‘I Find Places To Recharge’: CEO Kirk McDonald Talks Early Career Perseverance and Imposter Syndrome At Black Men Xcel

‘I Find Places To Recharge’: CEO Kirk McDonald Talks Early Career Perseverance and Imposter Syndrome At Black Men Xcel

GroupM North America CEO Kirk McDonald joined Executive Vice President/Chief Content Officer Derek Dingle at BLACK ENTERPRISE’s Black Men Xcel Summit for candid reflection about his navigation through the world of media as a Black man. Yet, his efforts to increase diversity never stops.

On Thursday, Oct. 13, BLACK ENTERPRISE held a captivating fireside chat moderated by Dingle to allow McDonald the freedom to speak his authentic truth about his experience in leadership, equity, and advertising with Black media.

GroupM North America CEO Kirk McDonald joined Executive Vice President/Chief Content Officer Derek Dingle at BLACK ENTERPRISE’s Black Men Xcel Summit (Image Black Enterprise)

McDonald, revered as one of the world’s most influential leaders in tech, media, and marketing, expressed just how grateful he was to have had the opportunity to own his space at the summit. He thanked BLACK ENTERPRISE and CEO Earl “Butch” Graves Jr. publicly for uniting men of color to breathe new life into one other for such an empowering occasion.


“I think I forgot, and I got reminded last night of how energizing a room like this is, how affirming it is; because you do spend a lot of other time not in rooms like this ,and when you’re not, you kind of build up the scar tissue to work your way through it,” McDonald explained.

He continued: “I find places to recharge. This has been recharging. Thank you for Black Men Xcel for what you do. Thank you for Black Enterprise for creating this network and these connections.”


For McDonald, securing a spot in the media industry wasn’t intentional, but since he couldn’t afford to pay for his last semester at City College, it was his curiosity and perseverance that helped him to navigate new territory. His journey began when a Black woman manager requested that she have a Black person on her team. Luckily, he had a background in coding, computers, and other qualifying skills. The rest is history.

“I became fascinated with how influential magazines like Black Enterprise and others could be in terms of shaping people’s lives, shaping their preferences, shaping their care, shaping their opinions,” McDonald recalled.

“Consumers, content, and connections became the tool I used to figure out where I want to go next with my career,” he added.


Now leading more than 6,000 people, McDonald still remembers what it was like facing rejection in exclusionary disciplines like marketing and sales. He also shared a story with a captivated audience about his experience as a guest at The Ritz-Carlton in Palm Springs for a Condé Nast company award ceremony during the 90s. He recalled facing micro-aggressions and passive resistance from hotel security guards, guests, and even co-workers.

These daily battles, in addition to being a Black man without a college degree at the time, fueled a roaring imposter syndrome that still shows its teeth even today.

“Throughout that career, there were many moments where I wasn’t in the room with anyone or anything that look like me and I didn’t have a lot of images and models to follow,” McDonald explained.

Hailing from an immigrant family, McDonald shared that he didn’t have any mentors to check in with when he was starting out, but he had a good support network in his parents and his wife. He stayed determined.

 “I learned early that I shouldn’t try to or aspire to be the smartest person in the room, but if I was committed to outworking everyone in the room, then I get to stay in the room.”

McDonald certainly owned his spot in the Woodrow Wilson Ballroom during a special Black Men Xcel ceremony on the Wednesday evening of the summit’s kick-off. He received an award in which BLACK ENTERPRISE recognizes McDonald for helping to “open doors of opportunity and present an inspiring example of success for others, especially men of color,” per the website.