Program Report: McKinney – Joni Madison

joni madisonweb

For many years Durham bore a reputation for being crime ridden.  Back in the dark ages about the same time in the late 80’s when the American Tobacco company shut down its operations in Downtown Durham, I attended a public hearing at City Hall about the proposed Superconducting Super Collider. As the evening got late, I decided to walk back to my office in Brightleaf Square where I had parked. Aware of the reputation, I did this with some trepidation. However, the only other human being I saw during this fifteen-minute walk through the heart of Downtown was a guy smoking a cigarette on the steps of the South Bank building.  When he saw me, he flicked away the cigarette and ran away.

So the story that McKinney COO Joni Madison recounting the difficulty of convincing their employees that they didn’t qualify for combat pay working in Downtown Durham is no surprise. In fact, we heard the same story from Scott Selig, Duke’s Vice President for Real Estate.


Ms. Madison recounted in some detail how she and McKinney Chairman Brad Brinegar arrived at the decision to relocate. She also recounted that after the fact they became aware that McKinney was the fourth and final commitment that developer Jim Goodman needed in place to finance the redevelopment of the million square feet of abandoned tobacco manufacturing facilities.

But the story is about McKinney too. Ms. Madison described their headquarters in Raleigh with most of its space devoted to individual offices and a minimum of public or common space.  I had occasion to visit it at least once back in the 80’s and I won’t say it was blah but it was NOTHING like the their space today in American Tobacco where openness and fun are the themes. Everything, including the “bleachers” we were sitting in for the presentation, is designed to foster collaboration.  Speaking of collaboration, Ms. Madison was warmly appreciative of the role Alliance Architecture and its owners Past President Vandana Dake and her husband John Warasila played in creating such amazing space in the Reed Building.

Ms. Madison shared a short video that featured many of their employees that highlighted a marketing philosophy that shifts the emphasis from persuasion to influencing. It must be working. Their client list is very impressive and includes Sherwin Williams, Samsung, and Nationwide Insurance.  But in the section of McKinney’s website that they call “Work” they also include a game called SPENT designed to provide a better understanding of the roots of homelessness and gives you the opportunity to buy “naming rights” to various things that the homeless need from baby bottles to teddy bears. These were developed for Urban Ministries here in Durham to influence attitudes and raise support.  Rotarian Patrice Nelson, the retiring head of Urban Ministries, asked for the microphone during the questions to praise McKinney effusively. Check this work out at and

Ms. Madison also told the story of the inception of McKinney’s creation and sponsorship of the popular early fall Triangle Battle of the Corporate Bands that takes place under the iconic American Tobacco water tower. This year the benefactor of the battle was Book Harvest, one of Durham Rotary’s partners in Books on Break and Reading Rangers. Since its beginning, this annual event has raised over a million dollars for worthy Durham organizations.

McKinney’s hospitality included a great buffet of finger food and drink for the surprising large turnout on a rainy night at an unusual meeting time. But another highlight was the tour of the facilities after the formal meeting. Congratulations to McKinney  for its success in a tough industry, its remarkably farsighted decision to move to Durham and its collaboration with a Durham firm like Alliance Architecture.

Ms. Madison showed a picture in her presentation of the empty shell of the Reed building when she and Mr. Brinegar first toured it. There was a tree growing out of the roof.  If somebody saved that tree and replanted it nearby during demolition, it is now a mighty oak that Raleigh can’t claim.

Submitted by Jay Zenner


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