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Business leaders of the year

Condron used his success to revitalize Worcester

March 5, 2018
Photo | Nathan Fiske
Photo | Nathan Fiske
Kevin Condron

Kevin Condron wasn't born or raised in Worcester, but made the city his home after attending the College of the Holy Cross, as Worcester was similar to where he grew up in another old manufacturing city – Scranton, Pa.

Condron has since made Worcester – his wife Claire's home city – his own.

Condron served on the Holy Cross board of trustees for 21 years, including six as chairman, an overall period including four presidents and one acting president. He served on the Worcester Redevelopment Authority board when the authority was bringing train service back to Union Station. Condron served on the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce, Worcester Business Development Corp. and others.

"My thing has always been, if you think you can do it and you have the time and energy to do it, and people would like you to do it, then you do it," he said.

$2M into $200M

People wanted him to do it – time and time again – because of his business success. Condron and his father-in-law bought a small standalone plumbing and heating distributor – the Central Supply Co. – on Waldo Street in Worcester in 1971 and turned it into a 450-employee operation with more than $200 million in annual sales.

It's a far cry from a business with $2 million a year in revenue for the decade before Condron.

"My job was to build on that," Condron said. "We doubled that in the first four years."

In the next several decades, it took over other companies to add locations in Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire and Rhode Island. In 1998, the company merged with Capitol Plumbing and Heating Supply of Concord, N.H., to create The Granite Group and now has 32 stores under The Granite Group and Ultimate Bath names. Its headquarters are in Concord, N.H., after taking over one chain based there.

The company's core customers are contractors who install plumbing, heating, ventilation, air conditioning and other mechanical equipment. The Great Recession caused a major drop in business, but an older housing stock in New England brings a regular flow of work regardless of the economy, Condron said.

But Condron, a 1967 Holy Cross graduate, has kept his Worcester roots.

"I always kept my office in Worcester because I did a lot of business there, knew the community there and we raised our family there," Condron said.

Revitalizing Worcester

If people know the names The Granite Group and Ultimate Bath by having bought supplies or equipment there, they may more likely know the work in Worcester that Condron helped bring to fruition from his time serving on so many area boards.

Condron served on the Worcester Redevelopment Authority board at a critical time as the city was looking to turn a corner with new development revitalizing downtown. Union Station was re-opened with commuter rail service to Boston. The DCU Center was expanded with a new convention hall. Saint Vincent Hospital brought jobs to a site on the edge of downtown underutilized for years.

Condron said Worcester is in better shape now than it's ever been, recalling the benefit of redeveloping the old Galleria mall site, opening up Front Street and restarting train service.

"Worcester, in part through Kevin's leadership, underwent a change toward an economy that's more diversified," said Timothy Murray, the president and CEO of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce and the city's mayor for much of the time of Condron's involvement.

"Revitalization of Union Station was a psychological and substantive boost for the city," he said.

Murray knows Condron better than simply how a mayor and a prominent businessman would interact. Condron's five children are around Murray's age, and they grew up together in Worcester. Murray has known Condron since he was in elementary school, and called Condron a devoted family man who served as a mentor when Murray first got into politics.

"There's an expectation that you have to give back," Murray said.

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WBJ HALL OF FAME

Kevin Condron, Chairman, The Granite Group

Location: Worcester

Birthplace: Scranton, Pa.

Grammatical beginnings: Condron started his career as a high school English teacher

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WBJ Hall of Fame Inductees:

Ed Manzi, Chairmain & CEO, Fidelity Bank

Barbara Cotter, President & CEO, Struck Catering

Innovative Business Leader of the Year: Amy Lynn Chase, Owner, Crompton Collective, the White Room & Haberdash

Small Business Leader of the Year: Amjad Bahnassi, M.D., Owner, Behavioral Healthcare Service

Large Business Leader of the Year: James M. Knott, Jr., CEO, Riverdale Mills Corp.

Nonprofit Business Leader of the Year: Laurie Leshin, Ph.D., President, Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Family Business Leader of the Year: Rachel Lopez, President, Resource Management Inc.