Is Jack Connors the Last King of Boston?
Verret tried to explain that there had been a simple misunderstanding. But Connors wouldn’t listen. Finally, Verret said, “Fine, Jack. Just do what you want.” He got up to leave the office.
“You’re goddamn right I’ll do what I want!” Connors replied as Verret walked out the door.
The next day, a Hill Holliday staffer was getting married. Verret and his wife walked into the church just ahead of Connors. Waiting to be seated, Connors tapped Verret on the shoulder. “Could you forgive a certain asshole for the way he treated another asshole?”
Still, it was his charm — even more so than his intensity — that helped Connors transform the company. In 1980 Hill Holliday found out that Wang Laboratories, the company with the first successful word processor, was looking for an ad agency. A secretary for Wang executive John Cunningham called Connors one day to say that Cunningham had heard a speech Connors gave at a career-counseling seminar at BC. Impressed, Cunningham wanted Connors and Hill Holliday to bid for Wang’s business. Connors was thrilled, but he also knew he had made no such speech. He showed up at Cunningham’s office in Tewksbury anyway, only to have Cunningham realize Connors was not the guy he’d heard at BC. The secretary had contacted the wrong executive. Connors, not wasting the opportunity, sat Cunningham down and started talking. You’re Irish, too, how about that? And where’d you say you grew up? Well, that’s only a mile and a half from me. Soon, Cunningham liked Connors more than that guy he’d heard, whoever he was. Hill Holliday got the Wang account.
That led to other major accounts: Nissan, Bank of Boston, John Hancock. By the time Interpublic bought Hill Holliday in 1998, Connors was overseeing a staff of 600 in four cities — New York, Fort Lauderdale, Framingham, and Boston — with company billings reported at $600 million annually.
And then Connors did something to make even more money.
IN 1995 CONNORS GOT A CALL from a Dr. Jean Mooney, who years earlier had helped one of Connors’s sons with a learning disability. Mooney called Connors that day about her own son, John. His company, which put on medical trade shows, had relocated to Hartford, but he hadn’t wanted to leave Boston. His mother asked if Connors would meet with John and maybe help him find a job. Connors reminded her that he worked in advertising. She said he was the only one she knew to call.
A few days later, John Mooney met with Connors in his office. Mooney described how his client work included the American Medical Association and its annual conference in Chicago, for which doctors flew in as a requirement for reaccreditation. As an aside, Mooney said it would be smart if somebody created a traveling medical trade show; you could go to the doctors instead of them coming to you. Connors stopped him short. He asked why he and Mooney couldn’t do that.
Mooney balked. “I can’t start a company. I’m only 32.”
Connors laughed. “I started this when I was 25.”
The two left the meeting that day with Mooney saying he’d have to consider his options. Six months later, Connors got a call from Mooney. He asked if Connors was still interested. “Of course,” Connors said.
Connors fronted a couple million to create a company called M/C Communications. Mooney parked his trade show in various cities. Connors, who by this time was the chairman of Partners HealthCare, convinced Harvard Medical School it could earn more money by sending its professors to the trade shows, which heightened the shows’ appeal. The firm’s sales force then asked pharmaceutical and medical device companies to display their wares at the shows, for a substantial fee. By 2004 M/C Communications had shows in 77 cities. That’s when the Boston-based equity group Bain Capital got involved. That year, it acquired M/C Communications for an undisclosed sum, though it’s been reported at around $450 million, a figure that Connors himself does not dispute. “For John, and for me, it was the biggest payday ever,” he says.