President and Chief Executive Officer of Bridge Bancorp. and its wholly owned subsidiary The Bridgehampton National Bank.

Member of Adelphi University’s Profiles in Success program.

Chief Executive Officer, Bridge Bancorp, Inc. (parent company of the Bridgehampton National Bank)

Banking on the Strength of Communities

In many ways, Kevin O’Connor ’84 has returned to his roots as a community banker. He is President and Chief Executive Officer of Bridge Bancorp. and its wholly owned subsidiary The Bridgehampton National Bank, a financial institution with approximately $700 million in assets and known for its commitment to the Eastern End of Long Island.

This is roughly the same size North Fork Bank was when he began his career there over 20 years ago. Mr. O’Connor joined North Fork in 1987, and rose through the ranks, ultimately becoming Executive Vice President and Treasurer, assisting in the many acquisitions that created the $60 billion institution, which recently became Capital One.

“The opportunity to join this very successful community bank was tremendous, and brings me back to an institution very similar to the one I started my career at. I am excited by the challenge and feel my experience can help this organization achieve even greater success,” he says.

For Mr. O’Connor, a hands-on manager, a typical day at Bridgehampton National Bank can take many directions.  It might include visiting with the bank’s customers at their place of business, or discussing loans, branch operations, marketing and even Human Resource issues. He works closely with his senior management team and the Board of Directors to chart the strategy for the company.

“At a smaller institution you touch all aspects of the organization, getting involved in everything from loan decisions to branch design,” he says. “I interact frequently with the board and along with management work hard at maintaining our community presence. This sense of community is something every employee in the company contributes to and is what we are most proud of.”

BNB has an exciting and long history. A recent trip to the bank’s lower level unearthed old and rare documents, including original deeds, pictures and mementos from years gone by. “We’ll celebrate our 100th Anniversary in 2010, and these items are a treasured part of our success story.”

Always interested in business, Mr. O’Connor ran his own landscaping company while in college and, at the same time, worked at a local drug store. It was through these experiences that Mr. O’Connor first became interested in numbers and accounting.

“I’ve always believed that a general business degree wouldn’t offer the same value as a specialized one,” he says.  ”I absolutely benefited from the School of Business’ structured internship program. I interviewed with many of the then Big 8 firms, and got constructive feedback from the Career Center when an interview didn’t go well.”

Mr. O’Connor learned a lot from that experience, and landed a position with Peat Marwick (predecessor to KPMG). There, he learned about a number of different fields, including health care and banking, and, “had the opportunity to see first-hand a variety of industries and interact with senior level people across different lines of business.”

When asked about some of the trouble that larger banks have gone and are going through, Mr. O’Connor is quick to point out the differences between these institutions and Bridgehampton National Bank. “We are a strong institution with healthy capital and liquidity levels. We have always been very conservative in our underwriting. We did not participate in the sub-prime lending or any of the other more risky lending practices done over the past several years. We lend to local businesses and individuals for projects that make economic sense and we expect them to demonstrate they can pay back the money we lend.”

As for the economy on the east end, Mr. O’Connor replies, “Everyone has a heightened sense of awareness regarding the economy. We operate in some of the most affluent markets in the country and in some ways this economy is dependent on how well New York City is doing. However, with the weakening currency there has been an influx of international tourists. The higher cost of gas has also encouraged other Long Islanders to take day trips to the east end, visiting our farm stands, wineries and beautiful beaches. It’s an easy place to get to, and we’ve heard from our customers that business has been great.”

While technology continues to shape the banking industry, in some ways the small banks, in Mr. O’Connor’s opinion, have an edge.

“Larger banks spend big dollars researching, developing, and refining the newest technology, and working out the inevitable problems,” he says. “This may give them a small step ahead in the race to market. But, technology very quickly becomes available to others at a fraction of the initial investment.”

“One recent example of this was remote deposit capture, or the ability for business customers to actually make deposits to the bank without leaving the office by transmitting images over a secure network. This technology cost hundreds of millions to develop and now is available to every bank for a small licensing fee. Any advantage the early adopters had has been eliminated. Small banks don’t need to be on the leading edge of technology they just need to stay informed.”

“Another advantage in these difficult times is the desire of business people to feel connected to their bank. The United States has a different model than other parts of the world where massive institutions dominate. The entrepreneurial nature of Americans creates opportunities for smaller more locally focused institutions. I think entrepreneurs like to deal with entrepreneurs and America is the home of small business.”

Being the CEO of a publicly traded company puts him in contact with many interesting people and projects, but it is not as glamorous as it may seem. The challenge of the position is answering to many audiences who may have different objectives.

“The CEO is beholden to quarterly results,” he says, “and has to be responsive to the shareholder base as well as the customers. Historically, many of our shares have been held by local business people and their families, but with the passage of time and ownership changes we are increasingly working with newer shareholders not as closely connected with the community. They bring new ideas and new challenges for management and the board.”

“It has always been my philosophy and that of Bridgehampton National to give back—not just in terms of dollars, but with our time and talent. This was something that my predecessor, Tom Tobin, exemplified. All of our employees live and work locally and are actively involved in their communities. I have been a coach for various sports and been involved both locally with my sons and at the county level with Boy Scouts. I am the past president of the Suffolk County Council of the Boy Scouts and remain on their board. I have also worked with other groups to raise funds and awareness for various causes.”

A native of Farmingville, New York, Mr. O’Connor chose Adelphi after earning a degree from a local community college.

“Even as a transfer student, I felt accepted and at home,” he says. “Adelphi just seemed right for me, and it proved to be a great choice.”

Mr. O’Connor’s advice to current students stems directly from his own career. “Don’t worry about how much money you can or will make. Find something that you love doing, and the money will follow. You have to wake up on Monday morning and be happy to go to work. If you wake up on Monday and you just can’t wait for Friday to come, you are in the wrong line of business—whatever business that is.”

His advice for faculty is simple, yet sage. “I urge the faculty to continue to make topics relevant and current, and to always bring enthusiasm to what they are doing.”

Mr. O’Connor resides in Rocky Point, New York, with his wife Mary and his three sons, Jack, William and Danny. His hobbies include cooking, mountain biking, kayaking and woodworking.

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