Mackey McDonald ’68: Chair, Davidson Board of Trustees

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Meg Kimmel

Forty-nine men and women have pledged their time, talent, and energy in support of Davidson as our trustees. We think you should know more about these volunteers, and we are starting at the top: board chair Mackey McDonald.

As a high school student, McDonald set his heart on playing football at the University of Georgia. When that plan didn’t work out, he looked for a more academic path, and found Davidson. Now retired as CEO of VF Corporation—a world leader in the apparel industry, with brands like Wrangler, The North Face, Vans, Nautica, and many others—McDonald is a dad and granddad, serves on the boards of Kraft Food, Hyatt Hotel, and Wells Fargo, works with a private equity company, and is involved with First Presbyterian Church in his hometown of Greensboro, N.C. He answers our questions thoughtfully, with an easy Georgia accent. Enjoy this condensed and edited excerpt of our conversation.

What did you know about trustees back in your student days?
I just thought trustees wore ties, came to campus, and raised tuition.

And Now?
As I look at it, the trustees’ role is to protect Davidson’s values and traditions, but also be sure that we are preparing servant leaders for a world that is really changing.

Do you still feel connected to the boy who came here from Rome, Ga., in 1963?
Oh, yes. I was a good student, but initially I struggled when I came here. Had I gone to some other institution, I might have gotten lost in the shuffle. But I made it, because of the relationship between faculty and students, and staff and students, and the encouragement that you get when you are not performing. And it’s paid off for me.

You led VF to dominate the lifestyle-apparel industry. What did you learn at Davidson that helped you do that?
If you are going to achieve in a challenging environment, you have to dedicate yourself to your mission and work much, much harder than you ever expected. Intellectual capacity without intense effort doesn’t get you to the CEO’s chair. And there are very few things you can do on your own. When VF acquired Vans, I was not exactly an accomplished skateboarder—we brought on people who lived that lifestyle, had a passion for it.

You’re retired, but still very busy. What do you do for fun?
Most of what I do is fun. Business has always been fun for me.

The trustees have approved some ambitious goals in the strategic plan. What do you see as Davidson’s greatest challenge today?
We’ve got to provide education for all qualified students, despite the economic environment. The needs of students are increasing— at a time when resources are decreasing. But Davidson alumni have shown time and time again that they love this college and are willing to step up and support it.

And as we look toward the future, what role do you see Davidson playing in the global community?
We urgently need leaders who can deal with complex and interdependent organizations— and innovative processes. I’ve seen weaknesses in this area over the last few years, as well as the lack of a solid moral compass. A key to overcoming our global issues— economic, social, and political— comes from just the type of liberal arts education Davidson provides, developing the entire person from an academic, ethical, and leadership standpoint. That’s going to be essential for the future.

If Davidson were a brand of jeans, what would it be?
In the past, Davidson would have been a traditional style; but today, it would be very hard to categorize one brand on this campus. I see Wrangler students, Lee students, 7 For All Mankind—you couldn’t market just one brand of jeans here anymore.

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