From city kid to AIC Men’s Hockey standout to corporate executive, Bill Condon ’77 is the type of person that you always want on your team.
Making your way to an interview with Bill Condon ’77, Vice President of Payroll Services at CBS Corporation, is an exhilarating experience. First, you arrive in midtown Manhattan at Pennsylvania Station, the busiest passenger transportation facility in the Western Hemisphere, and head up 7th Avenue. You wind your way through the throngs of tourists filling Times Square, past towering video screens advertising the latest movies and fashions, and continue up Broadway toward Central Park. Finally, you arrive at a gleaming, 42-story glass skyscraper across the street from the Ed Sullivan Theater, home to The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and take an elevator up to an office that looks down on the swirling chaos of a summer day in New York City.
Then you sit down to speak with a man who’s every bit as entertaining as the streets you walked through to get to him.
“Come here. Want to see something cool?” Condon asks before the interview begins. He leans against his window and points to the upper-left corner of the building across West 53rd Street. “That’s where my daughter works, right up there.” He laughs. “She’s always looking down and telling me to clean all the papers off my radiator.”
Condon is a New Yorker through and through— funny, outgoing, affable, and filled with stories that he loves to share. He has an infectious laugh and never seems to stop smiling. He’s also remarkably relaxed for a person who is ultimately responsible for ensuring that 26,000 people get their paychecks on time.
To better understand how Condon makes that look so easy, you simply need to sit back and listen to a tale about a kid from Manhattan who had a dream of playing ice hockey, and the series of fortunate events that led him first to American International College and eventually to an executive position with one of the largest entertainment companies in the world.
MADE IN MANHATTAN
His story begins in the Yorkville neighborhood of Manhattan’s Upper East Side, a diverse, close-knit section of the city that sits between the halfway point of Central Park and the East River. Condon describes his childhood fondly: close friends, sociable neighbors, and playing roller hockey with steel-wheeled roller skates. (“Not those in-line plastic things they wear today!”) Most of those games took place while Condon was attending Catholic grammar school at Our Lady of Good Counsel, which meant playing against rival school Sacred Heart as part of the area’s CYO program.
“That,” Condon says emphatically, “is where I first met and played sports with Tommy Mullen and Edgar Alejandro.”
Anyone with even a passing interest in American International College men’s ice hockey knows that those early friendships would eventually, years later, help put the program on the map. But before that could happen, they had to make the move onto the ice, a tricky thing to pull off in the middle of a city.
“It all sort of starts at a place called Sky Rink,” explains Condon. “It was an actual ice skating rink on the sixteenth floor of an office building on 450 West 33rd Street at 10th Avenue, down near Chelsea Park. It was one of the only places to play in the city, so all of the kids from the East Side and the West Side played bantam hockey and junior hockey together from the sixth grade on.
“So the guy who ran this rink was friends with Pete Esdale, who AIC had just hired as their men’s head hockey coach. Pete calls down and asks him if there were any good hockey players in the city, and he tells him to come see this kid named Edgar Alejandro. Esdale comes down, gets on the ice, plays on the same line as Edgar, and sees that he can really play. Today that would probably violate every NCAA recruiting rule in the book, but in those days it was fine. And that’s how Edgar got up to AIC.”
Esdale, who was the head coach at AIC for only two seasons (1972–1974), inherited a team with 12 seniors. When those players graduated, he was faced with a significant recruitment challenge and turned to Alejandro for help filling the vacancies.
“So Edgar calls me up and says, ‘Hey, Billy, you want to play hockey? It’s great up here, you’ll love it.’ Because you have to realize that by that point, in order to find enough ice time, I was traveling as far as Commack, Long Island to the east and Norwalk, Connecticut to the north. If I came up to AIC, I could be on the ice six days a week. So I jumped at the chance.”
Condon was also being pursued by Yale and Brown at the time after coaches from both universities saw him play in an all-star game, but a requirement for each university would be a year of prep school without a guaranteed acceptance after he finished. “I’m a city kid,” Condon laughs. “What do I know about prep schools? I wanted to go play hockey, so it was AIC for me.”
Alejandro’s seal of approval was especially important given the fact that Esdale had never seen Condon play due to a broken arm that sidelined him for his high school senior season. The leap of faith paid off, though, and after a successful freshman campaign, both Condon and Alejandro persuaded Esdale to recruit Tommy Mullen, who was the same age as Condon but was still undecided on college.
“It was funny because Edgar had gone to Coach Esdale about me and told him, ‘Hey, Coach, there’s this guy down in the city that we have to get. He’s even better than me.’ So we go back to the coach’s office after my first year and we tell him, “Hey, Coach, there’s another guy down in the city and he’s even better than both of us.’ Esdale knew we could play so he completely trusted our opinion. And that’s how the three of us got up to AIC.”
THE NEW YORK CONNECTION
Numbers are the easiest and most convincing way to prove a point when talking about sports. Which is why, when it comes to determining the best line in AIC’s men’s ice hockey history, it’s hard to argue against “The New York Connection” line that consisted of Condon, Mullen, and Alejandro. You simply have to take a look at the statistics.
At the time he graduated in 1977, Condon, a right winger who played on the first line all four seasons of his college career, left AIC as the third highest scorer in the program’s history with 62 goals and 114 assists for 176 points in 102 games.
The two players ahead of him? Edgar Alejandro at number two with 64 goals and 136 assists for 200 points, and Tom Mullen at number one with 134 goals and 114 assists for 248 points. After 40 years, Mullen is still at the top spot, Alejandro has dropped from two to three, and Condon has dropped from three to seven, a testament to their truly remarkable play.
“I loved it up at AIC,” Condon says. “Everyone says Springfield is a city, but we thought of it as being up in the country. We were like, ‘Springfield’s no city, you can actually see grass!’ We just had the best time playing hockey, getting a great education, and making friends that have lasted a lifetime.”
In addition to being team captain his junior and senior year, Condon made his mark off the ice, as well, both socially and academically. As the conversation drifts away from hockey, he tells me he was a resident advisor for three years starting as a sophomore— and, as luck would have it, a very effective one.
“After my freshman year, I wanted to be an RA because I would get my room paid for and I would get a single. I thought that was a pretty good deal. Sophomores usually can’t be RAs, but the former hockey coach, Mr. Turner, ran housing, so there you go. But because I was only a sophomore, they put me in charge of what was called a “quiet floor,” for kids who wanted to really concentrate on their studies. That was over in Magna Hall, and it was the easiest job in the world.
“After one semester, though, I get a call from Mr. Turner who wants to move me over to Hines Hall because he says there’s this floor that is absolutely out of control and he wants me to calm things down. I come up onto the floor and it’s all athletes, mostly football players, and when they see me, they scream, ‘Billy!’ They were all my friends so it was easy to work with them. But I got this reputation for being able to calm down a floor. So it happens again my junior year—I have to go settle down another floor in Hines, only this time it was all hockey players. I had this amazing, huge room that I had to give up because my teammates were going crazy.”
He laughs. “I know you’re not supposed to hit your teammates in practice, but believe me, every chance I got to take a shot at one of those guys, I took it!”
Mr. Turner wasn’t the only one to take notice of Condon over his four years at AIC, evidenced by the flood of awards that came to him as a senior. In that year, just before receiving his bachelor of science in business administration degree in accounting, he was awarded the F.J. Maloney Award (presented to the individual who had the most outstanding four-year athletic career at AIC); the William Conniff Award (presented to the varsity hockey player who best displays ability and loyalty); the Henry Butova Leadership Award (presented to the varsity hockey player who best displays outstanding leadership ability); the Citation of Merit (presented by then Dean Conrad for service to AIC); and selection to be in the 1977 Who’s Who In American Colleges and Universities.
To top all of that off and to bring things full circle, Condon was inducted into the AIC Athletic Hall of Fame in 2017, reuniting with Alejandro, who was inducted in 2007, and Mullen, who was inducted in 2006.
“I really am proud of what I accomplished at AIC,” he says. Then he pauses before adding, “And some of the things I got away with, too.”
THE RIGHT PLACE AT THE RIGHT TIME
Just as coming to AIC was a matter of fortunate circumstances, Condon’s career after leaving the College took a particularly serendipitous route. During his freshman year, he was persuaded to join a business fraternity and attended an end-of-the-year dinner dance party. While there, he met Manny Winick, an alumnus working for Avon Products in Brooklyn who persuaded Condon to come down for an interview for a summer internship position.
Condon would intern for the company for three summers but didn’t go back right away after graduation due to an invitation to try out with the Springfield Indians, the city’s former American Hockey League franchise. Unfortunately, his dreams of playing professional hockey were quickly dashed.
“I go to training camp and there was supposed to be 35 guys trying out for 25 positions, but one of the other minor league teams had folded that year so when I got to camp there were actually 70 guys going for those 25 positions, and a lot of them were really exceptional with a lot of experience.” He shrugs. “As I expected, I got let go on the first round of cuts, so I figured I might as well fall back on that college education I just got.”
Condon wouldn’t have to wait long to begin his post-hockey career. Returning home to New York, he visited Avon the day after he was let go from the Indians. While he only walked in for a friendly visit, a previous supervisor told him to go down to human resources to fill out an application. Not properly dressed he was a bit apprehensive but figured he had nothing to lose. As usual, his instincts were spot on—before he was even done filling out the paperwork, he was offered a position and told to show up the next day.
He would work for Avon Products for twelve years, moving his way up from accounts payable clerk to manager, a process that Condon says helped immensely throughout his career.
“I had all sorts of different jobs at Avon,” he explains. “I started as an accounts payable clerk, then I was in payroll, then general ledger, then accounting systems. And all these jobs were entry-level positions, but it was like going around the horn—I did a turn at each position, then came back around as a supervisor for each of them. Then I came back around as a manager for each of them. That was such a valuable experience. I’m sort of old school in that I feel a manager should know how to do the jobs of each person he or she is managing. That opportunity really prepared me for what was to come.”
The work ethic that Condon had learned on the ice proved invaluable as he took on greater responsibilities. His first move after Avon was to Volt Information Sciences, a firm providing staffing and information technology infrastructure services, where he became manager of financial reporting and a regional assistant controller. But similar to other moments in his life, Condon would recognize an opportunity when he saw it—his wife, Mary Ellen, was friends with a man whose fiancé was head of human resources at the media conglomerate Viacom, and as fortune would have it, Viacom was looking for a person with Condon’s exact skill set.
This was in February 1994, and while fate was smiling upon Condon once again, little did he know that circumstances were about to test his true mettle as he navigated one of the most tumultuous stretches in corporate entertainment history.
CORPORATE MERGERS AND NEW RESPONSIBILITIES
To truly understand the scope of his work, one has to appreciate the extraordinary events surrounding Viacom throughout the 1990s. Hired as the manager of corporate payroll, Condon suddenly found himself responsible for the payroll services for all of Viacom and the newly acquired divisions of Paramount Communications—which weren’t centralized at the time.
Over the next six years, he would lead efforts to bring all of these disparate entities (some on completely different systems) under the umbrella of Viacom’s corporate payroll. As a result, he would be promoted from manager to director and finally to vice president once he took over the payroll responsibilities for MTV Networks, a subsidiary of Viacom.
It didn’t end there. Viacom’s next merger with CBS in 2000 would be its biggest yet, creating the second largest entertainment company in the world. For Condon, this meant taking on an even greater role in the company. With the combined responsibilities of Viacom, MTV, and CBS, he was now in charge of payroll for 35,000 employees, as well as processing 50,000 W-2s at the end of the year.
As is the norm, however, things wouldn’t stay the same for long. After only five years, Viacom and CBS split into two separate companies. Both Viacom and CBS offered Condon an opportunity to head their payroll departments, but since most of his direct line of support was going to CBS his decision was easy. Condon officially became vice president of payroll services for CBS Corporation in January 2006, a position he holds to this day.
THE STEADY HAND
While tales of powerful billionaires outbidding other powerful billionaires for the right to create increasingly gargantuan multinational corporations make for interesting headlines, at the end of the day people need to know that their paychecks will come when they expect them to arrive. Without that assurance, the entire system falls apart which, in many ways, makes Condon and his employees the cog that keeps the wheels of CBS Corporation moving.
Condon is quick to give the lion’s share of credit to his team, who he says “are the ones that really get the work done day in and day out,” but as with his hockey statistics, the numbers go a long way towards demonstrating his abilities as a leader.
With only 15 people under him (12 in New York and three in Santa Monica, California), CBS Corporate’s payroll department pays 26,000 employees from 20 separate legal entities (totaling 790,000 payments by either direct deposit or check annually), issues 30,000 W-2 forms at the end of each year, and files 532 state and local payroll tax returns quarterly. The end result is $2.5 billion in compensation and $800 million in federal taxes paid per year.
Given all of that, one question naturally comes to mind: Has his department ever missed a payday?
“Once,” he says. “It was just one of those things. The payroll ran but someone on my team forgot to send the direct deposit file to the bank, so that morning the phone calls started at eight and we knew right away there was a big problem. That’s something you never want to happen because people have automatic bill paying setup around their checks, and it can really be bad for them.”
He then quickly adds, “But we never missed a payday throughout Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath. I’m particularly proud of that. We were a good day ahead of schedule before the storm hit because we knew it was going to be bad and that people couldn’t be without money.”
When asked how he handles the enormity of that responsibility, Condon turns and points to a picture on the wall of four smiling young women. “See them?” he asks with a grin. “That’s Lauren, Meghan, Maureen, and Shannon. Believe me, after raising them, this job is a piece of cake.”
As the interview breaks up, we make our way out of Condon’s office and take the elevator back down to the street, but the conversation continues. “I really am a fortunate person,” he says. “I have a wonderful wife, four amazing daughters, a great career, and got to play hockey with some of the best friends I ever had. I don’t know what to say other than I really am one lucky guy.”
We exit into the sweltering heat of mid-July in Manhattan and say our goodbyes. Condon strolls away down Broadway with the easy, content manner of someone who knows that he is home and living exactly the life he was meant to live.
-By Michael Reid
Featured Photo Credit: Michele Crowe/CBS
Bill Condon VP CBS Payroll Services
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