Andrew McKenna is one of Chicago’s premier businessmen. He is nicknamed “St. Andrew of the Boardroom” because most of his work happens behind the scenes. But at the age of 84, “an age when most directors have politely been told to go home,” quipped Chicago magazine when they named him one of their 100 Most Powerful Chicagoans two years ago, he is still a highly sought-after figure in the field of corporate governance.
Currently McKenna serves as the non-executive chairman of the board of directors of McDonald’s Corporation and a director of Schwarz Supply Source (a position he’s held since 1964), Ryan Specialty Group, the Chicago Bears, and the Skyline Corporation.
The father of seven and grandfather of 24, Andy, as he is known, is a native Chicagoan who himself is one of six children. His father, Andrew J. McKenna, Sr., was a first-generation Irish American, with roots in Mayo and Monaghan, who joined the Dunn Coal Company in 1917 as a clerk and worked his way up the corporate rungs until he retired in 1971 as its president and CEO. He and his family were highly active in the Catholic community in Chicago and that balance of family, religion, and civic service is one that Andy still holds today. “I think family life is very important,” He said in an interview with Leaders magazine. “There is probably never a weekend when we don’t have some family experience.”
As one might expect from the patriarch of a large Irish family, Andy is deeply invested in the success of the next generation, both his biological and corporate kin. He endeavors to promote from within in the companies he works for, and implores his colleagues to focus on mentoring and leading tomorrow’s top executives. “In my mind there are three little words that can help us measure up to that criteria of success for helping the next generation. They are: ‘Just say yes,’” Andy said in his 2013 acceptance speech for the Champion Fighter Award at the Metropolitan Planning Council of Chicago’s annual luncheon.
“So when you’re asked to help the young get a start on their career . . . or grow on the job, and realize their potential, just say yes. And when you’re asked to support the institutions that foster opportunities in our society – high schools, churches, civic and governmental organizations – just say yes. And when you’re asked to work with others to tackle those challenges that will help make your communities a better place to live and work, just say yes.”
McKenna practices his own imperative. In addition to his private sector positions, he is a trustee of Ronald McDonald House Charities, Museum of Science and Industry (Chairman Emeritus), and his alma mater, the University of Notre Dame (he served as the Chairman Emeritus of the Board from 1992 to 2000 and was Vice Chairman for six years prior to that), and serves as a director of Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, Ireland Economic Advisory Board, Lyric Opera of Chicago and United Way of Metropolitan Chicago, among almost countless others. And he has called for other corporate leaders to involve themselves with the community around them. “All of us need to recognize there are community needs we must respond to, and while it may be personally fulfilling to help, it’s also critically important to do so,” he said.
“I think at the end of life, the measure of success is not how much you’ve got but how much you’ve given, not how much you’ve earned but how much you’ve returned, and not how much you’ve won, it’s how much you’ve done.”