Mae McDonnell, professor at Georgetown University McDonough School of Business
Mae McDonnell: "Be brave enough to blaze your own trail" © Hand out

Mae McDonnell is an assistant professor of strategy at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business in the US. Her research interests focus on the intersection of law and corporate behaviour, including corporate governance and the punishment of corporate transgressions.

Prof McDonnell has a JD from Harvard Law School and a PhD in management and organisations from Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management. She has worked for the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Supreme Court of Thailand.

In her spare time, Prof McDonnell enjoys cooking and walking her two dogs.

1. What do you enjoy most about your job?

I love that I have the freedom to decide what to read and what problems to research. It is extremely liberating to be able to choose where to invest one’s intellectual energy every day.

2. What is the last book you read?

John Steinbeck’s East of Eden. Sometimes the best place to find truth is in fiction.

3. How do you deal with pressure?

I tend to redouble my efforts when I am under pressure. Sometimes it is best just to stay up all night and put in the hours you need to finish a project.

4. What is the best piece of advice given to you by a teacher?

Be flexible about your career – you never know when opportunities will come or where they will take you.

5. What academic achievement are you most proud of?

I’m proud of finalising my dissertation. Dissertations are like academic marathons (and certainly the closest I’ll ever get to completing a marathon!) They take a tremendous amount of endurance but leave you feeling like you have really accomplished something.

6. What is your biggest lesson learnt?

Everyone is not always going to think that your ideas are brilliant, but that does not mean that your ideas aren’t brilliant.

7. What advice would you give to women in business?

Be brave enough to blaze your own trail as you shape your career. We spend so much of our professional preparation on very clear tracks, where the goals are easily discernible and the ‘winners’ are easily identified. We must also remember that some of the most rewarding opportunities may not fit so neatly on these tracks. When I was in law school, everyone around me was trying to get the best clerkship or land in the most prestigious firm. If I had followed everyone else down that path, I would have missed out on the career that is most rewarding for me. So don’t be afraid to step away from the beaten path and go after your own goals.

8. What is your favourite memory of school?

I remember the very first paper that I ever wrote. The assignment was to write a paragraph about a historical figure. I ended up picking Duke Ellington, the American composer, as my subject. Now I live right down the street from where he grew up here in Washington DC. Small world!

9. If you could do it all again, what would you do differently?

I wish that I could have worried less about the little milestones: a grade on a paper or exam, a deadline, etc, and concentrated more on the things that mattered over the long term. Relationships with mentors and peers you respect, opportunities to gain new and novel experiences, for example.

10. What are your future plans?

In the past two years, I’ve got married, moved to a new city and started a new job. For the immediate future I just plan to focus on enjoying the present.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2024. All rights reserved.
Reuse this content (opens in new window) CommentsJump to comments section

Follow the topics in this article