01 Aug 2001
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William F. Connell (MBA '63)

Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Connell Limited Partnership

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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 protection.

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 in 1968.

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."

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