Former CEO MacDonald: ‘Make Tough Decisions The Right Way’

In this last March Madness edition of our Corporate Competitor Podcast, long-time Xerox executive Michael MacDonald offers a master class on the value of clear, proactive communication in tough situations, drawn from his college basketball days at Rutgers.

Michael C. MacDonald is known as an underdog athlete and turnaround CEO. He spent 33 years climbing the ladder at Xerox before OfficeMax hired him as executive vice president where he led a $3.6 billion dollar a year division. In 2012, he was named Chairman and CEO of the nutrition and weight loss company, Medifast. Under his leadership, Medifast’s stock rose from $4 to $218 per share. 

As a blue-collar kid growing up in Philadelphia, MacDonald loved the game of basketball so much that after being cut from his high school team as a freshman and sophomore, he fought back well enough to be recruited by Dick Vitale and Tom Young to play at Rutgers University. Once he got there, he did everything he could to become an important member of the school’s basketball program.

When he broke his wrist senior year, he realized a different future awaited him. Although MacDonald never missed a game or practice, Coach Young sat the smooth-shooting senior down and delivered the bad news.

“He said ‘Mike, I just want to let you know that another player is going to take the minutes you would play this year. I didn’t want you to hear it from anybody else or read about it before I told you,’” MacDonald recalled. “I assured Coach that I still wanted to continue to be a valuable member of the team,” he added. 

The event cut the young man to the core, but the courage and respect the coach showed him by having that hard conversation stuck with MacDonald and helped prepare him for an outstanding business career in which he became nationally respected not only for making tough decisions but also for making them the right way.

Fast forward a few years and MacDonald was asked to take over a division of Xerox that had gone down $500 million in profit and badly needed a turnaround. He knew his new role would include restructuring and layoffs, so he gathered the 2,000 employees who worked at the facility in Rochester, NY, and delivered the bad news. “I told them we were going to have to reduce the staff by half,” he said. “We would give them outplacement services and severance. Years later, people continued to tell me I was one of the few executives they’d known who told the staff before the newspaper.” 

Xerox wasn’t the only organization he applied the lessons basketball taught him. In 1994, MacDonald joined the Board of the V Foundation, a cancer research organization named for Jim Valvano, the legendary coach, and broadcaster who lost his battle with cancer in 1993. “I worked for Jim Valvano for two years as a coach at Iona and played against him as a player when I was at Rutgers and he was coaching Bucknell,” MacDonald said.

  • 3:00   His experience with Dick Vitale as his college basketball coach.
  •  5:00   Lessons learned working alongside Jim Valvano.
  •  8:00   How to find mentors early in your career.
  • 11:30  How to consistently update your goals.
  • 17:00  The role of positive energy and belief in motivating your team.
  • 22:30  How Michael defines “stick-to-itiveness.”
  • 28:00  How to develop your listening skills.

Check out the full Corporate Competitor Podcast interview archive and subscribe to new episodes.


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