Oral Histories

Maril MacDonald

Interview Segments on Topic: PR Education/Training

Maril MacDonald Biography

Maril MacDonald is the Chief Executive Officer and founder of Gagen MacDonald LLC.  She is a nationally recognized leader in communications and strategy execution.  Prior to Gagen MacDonald, she served as vice president, corporate communications, and was a member of the Executive Management Committee for International Truck and Engine Corporation (formerly Navistar), and with CEO John Horne, directed a successful cultural turnaround, bringing the company from the brink of bankruptcy to being named to the Wall Street Journal’s “Top 10 Performers” list and Business Week’s “Top 50 Companies”.

MacDonald is the current President of the Arthur W. Page Society an is a member of the Arthur W. Page Center Advisory Board.


INTERVIEWER: What key steps do you look back on, now that you’ve taken a career path that eventually led to your appointment as vice president of corporate communications of Pitman-Moore?

MACDONALD: I think #1, the things that probably made me most qualified for senior-level positions, were the jobs that were most off track when I was younger. The fact that, even at Purdue, I helped put myself through school by teaching biology at Purdue, I was a TA, and tutoring in math and science. That was one of the things that really helped me get the job at Standard Oil. But of course it’s a very scientifically based company, and that just seemed odd, and it made me stand out. I was a Russian language major when I first started there, too. There were a variety of things that just helped me stick out from the pack. And then, when I was at Standard Oil, I got into a fast track management program, so I had the opportunity to work in human resources, finance, and marine transportation. I actually ran oil spill contingency planning for what later became British Petroleum, so I used to go to bed every night praying I’d be out of that job before we had an oil spill, and you know, thank goodness, any major oil spill anywhere. So I think, always really taking the opportunities to learn the business is what, in the end, helped me the most. And it also helped me understand communications, in a way, differently, because when one’s in the bowels of the business, you have a very different idea of what communication is all about than when you’re at the core and in the PR department.

INTERVIEWER: You took steps to learn the business and you obviously took steps to learn the communication, what did you do to learn the management side of things?

MACDONALD: I probably learned, with a few bumps along the way, but I had some wonderful mentors. This is another fabulous thing about our field—as a very young person I worked very, very closely with many CEOs and presidents of the companies and business heads so I got to learn from the real masters. And I have to say, they were very generous with their time, and their thinking, and their coaching, and I was very curious; I was like a sponge. I think when one shows up that way, people are really happy to help you. I was always asking questions, “Why did you do it this way…how do you think about this…why would you make that decision?” Sometimes they laughed. I think they just thought it was kind of funny. I was really young, I always wanted to ask about all these things, but they were really great about it, and so that’s where I learned most of it, and I read like a nut. I read everything I can get my hands on and still to this day—on management, on leadership, on you know…various ways of approaching things. That’s helped as well.