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Alumni Profile: Dan MacDonald MBA '91
Alumni Profile: Dan MacDonald MBA '91

This post originally appeared on The MBA Hub

Interview by Sarah Shannon

Dan McDonald is an outstanding MBA alum who has continued his engagement and involvement with Portland State University in a very meaningful way.

Dan works for PECI, which designs and manages energy efficiency programs for utility providers, government organizations and other clients. PECI has earned "Best Green Companies to Work for in Oregon" recognition every year since 2009.

I recently caught up with Dan to talk about his role at PECI and his experience with the Portland State MBA program.

Q:  You currently work for PECI; can you please discuss your role and the industry?

A:  I am an Associate Director of PECI. We are an energy efficiency firm and our primary clients are utilities. We work with customers of the utility companies and help them be more energy efficient. We basically help our client's customers buy less of our client's product. It works because many utilities are regulated to reduce their customers’ energy consumption and because building additional energy production resources is very expensive.  It is a more cost effective strategy to invest in energy efficiency. PECI is a nationwide organization, and we do much of our business in the northwest, northeast and in California.

Q:  How was your time at Portland State University?

A:  I received my MBA in 1991. The university has changed a lot since then, but even then the MBA program was progressive. One thing I remember well was that we had a lot of team projects.  Team members were working professionals as well as students — so we all got a lot of real world feedback from folks who were in different industries. It was great to have the different perspectives of other professionals. It made for wonderful conversations in class. I think that students get a lot from programs that include a variety of working professionals; perhaps more than programs that only offer day or online classes.

In particular I remember a project that we completed for a class with Ellen West. My team did a project on Powell's Bookstore. My team incorporated video into our presentation. I was the speaker in the video and we shot all of the content in Powell's. The video would show me looking at books in the cultural diversity section of the bookstore and then we would cut to another teammate who would talk about cultural dynamics. It was fun and creative; I really liked that class, even though Dr. West gave me a B in the end.

Another memorable part of the program for me was that I had Scott Dawson [Dean of the Portland State School of Business] for two marketing classes. I loved having Scott Dawson as a professor. He was inspirational and pushed us to think outside of the box. We worked on real projects with real companies, and I remember all of the analysis that we did stretched my analytical skills and ability. Back then it was all about Lotus 1-2-3; and I really stretched my skills in his class.

Like a lot of students I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do after graduation. Scott was supportive, and it truly left an impression on me.

Q:  In your current professional life have you applied skills that you learned at Portland State University?

A:  I certainly benefited from the exposure to group dynamics in the program. I waited 5 or 6 years between my undergraduate work and going back to school, so I had some work experience under my belt, but I really learned more about how to work in diverse groups in the MBA program. I especially learned about how to utilize individual strengths in the group. I am a big advocate for strengths based work. There is really no reason to try to force tasks on people who are not naturally inclined to those tasks, especially if someone else on the team is really good at it. It is, of course, important to stretch yourself and try new things, but there are times when it is not effective in group work.

I actually completed a supply curve this week and thought about learning how to do that at Portland State.

After my MBA at Portland State I went to work in the finance department of Intel. I've learned that once you are known as a finance person, and people know that you know something about finance, you are always a finance person and folks will come back to you to ask financial questions — forever. You never really lose that moniker. I was at Intel for 20 years and then through networking and informational interviews I discovered the opportunity at PECI. I don't think that I would have been able to get into my role at Intel or at PECI without the MBA from Portland State University. It has been very valuable.

Q:  You have continued your relationship with Portland State University in a very meaningful way. Can you speak to that?

A:  Yes. I actually started doing some work with the alumni association 6 or 7 years ago. I was on a committee to put together a program called PSU Weekend, which has been going on for over 25 years. Because of my work on that committee I was asked to join the board of the alumni association. I have been on the board for about 5 years, and last year was elected President.

My most memorable PSU weekend was when we brought the New York Times writer Nicholas Kristof in as keynote speaker. He actually has a connection to Portland State in that both his parents taught there. He gave an inspiring speech to a sold out crowd. He does a lot of work for women's empowerment in developing countries. My other very memorable event was bringing Lara Logan of 60 Minutes here. Her career and life is so fascinating and it was my goal for several years to bring her to PSU. It was wonderful to accomplish that. She was very down to earth and easy to talk to and it was actually her first trip to Oregon.

Q:  My last question is do you have any advice for current students or students who are thinking about coming back to school to get an MBA at Portland State University?

A:  For people who are thinking about going back to school I'd say that the value of an MBA degree, especially from Portland State University, is huge. The school itself has grown over the years and it is nationally recognized. An MBA isn't just a good thing to have on your resume, it is also a way to really grow and learn and then apply that knowledge in your professional career. I think that it is invaluable.

For those who are in the program: I’d say build your network. Build it in places that you don't even know for sure that you will go. A strong network can help get you places you wouldn’t even think about today. When I left Intel, I probably had a hundred coffee chats and informational interviews with people in the sustainability field before I found the right fit at PECI. I didn't even know exactly what I wanted to do; I just knew that I wanted to work in sustainability. I knew a bit about energy but I wasn't exactly sure where I wanted to land. Having those conversations really helped clarify that for me. I still have those important connections.

My other advice is to not be too concerned if you don't know exactly what you want to do in life. The newest statistics say that most people will have 5 or 6 careers in their lives. Be open to new opportunities and things will change in ways that you don't necessarily think that they will. The number of changes that I made at Intel really shaped my abilities and eventually led to my job at PECI. Students should use their fellow alumni and the alumni association (even before they graduate).  People in Portland are very gracious and willing to talk with students and recent grads that are looking for information on careers, industries, etc.  And an alumnus from the same school is going to go the extra mile to help a fellow PSU alumnus or at least be willing to take the time to chat.


Thank you so much Dan! Your time and connection to Portland State are very appreciated.


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Sarah Shannon has experience in internal and external business communications, marketing, and management.  She plans to apply her experience and skills to a career in marketing after graduation from Portland State’s full time MBA program in June 2014.  You can find Sarah on LinkedIn