Jack Connors knows the Boston he loves left too many people behind
Connors has served on top of Boston as the ultimate confidant of the city’s most powerful politicians and business leaders. He has chaired some of the most prestigious nonprofit boards of directors and has raised unfathomable amounts of money. It connects people to each other and to causes. There’s a certain guy in town whose self-esteem is boosted when his familiar four-zeros number pops up on the phone, his assistant cheerfully asking, “Do you mind keeping the line for Jack?” It’s a safe bet that few people said no.
Connors, at 79, with a fortune from founding and selling two successful businesses, isn’t quite ready to retire.
But there’s another metaphor unfolding this week, one that quietly signals an inevitable, seismic shift in business and civic life in Boston. Connors leaves the Hancock building, descending from the sky to new street-level offices a few blocks away. And in doing so, he clearly shows what many already know: He devotes much more of his time to a very specific cause: Camp Harbor View, the increasingly ambitious battery of programs he founded to help the most children. poor Boston.
In a racially divided city with a yawning wealth gap, there is too much work to be done to stop now. The ultimate insider, Connors was once on the outside, a product of the working class Roslindale and Dedham who drove a cab to pay for his college education. He hasn’t forgotten how it was. He keeps his old hack license at the office.
“It’s still a city of haves and have-nots,” he says. “We still deserve the label of racist more than I would like.”
Mock if need be, but Connors, a devout Catholic, seems driven by genuine humility in the face of his material success.
“The Jewish faith calls it tikkun olam,” he says, the concept of repairing the world through charity and social justice. Impressive, coming from a man with silver hair and red cheeks who is quite a product of Irish Boston.
With a dozen Camp Harbor View employees and his family investment office, Connors is moving to an attic townhouse on Newbury Street. Always invigorating, but certainly more earthy.
The new office is just a block from where he and three colleagues opened the Hill Holliday Connors Cosmopulos advertising agency in 1968, each paying $ 1,500, though Connors had to borrow $ 1,000. to his father.
He says he’s not the nostalgic type, but Connors admits, “I feel like I’m coming home.
Connors is moving now because his five-year lease in the tower is expiring and the other upstairs tenant, private equity firm TA Associates, wanted the space. Of course, optics are also important when working to help children of color with limited resources. A monolithic skyscraper covered in reflective glass is not really accessible.
David D’Alessandro, the former CEO of the eponymous insurance company that built the Hancock, said the building, now called 200 Clarendon, makes sense for the universe’s master hedge funds and capital firms. -investment, but Connors can be effective without the glamorous address or the breathtaking views.
“It doesn’t matter where Jack Connors is. People will come to him, ”D’Alessandro said. “We former CEOs are all by the wayside, but he’s kind of the person everyone is talking to. “
(Disclosure: I worked for D’Alessandro when he was CEO of Hancock and occupied an office one floor below Connors’, with an equally stunning panorama.)
Connors, who sold Hill Holliday to Interpublic Group in 1998 and remained until 2006, has long been a unique combination of power broker, sage and unofficial adviser to mayors, cardinals and CEOs. He is also one of Boston’s most civic executives.
He spent 16 years as chairman of Partners HealthCare (now Mass General Brigham), first joining the board of directors of Brigham and Women’s Hospital after realizing his mother was born in a building one block from the place where the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital would later be built. He served two terms as chairman of the board of directors of Boston College, his alma mater. And he remains active in several councils, including Campaign for Catholic Schools, where he has served as president since Cardinal Sean O’Malley asked him to launch the revitalization effort two decades ago.
It was around the time Connors left Hill Holliday that Mayor Tom Menino, frustrated by the rise in violence, told him that Boston was in desperate need of a place the kids could go as an alternative to the streets. , especially in summer. Soon after, Connors offered Menino a camp on Long Island in Boston Harbor, on land adjacent to the old Fort Strong. He remembered the place during visits to the nearby hospital on the island with his mother.
“If you give me 20 acres for $ 1 a year, I’ll give you a kids’ camp in town and raise $ 10 million to build it,” Connors recalls telling the late mayor.
Camp Harbor View opened in less than a year, in July 2007. It provides free summer recreation and leadership training and family support services year-round to children in low-income neighborhoods.
Connors, who is president, and his team have raised more than $ 130 million for the organization since Menino whispered the virus to him.
“Jack knows full well that his ancestors came from Ireland with nothing in their pockets,” said Mike Sheehan, who took over as CEO of Hill Holliday after Connors resigned and later became CEO of The Globe.
Hill Holliday moved from Newbury Street to the Hancock in 1980, first taking the 39th floor and then spanning several floors. The image also has a lot to do with this move.
“We were competing with stores in New York and Chicago then, and most of them were in high rise buildings,” said Anne Finucane, who spent 14 years at the company as an executive. senior and is now vice president of Bank of America. “We had to show that we had the resources to serve national customers. “
Connors rented out his top-floor digs at the Hancock after he quit the agency. (Technically, the equivalent of two additional floors with mechanical building systems are above it. The observatory was closed to the public for security reasons after 9/11 and later converted into offices.)
With windows looking out over the Charles River and Boston Harbor, Connors, clad in a sweater, shirt, and pants, shows off vast swathes of the city and beyond. There are the landmarks: the Citgo sign in Kenmore Square, the Grand Dome at MIT along Memorial Drive, Trinity Church in Copley Square. And there are newer additions like the glass office buildings in the Seaport and the Encore casino in Everett.
“On a clear winter day, you can see the White Mountains,” says Connors.
Boston was a very different place when he moved into the building – much more parochial, the scars of the bus riots were not healed, his economic future uncertain. On two occasions, Connors recalls, he was unable to become a member of the elite Somerset Club despite a proposal from two heavy hitters, Mass General chairman Dr James Mongan and Tom Winship, the former editor. of the Globe. “Too Irish,” they told Mongan and Winship.
The town Connors loves has changed, and the guy who couldn’t get into Somerset Club could probably buy it now if he wanted to.
But there is a lot of unfinished business, especially when it comes to race and inequality of opportunity. Although he admires John F. Kennedy, Connors disputes something the President has often said: A rising tide lifts all boats.
“It’s a wonderful sentence. But the rising tide hasn’t lifted all the boats, ”says Connors. “It is high time to fix this problem.
Connors slowed down a bit – “It’s 9am to 4:30 pm, not 6am to 6am,” he says of his five-day-a-week routine – but the work he does for Catholic schools and Camp Harbor View is his. way of giving back to the city that made him feel good.
And he’s not planning on stopping, but who would blame him for more time with his wife, Eileen, and their four grown children and 13 grandchildren.
“I see retirement as a four-letter word,” says Connors. “I like the action. I still do. Now it’s about helping others.