With Tom McDonough’s passing, the Faribault community lost one of its most prolific philanthropists and successful businessmen.
Relatives and employees of McDonough, who died late last month at 77, paint a picture of a man who was uniquely devoted to his work, had a big heart and always put people first.
A Faribault native, McDonough graduated from Bethlehem Academy in 1960 and married his wife Sandra the following year. McDonough started in the construction industry with BMI and Healy Construction before founding his own company in 1978. McDonough started Met-Con Enterprises in the family basement with just 12 employees. Among them was his then-14 year old son Randy, who still works at Met-Con today.
In 1981, McDonough and his brother Dick, who owns McDonough Trucking, built an office in Faribault’s north industrial park to accommodate the growth of their businesses. Additional offices were added in the Twin Cities in 1986 (since closed) and Mankato in 1987. Met-Con moved into its current facility in 2007 and is in the process of expanding it.
McDonough grew Met-Con into something of a business empire, expanding into real estate, HVAC production, masonry, lumber and more. Yet even as the company grew, McDonough never forgot where he came from and worked hard to treat customers, employees and community members like family.
Even as Met-Con flourished into a highly successful company, McDonough was never content to let the company sit on its laurels. Even as his health declined, he was deeply involved in the company’s day-to-day operations. He took risks, expanded the business into new areas and brought endless ideas and relentless zeal.
“It was important to him for the business to outlast him and to grow and to keep growing every year,” said Met-Con CFO Troy Zabinski.
McDonough was able to expand the business in part because he was willing to take on projects that other builders wouldn’t. Met-Con’s tagline, “We can do that,” was coined by McDonough, reflecting his penchant for accepting difficult projects and tight deadlines.
“He trusted his employees,” said Randy McDonough. “When he said, ‘we can do it,’ it gave us all confidence that we could get it done.”
For McDonough, success in the construction industry would be inconceivable without great employees. As determined as he was to expand the business, he never put the short-term bottom line before people. His business decisions were guided by a firm, unshakable belief that successful employees made for a successful company.
“If our employees were successful he got a thrill out of that,” said Randy McDonough. “He was happy to know that he had a part in that.”
McDonough treated not only employees but also clients and community members with great respect. From loaning out equipment to people who needed it, to hosting hundreds at Met-Con’s Christmas parties, to the “open door policy” of inviting clients, employees and friends into his home, begun back in 1978 when Met-Con began in his basement, friends and family members described McDonough as always welcoming.
In a 2017 interview with the Daily News, McDonough explained why he felt it was important to treat his 350 employees like family. “You can go buy any equipment and do all of that, but if you don’t have the people to run it and do it efficiently, you don’t have anything,” he said. “I wake up every morning and am blessed to have employees so dedicated.”
Michelle Knutson is one of Met-Con’s newest hires having joined the company in 2018. Knutson said that from the day she began working at Met-Con, McDonough was always greatly appreciative of her service to the company.
“Tom always showed me the respect that he showed his 20-year employees,” she said.
Yet even as Met-Con made him a wealthy and successful man, McDonough’s lifestyle was humble. He loved purchasing new trucks and equipment for the company, but often drove around in his old Buick. He mowed his own lawn and often times even mowed the lawn outside of Met-Con’s facility, because he said he wanted the place to look clean and well kept.
As devoted to his work as he was, McDonough made sure never to miss an important family event. He encouraged his employees to take time off for important events as well. He always closed the Met-Con office at noon before a holiday, to give employees plenty of time to spend with their families.
In lieu of flowers, McDonough asked friends and family members make donations to the Rice County Sheriff’s office and Faribault Police Department. McDonough contributed to projects throughout the community, but few things were more near and dear to his heart than supporting law enforcement.
McDonough played an instrumental role in helping both the Sheriff’s Office and the Police Department begin their K-9 programs and generously supported many law enforcement initiatives over the years. Rice County Sheriff Troy Dunn and Faribault Police Chief Andy Bohlen both described McDonough as a deeply caring person and a true friend of law enforcement.
“He was a very genuine person and very caring,” said Dunn. “He always had time to talk to you no matter what was going on, was always wondering how things were going for public safety.”