Loyola University Chicago

Loyola Business Leadership Hub

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Meg McDonnell

Meg McDonnell

Family Business: Gonnella Baking Co.
Role:
VP of Sales and Marketing
Institute: Stewardship Institute Alumna, Family Business Center

Meet Meg

Meg McDonnell has over 33 years at Gonnella and now holds the position of VP Sales and Marketing for the frozen dough division. She is a late G3 who looks forward to working at a higher level in the company alongside mostly G4s. Meg graduated from the Family Business Center’s Family Business Stewardship Institute (FBSI) in 2015. Below, she shares what her experience was like during the program and how she’s applied what she learned to her life, her family, and her business.    

The 'aha!' moment

Prior to my own enrollment in FBSI, our upper management team (three passionate individuals at the center of Gonnella) had already graduated from the program. Their decision to give other family members at Gonnella the same experience – to be a part of the diverse group, have frank discussions, listen to incredible speakers share their own stories and passions – was, I believe, an opportunity to build value, cohesion, and focus for future generations.

I envisioned FBSI as having an atmosphere of “being taught” – but when I arrived on day one, what I found was an enlightened group of individuals, all at different stages of our lives and all experiencing the push and pull of family and business. During our 18 months together there were births, deaths, marriages, new homes and board transitions.  One of the most memorable experiences of FBSI was having the ability to speak frankly and have others in the group do the same – this was my ‘aha’ moment!  I realized we were not alone. There are family businesses out there of different types and sizes that face the same challenges we do. To hear my fellow peers talk about their road to transition and change, and to learn about the obstacles they overcame as a business, reinvigorated my view towards the mission and vision of Gonnella.  With family residing at our core and utilizing one of our businesses greatest strategic advantages – family unity – we will continue through these next transitional years with a better understanding and preparedness of what may come our way.

Empowered by peers

Understanding that ownership, unity and family cohesion are the greatest strategic advantages of a family business was entwined in every session of FBSI. My peers and I shared in successes and trip-ups, along with that “other world” of family business – a world that can only be fathomed by those working, contributing or considering potential involvement in the business. Maintaining balance in the family and in the business was something we were all entrenched in in some way or another and our facilitators helped us see through that maze. They were excited to see us at the sessions and passionately interested in our struggles and achievements in our family lives. Their compassion and understanding brought me new friends and confidants who will impact me forever.

My own insecurities created an avalanche of questions surrounding my place in the business.  Being a participant in FBSI opened up a whole new world of communication, capabilities and strengths, empowering me to discuss ideas and values needed for the future – I am now a better steward of the business and the family!  BONUS!

The future is bright

As a family steward, inevitable changes in health and anticipated longevity have brought us even closer together. Family conversations have increased family harmony, which inevitably continues to create a healthy culture for the future success of our family and business. And while transitions edge ever closer and begin to take shape at Gonnella, I appreciate the opportunity and understand the responsibility of harnessing talent and resources that both honor the past and elicit excitement about our future. By using communication within both business and family, we will keep the ideas flowing and share our successes throughout the generations. The value of continuing education and holding true to the mission and vision of Gonnella, as FBSI teaches, will better prepare us to engage in the role of caretaker and pass on the eagerness of preserving what we have for future generations.


In 2016, Gonnella celebrated 130 years in business – as the company continues to thrive and grow, so does the family.  Several dozen family members are currently working at the company and many of them have taken (or are taking) courses at the Loyola’s Family Business Center and the Quinlan School of Business, creating an additional level of family unity across several generations. Thanks to Meg for her candid thoughts about her experience in the Family Business Stewardship Institute. 


Learn more about the Family Business Stewardship Institute