Business manager

Staff Spotlight: David Phelan, Chief Commercial Officer

Staff Spotlight: David Phelan, Chief Commercial Officer

by Judy Jamal
|August 6, 2021

David and his wife

The Staff Spotlight Series features Earth Institute staff members from the Morningside, Lamont, and Irving Medical Center campuses. The series aims to highlight the important work that our staff members do to keep the Earth Institute running smoothly and to support our mission to lead the world onto more sustainable paths. These interviews discuss staff members’ careers, their interest in our institute, and ideas that might be relevant and useful to the rest of us.

This month, the spotlight is on David Phelan, who works at the Lamont campus. As business manager of the Earth Institute’s communications team, he keeps the service running smoothly and is always ready to help a colleague in need.

What is your current role?

I’m the business manager of the communications department at the Earth Institute.

How and when did you contact us?

I started in June 2001 with a staff of five with offices in Lamont Hall at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. My main office remains in Lamont and I am now at my fifth branch, a record I am told.

What aspects of your work inspire you?

The expertise of the Earth Institute impresses me. I remember over the years how our experts have been called upon during every natural disaster, from tsunamis to earthquakes and everything in between.

What fun and memorable events have happened on campus?

The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami happened on December 26, when most were on vacation. I remember my wife and I going to Lamont to help the then director of communications with media inquiries. We had a very busy few days, but it was a memorable experience!

I have always enjoyed participating in open houses at Lamont, especially watching young people get excited about science. It has also been a great opportunity to work with other people at the Earth Institute that I don’t normally interact with.

A funny story, at least from my point of view. One of my offices in Lamont was Guest House 6; my office had a door a few yards away that I often left open in good weather. One day I walked away for no more than five minutes and came back to see a 3-4 foot snake under my desk. I found a broom and used the handle to pick up the snake and decided to show it to a co-worker in another office who I honestly thought would appreciate it as he is a lover of nature. News flash: nature lovers do not equal snake lovers. The moment they saw the snake they started screaming and ran out of the house and continued running for some distance.

David with his family

David with his family

David with his grandchildren

David with his grandchildren.

How do you spend your free time?

My wife and I love to travel and do so at every opportunity. During the pandemic, we explored some local destinations. We also like to just set up a few lawn chairs in some of our favorite spots along the Hudson River and in the Hudson Valley.

Although we don’t have children, we have two lovely “grandchildren” (a separate story) with whom we spend a lot of time. They are a great source of joy!

If there was one lesson or piece of advice you could give us, what would it be?

David and his wife

David and his wife

“There is more happiness in giving than in receiving.” Looking back on my life, the happiest times were when I had the opportunity to help others, from volunteer work to spending time with our grandchildren. Whenever I feel ‘down’, I try to do something for someone else and it always lifts my spirits!

How has the pandemic influenced you?

It reminded me how much I don’t like the city (sorry city dwellers), or the commutes that come with it. I really enjoy spending more time with my wife who has also been working remotely since March 2020. This limited our travels, which was a challenge, but required us to explore local destinations.