Maril MacDonald, Hall of Femme 2018

CEO, founder, Gagen MacDonald

When was the last time you endured a real "agony of defeat" moment? What did you learn from it?
When I was CCO at Navistar, something slipped by me that should have been run by our union, The United Automobile Workers. It was a very significant error, one that could have easily destroyed the trust we’d been working to restore for years. I took the news to our CEO and counseled him that he should accept my resignation and that my last act on the job needed to be that I personally call the union leader who was on our board. 

I made the call, took the hit and he said to me, "I believe you and trust you because you’ve always been straight with us. There’s no way in hell I’m going to let you resign." That reinforced to me the power of a trust bank and the importance of owning your mistakes.

How long ago was the last time you took the time to recharge your batteries? What did you do? 
Every year, my husband Mark and I host both of our extended families (50 to 60 people) for the week surrounding July 4. Nieces and nephews, cousins, in-laws – you name it. Last year the age range was three months to 84 years. It’s a crazy, rambunctious time so I can’t say it’s restful, but it’s definitely restorative and a blast to have us all together.

What is it about this industry that frustrates the hell out of you sometimes?
I find it very frustrating when people trip into the common refrains of "My mother still doesn’t know what I do" and "I came into PR because I hate numbers." It’s very dangerous to keep reinforcing those thoughts. How can we claim expertise in communication if we can’t explain something we know so well to one of the people we know best?  And how can we claim to be business people if we hate numbers?

When have you seen this industry or your organization really shine?
I’m blown away by the number of people who generously give their time and knowledge to make our profession so strong. I don’t know any other industry that has the wealth of professional organizations that we do.

For example, the Institute for Public Relations gives us the science behind the art of PR; the Arthur W. Page Society arms us to strengthen the enterprise leadership role of the CCO; the Arthur W. Page Center for Integrity in Public Communication advances research, learnings, and role models for ethics and integrity; the Plank Center supports and strengthens leadership in our field; the PRSA and PRSSA cut a wide swath in providing learning opportunities and in advancing diversity in our field. We’re very blessed.

Finish the sentence: To ensure career advancement and pay parity for women, I will...
continue to champion women by creating and hosting women’s leadership events that help them learn the power of negotiating to receive what they rightfully deserve.

Words to live by?
Live your dream, not someone else’s. And remember that the most important story you’ll ever tell is the one you tell yourself.

Favorite drink?
Water. I am so blessed to live in a country where I have access to this fundamental necessity that fuels life.

What would you tell your 20-year-old self?
I’d share three of our firm’s operating principles:

Be where you need to be. We so often stress over conflicts for our time, but if we quiet ourselves we always know the right answer. Trust yourself, you know more than you think you do. When in doubt, do the loving thing.

Who are the three people, living or dead, you would like to host at a dinner party and why?
Lisa Randall is a theoretical physicist and professor at Harvard. She’s doing unbelievable research in elementary particle physics, fundamental forces, and extra-dimensions of space. And we thought our jobs were complex. J.K. Rowling, because she willed herself into getting that first amazing Harry Potter book written, against all the odds. I am in awe of her imagination and that all of that fabulousness came out of one person’s brain.

I also admire all she has done to help others with her incredible wealth. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, because I am so impressed with how she established what they now call the Ginsburg precedent, where, when she was in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee and pressed on her personal views on a variety of issues that were likely to come before her in court, she refused to comment on them because she really believed justice has to stay open to hearing the evidence as it relates to the Constitution.

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