John McDonnell had quite the assignment: market North America’s oldest distilled beverage – known less for its taste and more as a means to intoxication – to more sophisticated palates.

 

“Tequila is over 500 years old,” says McDonnell ’83, president of international operations and chief operating officer of Patrón Spirits International, a post he assumed in 2012 after being at the company for seven years. “The main perception people had about it was, ‘forget about taste -- just shoot it!’”

But McDonnell was up to the challenge – and he credits, in part, his Suffolk education with preparing him to take the lead in changing tequila’s perception around the globe through innovative marketing techniques.

“The result has been an amazing transformation of a ‘low-brow’ product into one of the most successful luxury spirits brands in the world, which I've helped expand into 130 countries,” he says. “I couldn't imagine having achieved that kind of success without applying what I learned at Suffolk every day.”

McDonnell joined Patrón in January 2005, reporting to the chief executive officer. In his new role, he monitors and manages the company’s day-to-day activities, including overseeing Patrón’s manufacturing, sales and marketing. He is also actively involved with the company’s leadership in environmental responsibility.

But long before that, McDonnell was a Suffolk undergraduate serving in student government. He remembers being especially impacted by a visit to Washington DC. Meeting with congressmen and touring the White House, he says, laid the foundation for the principle of community he applies to his environmental work at Patrón and local and national civic engagement.

And the “Suffolk network,” he says, “is real.”

“It was my great pleasure recently to help a recent Suffolk MBA grad student,” says McDonnell. “I hired him for Patrón, and he started just a few months ago.”