zoo – operations, marketing, animal care. The job went well beyond human resources, and Mulligan had a ball.

The success formed the basis for “ROAR: How to Build a Resilient Organization the World-Famous San Diego Zoo Way,” which Mulligan co-wrote with Sandy Asch. It came out in hardback in 2016 and paperback this winter. Attendees of the Carson brunch will receive a copy. It is also available through Amazon and can be ordered through bookstores.

The centennial celebration and the success of “ROAR” would bring national attention, speaking engagements and the Human Resources Officer of the Year honors.

Vulcan Inc. beckons

The attention brought another unexpected call.

This time, a headhunter wanted to know if Mulligan would return to Seattle. Paul Allen’s Vulcan Inc. needed a chief human resources officer.

Mulligan said he wasn’t initially interested. He loved Southern California and the zoo. He wasn’t looking to uproot his family.

But then the caller asked if he’d be interested in working for Allen, co-founder of Microsoft.

“That got my interest,” he said. “When would I have an opportunity like that again?”

Vulcan carries out the varied endeavors of its founder – philanthropic, corporate and civic, including the Seattle Seahawks and the Portland Trailblazers.

Allen died not long after Mulligan signed on, in October 2018.

His death from cancer prompted mourning and introspection in the complicated organization he left behind.

“In the years since he passed away, we’ve done a lot of work figuring out what the future is,” Mulligan said.

He helped revise its vision statement, to make and leave the world a better place, and pared back projects that didn’t fit.

It sold projects that didn’t fit within the new mission.

“We are a more focused company moving forward now,” he said.

Tri-City roots

Mulligan’s parents have passed away but he maintains contacts with cousins and old friends.

He said he loves to bring his family to visit in the summer.

Waterskiing, tubing and being on the Columbia River are favorite family activities, as is visiting wine country.

And like certain other prominent Richland natives (We’re thinking of you, retired Gen. Jim Mattis), no visit home is complete without a stop at Uptown Plaza for a treat.

“My family loves Spudnut,” he said.

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