Marketing industry mourns legendary figure

Marketing industry legend John Macdonald passed away peacefully at Auckland Hospital after a short illness on Friday, 6 October. 

Awarded the grocery “Lifetime Achievers Award” from the Food and Grocery Council in 2005 – and again for a second time in 2016 – and inducted into the New Zealand Marketing Hall of Fame in 2005, Macdonald was known as a respected colleague, sought-after mentor, astute marketer and devoted family man. 

After arriving in New Zealand with his family at 17, Macdonald started as a management trainee at Shell Oil. A few years later he joined Reckitt Benckiser (then Reckitt & Coleman) where he stayed for the next 20 years in a variety of roles, eventually becoming director of sales & marketing, and included a couple of years in the United Kingdom.

From there, Macdonald moved over to advertising, spending several years with McCann Erikson, firstly in New Zealand and then several years running McCann’s Singapore office.

On returning to New Zealand in the early 90s Macdonald joined Heinz Watties as head of marketing where he spent the next decade, before “retiring” for the first time.

Thirteen years ago, after he’d “retired” from Heinz Watties, he joined the team at BrandWorld to help grow the business with the grocery industry.

Macdonald knew a good idea when he saw one; recognising the late Mike O’Sullivan’s ‘Food in a Minute’ concept, featuring Allyson Gofton, which helped Watties marketing grow in new spaces and is an advertising concept still alive over 20 years later.

Friend and colleague William Peake said it was unlikely anyone else had made such a significant and enduring contribution to both the food and grocery industry, and the wider marketing & advertising profession in New Zealand.

“I’ll never forget first meeting John in the early 1980s when I was a cocky young marketing director in my mid-20’s, and about to launch the Arnott’s brand into New Zealand, he asked me if I’d like to join the Grocery Manufacturers Association, now the New Zealand Food & Grocery Council. At the time, when we all had moustaches, he seemed so suave & distinguished, almost regal like.”

Peake said it was, therefore, a great honour after Macdonald “retired” from Heinz Watties, he joined the team at BrandWorld.

“John always had a presence that stood him out from the crowd whether as a champion of industry initiatives, an inspirational leader, or mentor. He considered himself very much a team player – he wanted the team to win, he’s not interested in self-success. His network in the food & grocery industry & wider marketing community was peerless.”

Peake said Macdonald’s contribution at BrandWorld was immense and the team would miss his sage advice on life in general.

“He genuinely cared that the business succeeded and did anything he could to help open doors, or find a unique way to solve problems.”

His final contribution to the industry saw him serve as the convener of judges for the 2017 TVNZ-NZ Marketing Awards.  

Macdonald was a much-loved husband of Olivia, dad to Richard, Joanne, Steven and Robyn, father-in-law to Natalie, Jo and Dave, and grandad to Jack, Ella, James, Georgia, Liam, Marlo and Hew.

A celebration of his life will be held at the Orakei Bay Function Centre, 231Orakei Road, Remuera at 1pm, on Thursday, 12 October.

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