John F. McDonnell was destined for a career in aerospace. Born in Baltimore in 1938, he is the son of McDonnell Aircraft founder James S. McDonnell. He holds a bachelor’s (1960) and a master’s (1962) degree in aeronautical engineering, both from Princeton University. McDonnell received an honorary doctor of science degree in 2006.
Also an alumnus of the John M. Olin School of Business, McDonnell had a distinguished career of more than 35 years with McDonnell Aircraft and McDonnell Douglas Corp., starting in engineering and retiring in 1997 as chairman of the board.
He led the company successfully through the early 1990s when the U.S. defense budget and the aerospace markets were shrinking dramatically. In the face of a rapidly consolidating aerospace industry, he oversaw the 1997 merger of McDonnell Douglas with Boeing to create the world’s largest aerospace company.
Serving the Washington University in St. Louis community
While McDonnell has left his mark on the aerospace world, he has also made significant contributions to Washington University.
Now a Life Trustee, McDonnell was first elected a Washington University trustee in 1976. After holding various board leadership positions, he was elected chairman of the board in 1999 . In 2004, he was elected to his current position as vice chairman and he now chairs the board’s Development Committee.
McDonnell also served as chairman of the leadership phase of the Campaign for Washington University . When the campaign was publicly announced in September 1998, $541 million already had been received or committed. The campaign ended June 30, 2004, with $1.55 billion in gifts and commitments, well beyond the stated goals.
A founding member in 1997 of Washington University’s International Advisory Council for Asia, he is also an Advisory Committee member for the newly formed McDonnell International Scholars Academy. He, along with the JSM Charitable Trust, provided the naming gift for this global education and research initiative partnering Washington University with top foreign universities and leading multinational corporations.