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1993 Horatio Alger Award Winner

William J. Donlon*

Chairman and CEO, Retired
Niagara Mohawk Power Corporation

"Don’t measure opportunity merely in terms of monetary gain or promotion. Many times, a lateral move becomes key to a person’s career."

William Donlon was born in Albany in 1930. When his father became disabled in 1941, his mother went to work in the employee cafeteria of New York Power & Light and young Donlon stocked grocery store shelves after school.

A good student who enjoyed school, Donlon was rated an excellent boxer and basketball player. He graduated at 17 and became a meter reader for Niagara Mohawk. He enlisted in the Navy when the Korean War broke out and was sent to a civilian pre-engineering training school near Washington, D. C. Following an intensive four-month course in electrical technology, Donlon was assigned to the electrical division of the carrier U. S. S. Benningtonin the Mediterranean Sea.

In 1954, Donlon returned to Niagara Mohawk and enrolled in night classes at Siena College. It took eight years, but he earned a degree in finance and economics in 1962. All of his children-four at that time--attended his graduation ceremony.

Donlon was promoted into management and began pursuing his interest in public speaking. He developed a 13-week course on public speaking and communications. His presentation caught the attention of upper management and he began a steady rise through the ranks of the corporation. He became a vice president in 1968. He was named president in 1980, and in 1988 became chairman and chief executive officer.

In his early days as a manager for Niagara Mohawk, Donlon made a lateral move into a new position. His friends had advised him against taking the job, but Donlon believes it was a turning point in his career. "Don't measure opportunities merely in terms of monetary gain or promotion," he says. "Many times a lateral move becomes key to a person's career."

Donlon is credited with turning around Niagara Mohawk after a major reorganization. Following his successful management of the company, he was cited by Fortune magazine for his willingness to "act like a revolutionary." During his tenure at Niagara Mohawk, Donlon inaugurated career advancement programs for women and developed company outreach programs to help customers pay bills and get improved service. Some of these programs are now required in New York State.

Donlon has served as a trustee of Syracuse University and Siena College, his alma mater. He has also been a trustee of the State University of New York at Albany Foundation, LeMoyne College in Syracuse, and the College of Saint Rose in Albany, from which he received an honorary doctor of laws degree in 1981.

Now retired, Donlon's advice to young people is to "get a good education, set goals, try to accomplish your goals, and learn all you can as you progress in your career."

* Deceased