Kevin O’Connor became president and chief executive of Bridge Bancorp and its subsidiary Bridgehampton National Bank, now BNB Bank, in January 2008 after 20 years at North Fork Bank, where he rose to become treasurer. A Brooklyn native, O’Connor moved to Farmingville with his family and attended school there. After getting his associate’s degree at Suffolk County Community College, he completed his bachelor’s degree in Accounting from Adelphi University. He is a past president and advisory board member of Suffolk County Council of the Boy Scouts of America and serves on the American Red Cross’ Long Island Board of Directors. He has three sons and resides in Great River. Here are excerpts of our conversation:
Warren Strugatch: Our parents are our first influencers. How did yours influence you?
Kevin O’Connor: My father, Jack, was a New York City cop. My mother, Carole, stayed home. We lived in Brooklyn and Queens, then moved to Suffolk. When I was in high school I had a landscaping business and worked at Genovese Drugs. When I worked at Genovese, my dad would take my truck on his days off and take the kids working for me out to mow lawns. When I was in college, I thought of dropping out to chase the easier dollar. We fought many times during college to keep me from giving up. I’m glad he won those arguments, although I’m sorry he didn’t live to see me graduate.
WS: What did those jobs teach you?
KO: I learned about scheduling, dealing with customers, and managing people. I learned that if you committed yourself to do something for somebody you had to get it done regardless of the weather, your truck breaking down or someone not showing up for work.
WS: What did you learn from your supervisors?
KO: At Genovese Drugs, the store manager was Larry Onufrak. He saw early on that I could be a shift supervisor. Frank Del’Aglio was a senior manager at Pete Marwick, now KPMG, when I worked there right out of college. He went to North Fork in 1987 and became CFO under John Kanas. I joined him and that’s where I spent the next 20 years.
WS: John Kanas is a banking legend. What was he like to work with?
KO: John was very inspirational. You were really part of a team. He had a vision. He was going to get there and you would follow him because you wanted to be where he was. He was demanding but fair. John allowed you to take chances and make mistakes. He was as respectful to entry-level employees as he was to the most senior. Many of the things I deal with today I first dealt with at North Fork.
WS: Long Island banking has changed enormously over the past generation.
KO: It has. We don’t have the Grummans and Fairchilds here anymore, but there is still manufacturing and distribution. The guys here now may not make the whole plane but they make the forward struts or pieces of the nose cone. Those are the kind of companies we bank.
WS: How were you hired at BNB?
KO: After Capital One acquired North Fork in 2006 my services were no longer needed. I interviewed at a few banks and one was Bridgehampton. I interviewed for the CFO position. Tom (Tobin), the CEO, was looking to retire. Instead of offering me the CFO position he offered me the CEO position. I was scared out of my mind!
WS: What did you do?
KO: First I wished my father were here to talk with. Then I thought about 30 seconds and said yes.
WS: You’ve expanded the bank enormously. How?
KO: Probably two-thirds of our growth has been organic. That means hiring talented bankers. When I go to visit potential customers, I don’t ask who their bank is, I ask who their banker is. If they don’t know, fine, that’s an opportunity. If they do know and like that person I try to go meet them and see if they’re happy where they are. We aggressively pursue good bankers to hire and build businesses around them.
Assets: App. $4.3B
Branches: 44 serving Long Island and greater New York metropolitan area
Ranking: Among Top 3 New York community banks – American Banker