BOSTON—The family of the late William F. Connell (MBA 1963), the founding chairman and CEO of the Boston-based Connell Limited Partnership, a group of manufacturing companies doing business principally in the automotive, energy, mining, construction, and agricultural sectors, has donated an additional $10 million to Harvard Business School to establish the Margot and William F. Connell Family MBA Program Innovation Fund. The gift will help support the School’s efforts in curriculum innovation, focusing specifically on the second year of the MBA program.
Bill Connell, who grew up in Lynn, Mass., the son of a bus driver, died in Aug. 2001 at the age of 63. A longtime resident of Swampscott, Mass., he was a pillar of the Greater Boston business and philanthropic communities. In the spring of 2001, he received Harvard Business School’s Alumni Achievement Award, the highest recognition HBS can bestow upon a graduate. His wife, Margot, taught math and science in elementary schools in New York and California after graduating from Michigan State University in 1963. She now chairs the board of the Connell Limited Partnership.
Married for nearly 40 years, the Connells have six children -- Monica, Lisa, Courtenay, William (MBA 2002 and now a partner at High Road Capital Partners, a private equity firm), Terence (MBA 2013), and Timothy (a 2013 graduate of Boston College Law School). The gift was made in honor of Mr. Connell’s 50th Reunion from Harvard Business School, which coincided with their son Terry’s graduation from HBS.
The Connell family provided these funds to the School in gratitude for the impact the HBS educational experience has had on the lives of its family members and in recognition of the need for HBS to continually innovate and strengthen the MBA curriculum and experience to prepare students as effectively as possible to lead in today’s business world.
“We are very grateful for the generosity and support of Margot and the entire Connell family,” said Dean Nitin Nohria. “They are a remarkable success story, all of them eager to add value to the community and give back to society. Bill truly personified the mission of the School to educate leaders who make a difference in the world. A previous gift from the family in 2003 helped launch the School’s Leadership Initiative--now appropriately headquartered in Connell House--which has helped our faculty undertake research and course development in this field, which is at the center of all we do at HBS. This new donation from the Connells provides us with the financial support we need to enhance our second-year curriculum and make it a deeper, more cohesive, and more innovative experience that will have a life-long impact on our students.”
Harvard Business School began examining its first-year required curriculum several years ago. The result was the introduction in 2011 of an innovative new three-module course called FIELD (Field Immersion Experiences for Leadership Development) to complement the School’s longstanding tradition of discussion-based case-method teaching. The new FIELD method is made up of three elements, including Leadership Intelligence (with attention to such topics as teamwork, peer feedback, and self-assessment), Global Intelligence (which sends all members of the first-year class to a developing country in small teams to work with a real company to develop a new product or service concept), and Integrative Intelligence (which requires all students--again, working in small teams--to develop and bring to market a “microbusiness” over a 15-week period).
Now the HBS faculty is fully engaged in designing a new approach to the second-year curriculum (known as the Elective Curriculum, since second-year students choose all their courses) that will provide MBA candidates with an expanded array of learning opportunities, offering them more engagement in practice and promoting greater integration between the two years of the program. The generosity of the Connell family will provide a significant portion of the funding for this major undertaking, including support of new course development and case writing needs, new technology applications or platforms, and increased faculty development efforts. The School estimates that this project will take three years to design and implement.
As a young man, Bill Connell didn’t give a thought to becoming a businessman. Growing up the son of Irish immigrants in West Lynn, an industrial suburb north of Boston, he started selling newspapers at the age of ten, worked at a drugstore as a high-school student, and thought the next step would be an apprenticeship at the local GE plant. His father had other ideas. “He was always saying that education was “the key to the door,’” Connell explained in a 2001 HBS interview.
In the fall of 1955, therefore, he entered Boston College, where he majored in accounting. Graduating magna cum laude, he served as an officer in the U.S. Army for two years before entering Harvard Business School as a member of the MBA Class of 1963. He began his business career by developing and implementing a computerized accounting system for a small garment manufacturer near Los Angeles before moving a few years later to Litton Industries, then the ultimate conglomerate.
In 1985, he had an opportunity to follow his entrepreneurial bent, spinning off the shipyard and manufacturing companies of the New York-based Ogden Corporation into the Connell Limited Partnership and growing it into one of the largest privately owned companies in the United States. Today it remains a family-owned business with a portfolio of companies in which it has invested. In the words of the Partnership’s current CEO, Frank Doyle, “Bill Connell was a private man who had a huge public impact, a businessman who burnished business’s reputation in everything he did, and a kind and gentle man who had an exceptional ability to connect with others at all levels.”
In addition to her work with the Partnership, Mrs. Connell serves on the board of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation and on the board of governors of the Tournament Players Club of Boston, a golf club located in Norton, Mass. In 2010 she was named a trustee of Boston College, the alma mater of all six Connell children, and she co-chaired its most recent capital campaign. In 2009, Boston College awarded her an honorary degree.
The Connell family has long supported a broad array of civic and educational institutions in the Boston area, including Boston College, St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Massachusetts General Hospital, and St. Mary’s High School in Lynn, which Mr. Connell attended.
“I’ve never forgotten that every Sunday my father gave whatever he could to the church,” Bill Connell once explained. “At the same time, I’ve tried to spread the word that by providing people with jobs and security, businesses bestow on society one of its greatest benefits.” That’s a lesson the entire Connell family has taken to heart.