Entrepreneur Hall of Fame Spotlight: Tom McDonnell

In the late 1960s, Kansas City Southern Industries thought that computer data processing might have some legs – and Tom McDonnell had the entrepreneurial drive and innovative thinking to seize the opportunity.

A recent business school graduate at the time, McDonnell led a team of three Kansas City Southern employees who were charged with a potential spinoff venture dubbed DST. He moved quickly to beat out competitors who were larger and better-funded but slower and less-agile. McDonnell invested in the technology to create the first online, real-time mutual fund accounting system. He made up for the company’s small size by using partnerships and joint ventures to magnify their reach, and eventually dominate the industry. Under Tom McDonnell’s stewardship, DST grew to become America’s largest mutual fund servicing firm, a publicly traded company that employs more than 14,000 associates.

Another of McDonnell’s entrepreneurial strengths is an unwavering commitment to good corporate citizenship. He is usually the behind-the-scenes guiding figure, but his footprints are all over Kansas City, from business parks to nonprofits and arts organizations.

At McDonnell’s induction into the Entrepreneur Hall of Fame, Mike Brown, inaugural member of the Hall, shared an anecdote about one of his favorite memories of his long-time friend.

Brown and McDonnell met when Brown was undergoing his first initial public offering.

“We needed an ‘old guy’ familiar with technology to be an outside board member,” Brown explained. “Tom was 35.”

This initial partnership between the two led to a lasting friendship, complete with summer trips to the Ozarks and fond memories.

“Around 20 years ago, Tom and his wife Jean invited us to stay at their lake house, and we went for a ride on the boat,” Brown remembered. “Jean drove, and as we prepared to waterski, Tom jumped in, Jean at the helm.”

He recalled that it was Jean’s first time pulling a skier, and when McDonnell indicated he was ready to go, she took off so slowly that he submarined for 50 yards. On the second go, there was an opposite effect; Jean sped off so quickly that, according to Brown, “his arms nearly pulled out of their sockets.”

“Tom patiently explained that she should split the difference on the next try. Try number three was a charm,” Brown said. “The moral of the story is that this is classic Tom – unemotional, thoughtful, patient and always mentoring. He helped Jean to be a great skier pilot, and he helped me to be the CEO that I am.”

To see videos, view artifacts and learn more about the Entrepreneur Hall of Fame inductees, visit the Hall on the main floor of the Henry W. Bloch Executive Hall for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

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