Pilarz’s right-hand man no stranger to Jesuit higher ed

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University President the Rev. Scott Pilarz knew just who to select as his chief of staff when he came to Marquette — the man who already had the job.

Pilarz said he asked then-Scranton Chief of Staff Tom MacKinnon to join him at Marquette because of MacKinnon’s management skills.

“He has a wonderful ability to work with people of all backgrounds and experiences, which helps facilitate the progress of a large, complex organization like a university,” Pilarz said.

MacKinnon was working for a consulting company when the University of Scranton hired the firm to help with fundraising efforts for its capital campaign. He was focused on international business and only took the position with the promise of a promotion to management after the campaign.

“I said I’d do it for a year,” MacKinnon said. “I wound up falling in love with (the University of Scranton). I never would have thought I would end up in higher education administration.”

MacKinnon’s transforming moment came when Scranton’s campus ministry asked him to chaperone students on a mission trip.

MacKinnon said he asked Pilarz if he should go with the students as a joke because he was being paid to fundraise. Pilarz responded by telling MacKinnon that he had to go.

“It was one of the most transforming trips,” MacKinnon said. “The students challenged me to think about what I was doing with my life and what is important to me.”

At the end of the year, MacKinnon was going to get his promotion to a job in New York City.

“I had a discussion with Father (Pilarz) because I just didn’t feel passionate about consulting anymore,” MacKinnon said.

Pilarz hired MacKinnon as a full-time employee and said he wanted to create a chief of staff function for him to fill. MacKinnon took the job in October, and in November, Pilarz was asked to be president at Marquette.

“If It wasn’t Marquette I don’t know if I would have taken the job,” MacKinnon said. “Marquette is the gold standard for how to live out the Jesuit mission. If you talk to people anywhere they are impressed by Marquette.”

As chief of staff, MacKinnon helps Pilarz make sure everyone is addressing the goals for Marquette.

“It’s a hard job to articulate,” MacKinnon said. “What I do really depends on the day.”

MacKinnon said Pilarz makes sure the Jesuit and Ignatian missions are at the forefront of all decision making.

In my time with (MacKinnon) both at Scranton and Marquette, he has always brought a tremendous feel for the Ignatian mission and identity in his leadership style. He’s a real asset to our university leadership team,” Pilarz said.

MacKinnon said the administrative team is starting to think about strategic planning for the university as their second semester at Marquette concludes, but they are still in the listening phase.

“It’s really an exciting time for Marquette,” MacKinnon said. “The idea of being part of a cabinet bringing the vision into action is exciting.”

Joe Kearney, dean of Marquette’s Law School, worked with MacKinnon during the presidential transition.

“Tom understands how students, faculty and administrative staff come together as colleagues to form a great university,” Kearney said. “During that time of excitement, new challenges and new faces, I saw how Tom’s wide range of experiences and skill set can play a key role in moving Marquette forward.”

MacKinnon said he wants to get involved in student life at Marquette.

“My job by nature does not entail interaction with students,” MacKinnon said. “Without interaction with students, it is hard to remember why we’re here.”

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