John D. McDonald

John D. McDonald

Smart Grid Business Development Leader, GE Grid Solutions
BS EE 1973, MS EE 1974

For his significant technical role as a pioneer in Smart Grid technologies, impacting the field of power distribution systems.

In 1970, Purdue Professor Ahmed El-Abiad (1926-1988) summoned freshman honors student John McDonald into his office. El-Abiad laid out McDonald’s next few years, telling him that he was going to restructure his classes so that McDonald would become a power engineer. El-Abiad went on to tell him that he would start taking graduate courses in his third year, finish his BSEE, MSEE, and master’s thesis in five years instead of six, complete a fourth-year mechanical engineering course in power, and complete one nuclear reactor design engineering graduate course.

“I don’t know why he selected me, but it was a life-changing experience,” McDonald said. “He felt a power engineer should be skilled in electrical, mechanical, and nuclear. This was a very challenging curriculum, but it shaped me for my future career and showed me that I can accomplish anything if I work hard enough.”

El-Abiad’s vision evolved into McDonald’s 49-year livelihood in the electric utility industry, in which he currently works as the smart grid business development leader for GE Grid Solutions. Previous positions included general manager for marketing in GE Energy’s Transmission and Distribution business and director of technical strategy and policy development for GE Digital Energy.

McDonald is well known for developing power application software for both SCADA/EMS (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition/Energy Management System) and SCADA/DMS (Distribution Management System) applications. He has shared adaptations of the software at Georgia Institute of Technology, Iowa State University and the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, and as a distinguished lecturer for local chapters of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Power & Energy Society (PES).

In 2003, McDonald became an IEEE Fellow and in 2016 became an IEEE Life Fellow. McDonald has been an IEEE member for 52 years with many leadership positions, such as IEEE PES President, and received many awards, such as the IEEE PES Meritorious Service Award. In 2022, McDonald was inducted into the National Academy of Engineering (NAE).  

McDonald has co-authored five books, published 150 articles and papers, holds one patent, and is a registered professional engineer in California, Georgia, and Pennsylvania. He was honored with Purdue’s Outstanding Electrical and Computer Engineer Award in 2009, received the Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative (SECC) Lifetime Achievement Award in 2022, and will receive the Delta Sigma Phi fraternity Career Achievement Award at the 2023 National Convention.  

McDonald said the most important thing he learned at Purdue was time management, a skill that allowed him to juggle a heavy load of classes, social fraternity leadership positions and activities, working for Purdue Food Service in his second and third years, and a stint in his fourth year as a consulting engineer for the State of Indiana.

“I found that I was good at applying electrical engineering theory in the real world to solve these engineering problems and was good at working with people,” he said. “I helped many Indiana businesses that year. This confirmed that I made the right choice to pursue electrical engineering.”

McDonald prioritizes giving back to the people and organizations who have helped him personally and professionally, and he uses the Boy Scout slogan “Do a Good Turn Daily” as his guiding moral compass. McDonald and his son are Eagle Scouts.

“My greatest feeling is when someone I’ve helped achieves success that they didn’t think they could achieve, and I had a small part in helping them.”

Career Highlights

2016-present Smart Grid Business Development Leader, GE Grid Solutions
2010-2016 Director, Technical Strategy and Policy Development, GE
Digital Energy
2007-2010 General Manager, Marketing, GE Transmission and Distribution 
2002-2007 VP, Automation – Power System Automation, KEMA Consulting
1995-2002 Manager, Substation Automation, KEMA Consulting
1991-1995 EMS Business Unit Director, Advanced Control Systems
1986-1991 Director, Applications Engineering, Advanced Control Systems
1982-1986 Manager, Advanced Control Technologies, Cooper Power Systems
1979-1982 Manager, Power Systems Engineering, Brown Boveri Control Systems, Inc.
1974-1978 Electric Power Engineer, Bechtel Corporation


1973 BS Electrical Engineering, Purdue University
1974 MS Electrical Engineering, Purdue University
1978 MBA Finance, University of California-Berkeley