This story appeared in the RBJ’s Rochester Business Hall of Fame 2017 section. See more content from this section here.
For Victor Salerno, business growth is essential.
“If you’re not growing, you’re having problems,” says the 73-year-old CEO of the O’Connell Electric Company Inc.
Salerno’s leadership of the Victor-based firm has helped to more than double its business, as well as extend its reach far beyond the Rochester area. In addition to heading O’Connell, he sits on the company’s board of directors and is one of its six stockholders.
Salerno was born at Ft. McClellan, a now-defunct U.S. Army post in Alabama where his late father, Victor Salerno Sr., was stationed during World War II (Salerno does not use the title “junior”). One of four children, he attended Eastridge High School and then went on to St. John Fisher College.
After graduating from college in 1966 with a bachelor of business administration in accounting, Salerno took a position in the Xerox Corp.’s accounting department. The job lacked the challenges he desired.
“I hated it—had nothing to do there,” the Pittsford resident says. “I swear they were stockpiling people, they were growing so fast.”
Less than six months in, Salerno applied to the firm that is now Deloitte LLP.
“I answered a blind ad that a friend of mine had sent me, because I was complaining to everybody,” he says.
Deloitte hired Salerno as a junior accountant. As a CPA for the firm, he performed audits and provided tax and business advisory services.
In 1971, Salerno headed to greener pastures: as a vice president for O’Connell. He seems to have found the challenges of the construction business to his liking.
“Construction is a high-risk,-high-reward type of industry,” he asserts.
Salerno took O’Connell’s helm in 2006. Under his leadership, the full-service electrical contracting firm has nearly doubled sales, which totaled just under $160 million at the end of its last fiscal year. It appears poised to do even better this fiscal year.
“The way things are trending in our backlog, we’ll do over $200 million,” Salerno says.
The company has grown in a physical sense, as well. From a 2006 payroll of no more than 40 people, O’Connell has risen to employ over 650, most of them at five New York State locations. About 60 of those in its pay are located at the firm’s Albany offices, which opened in 2015.
“There’s a lot of opportunities in that area—a lot of government work, which we do,” Salerno explains.
You don’t need to go far to find one of O’Connell’s projects. The firm did the electrical work for the $145 million Golisano Children’s Hospital, which opened in 2015, and just finished an approximately $40 million job for the New York State Electric and Gas Corporation. Right now, O’Connell is in the midst of a $2.5 million electrical upgrade of the boilers of the Eastman Business Park’s powerhouse, which is slated to be completed by the end of this year.
Reaching beyond New York State, O’Connell has worked on projects up and down the eastern coast. On Sept. 7, the firm dispatched crews to tackle the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.
“We sent 30 bucket trucks and over 60 linemen to Florida to help with the anticipated hurricane damage restoration,” Salerno says.
Salerno credits those he works with for helping make O’Connell what it is today.
“You have to have a great team, or you’re not going to accomplish anything,” he says.
In addition to steering O’Connell, Salerno has also sought to give back to his community. During the three years he chaired St. John Fisher College’s Board of Trustees, he helped pick the institution’s current president: Gerald Rooney, who took office in July of 2015
“It was quite interesting,” Salerno says. “We had about 50 or so candidates that were qualified.”
Salerno’s generosity to his alma mater has exceeded gifts of his time. His $2 million donation helped fund the building of the Victor E. Salerno Center for American Enterprise.
“My wife and I discussed it, and very quickly came to the conclusion we should do it,” Salerno says. “We’ve been very fortunate and successful, and a big part of it was graduating from St. John Fisher.”
The 27,000-square-foot building, which opened in 2013, houses the college’s School of Business.
Salerno has lent his leadership skills to other nonprofits, and at one point chaired the Rochester Museum and Science Center’s Board of Trustees. He is the executive board member and treasurer of the Rochester Builders Exchange, and is involved with other organizations as well.
When not at work or volunteering, Salerno likes to spend time with his wife, Eileen, and family at the couple’s vacation home on Canandaigua Lake. The avid golfer also enjoys working on his game.
“I’m getting very, very close to breaking 100,” Salerno says. “It’s one of my goals: breaking 100.”
Mike Costanza is a Rochester-area freelance writer.