In the mid 90s, while serving as senior vice president of corporate communications at Navistar International, Maril MacDonald drove one of the most successful change management initiatives in corporate America at the time. Working with Bob Matha, then head of the Chicago office of Ogilvy Public Relations, she not only spearheaded communications for that initiative, but also instigated the company’s approach, working with individual plant managers to make sure that their voices were heard by top management, serving as an advocate for change with senior management, and organizing events that helped drive the change process throughout the entire organization.
Two years ago, MacDonald and Matha launched their own consulting firm, offering a wide array of strategic communications service but focused on change management—with an emphasis on partnering with clients to create programs that influence business objectives: improving customer satisfaction, increasing productivity, reducing product defects, defeating union organization efforts, delivering on brand promise, and driving post-merger integration. Another unusual aspect of the firm’s approach is its effort to transfer skills to the client. Says MacDonald, “Our final success is to work ourselves out of a job.”
In just two years, Matha MacDonald has assembled a team of 18 professionals, bringing in Rich Nelson (most recently a senior communications executive at General Motors) to add senior counseling depth, and hiring Dan Verakis, formerly a principal spokesperson for Monsanto in the U.K., and Lisa Hartenberger, a public affairs and issues management expert. The firm’s clients have included Coors Brewing Company (labor issues and internal communications strategy), United Airlines (recovery from labor and operational problems and merger integration), and Ajinomoto (strategic communications counsel), while the partners continue to work for Navistar, now International Truck and Engine Corporation.