01 Aug 2001
William F. Connell (MBA '63)
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Connell Limited PartnershipTopics:
In June, the School conferred its highest honors, the Distinguished Service Award and the Alumni Achievement Award, on four professors emeriti and five alumni, respectively. This is a profile of an Alumni Achievement Award honoree.
In 1985, the overvalued dollar was making U.S. goods prohibitively
expensive, and many observers were questioning the ability of this
country to compete in the world economy. Convinced that the
postindustrial era had arrived in America, the chairman of the Ogden
Corporation, a giant New York-based conglomerate whose operating
units ranged from food service to heavy manufacturing, announced that
Ogden would spin off its shipyard and six manufacturing companies.
Bill Connell, then 47, was executive vice president of Ogden, and
after seventeen years with the company, he was not willing to accept
the notion that U.S. manufacturing was dead. Offered the CEO position
at the new entity, employee-owned Avondale Industries, Connell
quickly accepted. "It seemed to me," he reflects, "that a nation had
to make at least some of what it needed, or
it would be in deep trouble."
Two years later, when the shipyard workers wanted their independence
from the rest of the group, Connell gained 85 percent ownership of
the industrial companies with a leveraged buyout that created the
Connell Limited Partnership. Last year, the four firms remaining in
the Partnership accounted for revenues of more than $1 billion.
Connell modestly attributes his success to "good luck," but his
achievements over the past fourteen years speak volumes about his
skills and vision as a leader. From the vantage point of his sparsely
staffed Boston headquarters, for example, he sets the overarching
strategy for each firm, while giving managers and workers in the
field enough independence to make them feel like owners.
Connell also maintains a tight system of quarterly operations reviews
and monthly financial reports, making frequent visits
to plants and customers. In an ongoing commitment to the highest
standards of business ethics, every employee signs a certificate of
compliance after reading the Partnership's code of conduct as well as
policies regarding issues such as antitrust and environmental
Connell, who graduated magna cum laude from Boston College (BC) and
served as an officer in the U.S. Army, attended HBS at the urging of
his college mentor, James O. Dunn (MBA '49), a BC professor.
Following graduation and a stint developing a computerized accounting
system for a small garment manufacturer near Los Angeles, Connell
worked for three years at Beverly Hills-based Litton Industries,
rising to the position of assistant treasurer, before joining Ogden
Connell's prominence as head of one of the country's largest
privately held companies has been matched by his involvement in a
vast array of civic and philanthropic activities in the Greater
Boston community, including the Chamber of Commerce, the Boston
Symphony Orchestra, and the Boston Public Library Foundation. "I've
never forgotten that every Sunday my father gave whatever he could to
the church," explains the West Lynn, Massachusetts, native. "At the
same time, I've tried to use those platforms to spread the word that
by providing people with jobs and security, businesses bestow on
society some of its greatest benefits."