Oral Histories

Maril MacDonald

Interview Segments on Topic: Selecting a PR Career

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: Maril, thank you so much for doing this interview. I want to start with talking about your beginnings in your PR career and; my first question for you is, following your graduation from Purdue how did you get started in your career?

MACDONALD: Well I was pretty fortunate because then president of the Standard Oil Company of Ohio, a guy named Joe Harnett, had come to talk to an evening business school class that I was taking, and he brought with him his head of public relations, who was also a Purdue graduate. He actually had graduated in engineering, believe it or not; he did not have a background or degree in public relations. While they were at the University and talking to a variety of people, they got this idea, “Why don’t we hire someone in public relations, a new graduate to come into the PR department?” The next morning they talked to the school—the school recommended three of us. We interviewed that afternoon, and I was fortunate enough to be offered a job. At the time, I had been interviewing for a lot of sales jobs, because there weren’t any recruiters coming to Purdue looking for public relations majors. As we know, it’s very difficult to get a job with a major corporation right out of school. I’d had several offers in sales, and really, it was of no brilliance, but just a basic logic that I thought well, if I can get 4 or 5 offers in sales and I can only get one offer in PR, maybe I should go try that one because if it doesn’t work, I can always go into sales. And that’s how it started.


MACDONALD: Yeah, just a very fortunate opportunity.

INTERVIEWER: What appealed to you most besides the—you mentioned the offers in sales versus the one offer in public relations—what appealed to you about going on the public relations path?

MACDONALD: Well, my degree was in communication, and that had really been what my initial choice would have been. It was just through the interview process that I started becoming interested in the sales side, and probably convincing myself it was the only kind of job I was going to get, so was becoming very happy with it. But I would say, I looked at it as if I could get a job in a corporation where my job was to learn the business of the business; it would be a forever-learning opportunity. And that to me seemed to be really appealing. And the idea that often times in public relations, we’re one of the few functions that gets to touch every aspect of a business, and really get in there and find out about it and see what’s going on. I was very smitten with the whole notion of business, and wanted to learn as much about it as I could, so this seemed like a fabulous opportunity, which it was.