John F. McDonnell
John F. McDonnell

A short interview with John F. McDonnell - March 12, 2018

Q. Mr. McDonnell, why did you choose engineering as a career path?

JM - I enjoyed math, science, and problem-solving; and my father was an engineer, so it seemed like a no-brainer.

Q. Many of the girls and young women who ask questions on EngineerGirl are concerned about choosing a field that may prevent them from trying something different in the future.  After nearly 40 years of success in the aeronautical industry both in engineering and management positions, you became involved in establishing programs to help companies develop breakthroughs in life science research.  How do you think your engineering background helped prepare you to succeed in different positions in such diverse fields?

JM - My engineering math background was very beneficial when I got into finance.  I felt much better grounded than were MBAs.  In management the problem-solving was central, and engineering enabled me to understand the issues in many situations.  A disproportionate portion of heads of companies have an engineering education.

Q. You helped establish the McDonnell International Scholars Academy at Washington University in St. Louis, which provides opportunities that prepare graduate students to be more effective leaders in a global community. The Academy supports US and international students in many different fields, but how do you think this kind of global perspective affects engineers in particular?

JM - Engineering is a universal language.  Working in teams will be of increasing importance.  Teamwork is the essence of engineering, so engineers are well-positioned to thrive in a global setting.

Q. Why did you decide to support EngineerGirl and its programs?

JM - Women overall have been underrepresented in engineering, and yet their approach to problems is very complementary to the male approach.  With better balance between men and women engineering solutions will be better.

Q. What advice do you have for students considering engineering as a career?

JM - As in all careers do what excites you.  If you are enjoying your work, you are much more likely to be good at it.


John McDonnell has had an impressive career in aeronautical engineering, management, and finance.  He retired as Chairman of the Board of McDonnell Douglas Corporation in 1997 after a more than 35-year career at the company.  He was elected chairman and chief executive officer in 1988 and held that position until September 1994.  From then until his retirement in 1997 (at the time of a merger with Boeing) he was chairman of the Board.  He then became a member of the Boeing board of directors until his retirement in April 2012.  Mr. McDonnell has also been actively involved in establishing a community of life science research and entrpreneureship in the St. Louis area and has served on numerous civic boards.  He is Chairman of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center and is a Life Trustee of Washington University in St. Louis.  Mr. McDonnell earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in aeronautical engineering from Princeton University and a master’s in business administration from Washington University.  His generous support of EngineerGirl has enabled a number of updates as well as the launch of the new Amabassadors program.



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