Oral Histories

Maril MacDonald

Interview Segments on Topic: Code of Ethics/Mission Statement/Credo

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: Do you have an official code of ethics or a mission statement? Do you provide ethics training? Values training?

MACDONALD: No. We have an employee handbook, and of course it runs through all the ethics types of things that you would imagine. But I think the real power of it is in talking a lot about decisions we make and why we make them. That’s what really makes the difference. The other thing is, standing behind somebody who makes a decision on something that felt wrong to them, even if it didn’t feel wrong to me. That’s also very important, so just as an example, we’re a consulting firm. With many of our clients, we bill them by the hour, and we’ll have people make a decision that says, ‘I wrote off this time because it just felt like it took too long. I don’t feel I was my best self, I just couldn’t whip it together, you know, so I’m writing off the time.’ We don’t question that. Now, you could say ‘well are you sure?’ It just starts a whole host of issues right? We’ve had clients who suggested to us—because of purchasing, they can’t pay our billing rates so they’ve suggested, we’re fine with the budget you proposed but purchasing won’t allow those billing rates, so just charge a lower rate but add more hours and we’ve declined. We ended up not getting a large client because of that. Because our client couldn’t navigate the billing rate , and there’s no way I could say that we were going to pretend we had more hours on this than we did. And it’s an interesting thing because people say, “Well the client’s okay with it, so why wouldn’t that be okay?” And these are the kind of conversations we have, and I say because that’s a slippery slope. The client doesn’t own the company. The client is an employee of the company representing the company and they’re asking us to sign something that these are billable hours. And then people say, “I understand totally.” So it’s going through things like that, that I believe are what really make a difference for people.

INTERVIEWER: So conversations about ethics and values are a regular part of the work day or the work week?

MACDONALD: Yeah, I think they’re just the natural way we do things. We have a regular cadence of meetings where at least once a year we do a two day retreat with everybody. Then we have what we call block parties, where everybody shows up and brings food, that we have every six weeks or so, that are usually half a day. Then every two weeks we have an all team phone call to catch people up. So there are opportunities. These things come up; “What happened with this client?” Or, “Why didn’t we get it?” Or, “Can you explain this?” “Why did we make that decision?” So we talk about them in that context.