Back to School
After a career as an international executive, Don Condon Jr. knows a thing or two about working away from home. What’s pulled him away in the past year, however, hasn’t been jetting off to Asia or Europe. It’s been a matter of leaving one home for another.
Condon (BBA ’74) served as an executive in residence for the Nicholas Center for Corporate Finance and Investment Banking at the Wisconsin School of Business during the 2015-16 academic year. While the Center has long had an executive program that brings in business leaders to speak or work with students, Condon was truly an executive “in residence.” He spent parts of 12 weeks on campus and even had an office at the Nicholas Center.
“The university is a special place,” Condon says. “Every time I’m with the students I learn, every time I’m with teachers I learn. The learning never stops.”
Condon’s new role enhanced the Center’s connection with industry.
“He’s an additional member of the Nicholas Center team,” said Nicole Jennings, assistant dean of Knowledge Centers. “He was there on the students’ first day and he was there on their last. He is part of their education and their experience.”
Condon, a native of Brodhead, Wisconsin, who lives in Houston, has had a successful career as an executive in a variety of industries including chemicals, industrial manufacturing, plastics, energy, and transportation. He has served as CEO of Titan Petrochemical Corp., and held senior leadership positions with Conoco, DuPont, and Westlake Chemicals.
He also is on the board of directors for Manitowoc Company, the Depression and Bipolar Alliance, and IDSM Distribution Services in Houston, and has been on the Nicholas Center advisory board since 1998. He is currently chairman of the executive committee.
“Don has been invaluable to students,” says Matthew Clayton, director of the Nicholas Center, adding that students seek out Condon for career, professional, and internship advice. “He’s got instant credibility with them.”
Antonio Mello, the Frank Graner Professor in Finance and academic director of the Nicholas Center, agreed.
“Don’s passion, experience, and empathy make him the ideal seasoned team player,” Mello says. “I often rely on his opinion. When something needs to be done, Don volunteers and executes it smoothly and with no delay. Our ‘Executive in Residence’ program could not have started with a better person.”
Helping the next generation
Condon made a strong impression on students, says Marco Ramirez (MBA ’16), who found in him a trusted mentor.
“I was looking for someone who could use their wisdom—and Don has a lot of it—and point me in the right direction,” says Ramirez, who is now in the Executive Development Program at Allstate in Northbrook, Illinois. “I think that’s what he enjoys doing most, helping students develop into their future career. Don is nothing short of special.”
Condon’s involvement with the School began shortly after he graduated. He went to work at DuPont, and despite majoring in finance, he passed on an offer from the company to work in that department. Instead he took an offer to be part of an operating group and went through a management training program.
“I had always been interested in managing or running a business,” he says. “I felt that was a better fit.”
The company asked Condon to get involved in its recruiting efforts at the Wisconsin School of Business. DuPont had successfully recruited engineers at the university, but hadn’t recruited business students. Condon headed back to his alma mater to meet with faculty and leadership to create connections.
The challenges of an international career
A project in Belgium, evaluating whether to buy a European paint company, gave Condon his first international experience. That led to living in England for three years while serving as a DuPont worldwide business director. Upon returning to the U.S., he became divisional director of mergers and acquisitions and director of specialty businesses and services at DuPont.
In 1993, he made a move to Conoco to become CFO of the company’s upstream business, the exploration and production sector. It was a challenging time, Condon says.
“Oil prices went down to $10 a barrel, which is unheard of these days,” he says. “We had to restructure the company to make money at $10 a barrel. Although I knew nothing about the oil business, it was a very good way to learn about it.”
—Marco Ramirez Executive Development Program, Allstate
Conoco was then a DuPont subsidiary, and when the two companies separated, Condon was involved in the 1998 Conoco IPO, his first. He led teams in 25 countries that developed $9 billion in international projects and worked in Conoco regional offices in Istanbul, London, and Singapore.
“I was traveling about 70 percent of the time, and it was hard on my family,” he says. When talking to Nicholas Center students, Condon is frank with them about the rigors of so much travel.
“I ask them, ‘What do you think it’s like if you travel 30 percent?’ and I describe that scenario,” Condon says. “Then I describe 50 percent, then 70. I try to get students to think about that because international business is not for everybody.”
After Conoco merged with Phillips in 2001, Condon was recruited by Titan Petrochemicals in Malaysia to take the company public and lead an IPO. He restructured a company that hadn’t been profitable for 12 years into one with annual earnings in excess of $100 million.
It was a complex IPO, listing in Malaysia and on the New York Stock Exchange. Condon brings that experience into the classroom.
“I say, ‘This is what an IPO really looks like,’” he says. “They sound very glamorous but students need to understand it takes nine to 18 months to get one ready, and if the market isn’t right, you have to wait. It’s high stress.”
Prestigious honor in Malaysia
The Titan Petrochemicals IPO was the largest industrial IPO that had ever been launched in the country. Condon was named the Malaysian CEO of the Year in 2005 by American Express, the first non-Malaysian winner.
This international venture was different for his family. Condon’s children were grown, and his wife, Linda, was able to join him more when he had to leave their home in Kuala Lumpur to travel through the area.
“She could give the tour of Angkor Wat,” Condon says of the ancient temple in Cambodia. “I think she was there five different times with relatives. She got to see a lot over there.”
The Condons returned home to Texas when he became a senior vice president for Westlake Chemical Corporation in Houston. He left the position to help care for Linda, who died of cancer in 2015.
Condon’s original career choice at DuPont came because he wanted to own and run a business, which he now does with his son, T.J. Condon. Don serves as president at IDSM Distribution Services, an independent contractor for FedEx with a fleet of trucks serving suburban Houston.
“He manages the day-chanto-day,” Condon says of his son. “I’m everything from his CFO to his clerk.”
Throughout his executive career, Condon remained connected to the Wisconsin School of Business. He was a member of the Dean’s Advisory Board and has been involved with the Nicholas Center since its founding. He was named the Wisconsin School of Business’s first Shape the Future alumni award winner in 2010. The award honors volunteers who offer time and expertise to help create transformational experiences for WSB students.
A trusted source of advice for students
With his executive in residence role, Condon was able to do even more. While on campus, his calendar quickly filled up with students who sought his advice.
“The students love Don,” Jennings says.
Condon returned to the Wisconsin School of Business in Fall 2016 to fill the executive in residence role again, splitting duties with Tom Tefft (BBA ’82), former senior executive at Medtronic.
—Antonio Mello The Frank Garner Professor in Finance and academic director of the Nicholas Center, Wisconsin School of Business
As executive in residence, Condon has worked with students on their résumés and coached them on landing an internship or job. He has been available to consult for students, faculty, or staff and often provides real-life perspectives on topics students are learning in the classroom.
Condon also has found people who could answer students’ specific questions, Ramirez says, tapping into a career’s worth of contacts to help.
“I would tell him things like, ‘I’m interested in financial strategy, who do I talk to?’” Ramirez says. “And he’d say, ‘Talk to Person X, Person Y, Person Z. I’ll send them a note, I’ll connect you.’”
Condon is also working to get more alumni and executives involved with the Nicholas Center. His pitch is simple.
“You get back more than you give,” Condon says. “It’s such a feeling of fulfillment when you realize you are making a difference.”