In refinery rescue, Sunoco CEO drew from personal experience

Brian MacDonald, new Sunoco CEO, grew up in a small town in Canada.
Brian MacDonald, new Sunoco CEO, grew up in a small town in Canada.
Posted: July 04, 2012

Brian P. MacDonald, the son of a coal miner, grew up in a small town in Canada that was devastated by the deindustrialization of North America.

"Our whole community got wiped out when we lost all of our coal mines, we lost our steel plant," said MacDonald, 46, who grew up in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia. "Our whole area basically got wiped out, and I saw it happen in my teenage years."

So when MacDonald became chief executive officer of Sunoco Inc. on March 1 and public officials begged him to save the company's 1,400-acre Philadelphia refinery complex from imminent closure, their pleas had a special resonance.

"I felt very strongly that if there was a chance to save Philadelphia a thousand good union jobs, blue-collar jobs, I was going to work to bring people together the best I could to help make it happen," MacDonald said in an interview before Sunoco announced Monday its joint venture with the Carlyle Group to keep the refinery operating.

Officials singled out MacDonald's commitment to find a partner to run the refinery, which Sunoco had pledged to shut down if it was unable to to find a buyer.

He has built up a reservoir of good will with figures as diverse as Gov. Corbett and Leo W. Gerard, international president of the United Steelworkers, who became the first labor leader ever quoted in a Sunoco news release April 23, when the company announced it was entering joint-venture negotiations with Carlyle.

"We've been impressed with Brian MacDonald's open-mindedness," said Gerard, a native of Ontario, who joked that "the Canadian connection always works."

MacDonald came to Sunoco in 2009 after working in executive positions with Dell Inc. and General Motors Corp. He took over from Lynn Elsenhans, a career oil-industry executive.

Corbett said that he did not want to disparage Elsenhans, but that MacDonald communicated a greater willingness to find a solution and that they struck up an immediate rapport.

"I'm not saying she didn't have a willingness," the governor said in an interview. "With some things, you almost get a vibe, if you understand. . . .

"I think Brian understood - I guess the word I want to use is - the corporate citizenship role. Maybe he understood that better."


Contact Andrew Maykuth at 215-854-2947 or amaykuth@phillynews .com, or follow on Twitter @Maykuth.

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