Bucks CEO has a winning touch

Thomas J. Lynch runs Berwyn's TE Connectivity, a Fortune 500 maker of electrical connectors.
Thomas J. Lynch runs Berwyn's TE Connectivity, a Fortune 500 maker of electrical connectors. (MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer)
Posted: September 03, 2013

Thomas J. Lynch lives in Newtown, just 10 miles from where he grew up in Levittown. If that doesn't sound far, consider: 88,000 people at 100 factories from Harrisburg to China now call him boss.

Lynch, 58, has parlayed an accounting career into the top job at TE Connectivity Ltd., a formerly profit-challenged Berwyn business whose share price has risen an average of 50 percent a year since 2009 on Lynch's program of relentless cost-cutting and targeted growth, much of it in the United States.

If his career has taken Lynch around the world, he's also kept close to home: Fellow alumni drafted Lynch to head the volunteer effort that reversed the Archdiocese of Philadelphia's plan to shut his alma mater, Conwell-Egan Catholic High School of Levittown, and helped boost its endowment, efficiency and enrollment - partly by recruiting Chinese students, who are housed in the school's former friary.

Tom Lynch, clearly, is a guy who makes a difference.

TE Connectivity makes a half-million kinds of electrical connectors - the gadgets that hook your laptop, car, and smartphone together, and make everything from Boeing airliners to the Internet light up and go when the switch turns on.

"Few people know there is a $13 billion [yearly sales] global technology corporation based right here in Pennsylvania," says Pierre Brondeau, chief executive officer at FMC Corp., who has been on the TE Connectivity board even before Tyco International chief executive Edward Breen spun it off as a separate company in 2007.

"We're a big company that does a lot of little things," Lynch said in his white-walled office at the Westlakes Office Park in Berwyn. Technologies that disrupt other industries bring him new business: Smartphones with miniature antennas use more electrical connections than landlines, for example, and electric-car batteries need more connectors than petroleum-powered cars.

Lynch has been able to sell investors his vision: TE Connectivity shares returned about 6.5 percent a year since going public in 2007, and 50 percent a year since the stock market collapse of 2009, more than double the S&P 500 average.

Recovering auto sales should help boost future profits, which would justify TE Connectivity's share-price rise, analyst Sherri Scribner at Deutsche Bank Securities told clients in a recent report.

Brondeau calls Lynch one of the few CEOs who combines business drive with "a very high emotional intelligence that can relate to people."

The company has paid Lynch around $10 million in stock, options, and cash in each of the last three years.

The business used to be based in the Harrisburg suburbs, at the offices of the former AMP Inc. AMP employed nearly 8,000 Pennsylvanians when Tyco bought it for $12 billion in 1998. TE Connectivity is worth about $20 billion at recent prices.

The company employs 3,600 in the state, up slightly from 2012. Lynch moved the headquarters to Berwyn, still an hour's commute from his Bucks County home but closer to Philadelphia's airport and East Coast clients such as Comcast and Siemens Medical.

TE Connectivity still exports from China factories, especially for small goods like hand-held computers. But shipping and labor costs are up there.

The workforce in Asia dropped from 41,000 to 35,000 in the last three years as the employment level in the Americas rose from 23,000 to 26,000. The company also has employees in Europe.

Who knew?

"He was a fine basketball player. He had an obvious facility in math. But the notion he'd take that interest in accounting and parlay that into running a big Fortune 500 company is an outcome nobody predicted," said former Gov. Mark Schweiker, who went to Egan with Lynch.

After graduating from Rider College in 1975, Lynch worked at Coopers & Lybrand, the former SPS Technologies, and, starting in 1982, at General Instrument Corp. (GI) in Hatboro, where he rose to head his division's finance office.

Lynch's wife, Patty, attended Egan's sister school, Bishop Conwell. They sent their children to the merged Conwell-Egan High School. When the Philadelphia Archdiocese said it was shutting Conwell-Egan in early 2012, a group of alumni called on Lynch, gave him a cap with the school's eagle mascot, and recruited him to reverse the closing.

Soon, said Janet Dollard, the school's president, Lynch was hosting meetings, helping raise an endowment, and selling her on business-style reforms.

Lynch's counsel led to less spending on administration, more on marketing and fund-raising. It moved the few remaining Franciscan friars - the order that once ran the school - out of their residence and made it a live-in home for foreign students who pay to attend Conwell-Egan.

Result: The school's enrollment is rising, from 101 freshmen in 2011 to 173 for the 2013-14 academic year.

Many people helped keep Lynch's old school open. But to Dollard, Lynch was essential.

"He was a sharp Levittown boy who took the education he was given, put it to work, and is still caring."


Contact Joseph N. DiStefano at 215-854-5194, JoeD@phillynews.com, or follow @PhillyJoeD on Twitter.

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