Wednesday, April 10, 2002

CAN co-chair has no doubt of success

Civic-minded businessman confident despite critics

By John Johnston,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Reminders of Ross Love's success are scattered about his tidy Roselawn office.

        A musical sculpture from billionaire Sam Zell. Framed Radio Ink and Black Enterprisecover stories featuring Mr. Love. Retirement gifts from grateful Procter & Gamble managers.

        No wonder, then, that when the 55-year-old businessman pauses to reflect on his failures, he chuckles. He can't think of any.

    Born: May 28, 1946, Yeadon, Pa.
    Home: Clifton.
    Family: Married 33 years to Cheryl Love; children are Jonathan Love, assistant program director and talk host at WDBZ-AM, and Ayanna Love, a lawyer; four grandchildren.
    Education: Bachelor's degree in political science, Syracuse University, 1968.
    Current project: Co-chairman of Cincinnati Community Action Now (CAN).
    Work history: President and CEO, Blue Chip Enterprises, 2001 to present. Owns J&M Precision Machining in Blanchester; owns Blue Chip Communications, which operates talk-radio station WDBZ-AM; principal investor in two startup businesses run by black entrepreneurs.
    President and CEO, Blue Chip Broadcasting, 1995-2001. Most of the company's 19 stations were sold to Radio One in August 2001.
    Procter & Gamble Co., 1968-1996. Retired in 1996 as vice president of advertising, a post he had held since 1988.
    Other community activities: Recently chaired a committee that completed a 10-year strategic plan for United Way of Greater Cincinnati; board member, National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.
        “I have been very blessed,” says Mr. Love, co-chairman of Cincinnati Community Action Now (CAN). “I really have not had any situations where I've been unsuccessful.”

        He succeeded at P&G, where as vice president of advertising he oversaw more than $2 billion in annual ad spending. And he succeeded in radio, where the sale last year of his chain of stations made him one of the wealthiest men in the Tristate.

        But it's still unclear if his string of successes will include Cincinnati CAN, the race relations panel formed by Mayor Charlie Luken in response to last year's riots. The panel is driven by Mr. Love's vision, people familiar with CAN say.

        One year after the unrest, critics say Cincinnati CAN is long on promises and short on action; that CAN hasn't shown it can solve the city's problems; that Mr. Love is out of touch with the African-Americans the panel aims to help.

        Undeterred, the reserved, soft-spoken Mr. Love believes CAN will achieve “breakthrough results.”

        Last week, as settlements were reached in the city's racial profiling lawsuit and a federal investigation of the police department, Mr. Love

        and city leaders touted CAN's progress. CAN announced its first major initiative, the “Cincinnati Plan,” which aims to cut crime and improve police-community relations by forming partnerships among police and residents, putting youth volunteers on streets and establishing juvenile community courts.

        More announcements are coming, says Mr. Love.

Success means making meaningful change

        As the first day of rioting unfolded on television, Mr. Love and his wife, Cheryl, sat watching in their living room in Clifton. He picked up a notebook and began writing.

        A young African-American had been shot by police, but in Mr. Love's view, the unrest had many underlying causes. One had only to listen to the talk radio station he owns, WDBZ (1230 AM), to grasp what he says was “an incredible sense of hopelessness among a number of African-Americans who basically said, "I am not respected by the system.' ”

        That night, he began calling African-American leaders. Within days, the group huddled with a dozen of the city's top business executives and Mayor Luken. Cincinnati CAN had its beginnings in those meetings.

        “Ross was obviously the leader. It was very clear to all of us that he had to have a key role,” says Sheila Adams, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Cincinnati. She'd known Mr. Love well since the mid-'90s, when he co-chaired the Urban League's successful capital campaign.

        “The clarity of what he saw needed to be addressed I thought was amazing,” says Tom Cody, vice president of Federated Department Stores. He later was named co-chairman of CAN with Mr. Love and the Rev. Damon Lynch III.

        Mr. Love saw a need for changes in policing, but the notes he'd jotted down the first night of rioting covered a range of issues, from housing and home ownership to jobs, education and neighborhood development. He offered it all up for discussion.

        In the end, the leaders agreed Cincinnati CAN's success would hinge on creating meaningful, sustained change to improve the lives of African-Americans.

        Mr. Love felt he could be a bridge among key players — the business community, blacks and social-service groups. “What drives me is a real passion to make a difference,” he says. “Particularly in the quality of life in the black community here.”

He motivates people while earning respect

        His brown eyes latch onto whomever he's addressing and don't stray. His two children, now grown, say he doesn't raise his voice. He's more likely to make a point with a take-no-prisoners glare.

        He's a man with a slight build, short gray hair and a thin moustache. He favors turtlenecks. He's usually running late.

        In addition to WDBZ, he owns J&M Precision Machining, a Blanchester company that makes power train components for cars and is principal investor in two African-American-owned startup businesses.

        Cincinnati CAN is his volunteer job. He says he typically devotes half his work week to it, about 30 hours; much of that in meetings.

        As early as last summer, some residents complained they saw little progress from CAN. In hindsight, Mr. Love says, CAN should have said at the outset that it would take about a year to begin implementing programs, and even longer to see results.

        “Ross may have fallen back on his experience at P&G, where you get people together, you define the goal, figure out how you're going to get there, and boom, off you go,” says Charlotte Otto, global external relations officer for Procter & Gamble and a communications adviser to CAN.

        “At times that has been hard, because there have been so many agendas on the table,” she adds. “The CAN effort is extraordinarily diverse. I don't think we've ever done anything in this community that engaged so many people. That's a messy process.”

        And, since May, a private one. Early on, Mr. Love and his co-chairs agreed to close meetings, saying it was necessary so people with a wide range of opinions would feel comfortable sharing them.

        “The impression people have ... is that CAN isn't doing anything,” says Tim Burke, co-chairman of the Hamilton County Democratic Party and a member of CAN's justice team. “But talk to the people involved in CAN, and that's simply not accurate.”

        The closed-door approach has advantages, Mr. Burke says. While meeting with criminal justice officials, CAN members discovered one office did not have an equal-employment opportunity policy. “If we had gone public with that, we would have had a fight. Instead, it just quietly got addressed.”

        Says Mr. Love: “Many of our programs have elements that are sensitive. Before they're made public, they're discussed with a broad base of people.”

        As for the perceived lack of progress, Mr. Love says that with limited resources CAN's 200 volunteers are focused on addressing longstanding problems not on making progress reports to the community.

        CAN's pace doesn't upset Kathy Merchant. She is president of the Greater Cincinnati Foundation, which has pledged $250,000 to CAN and provides it with office space. “It's unfair for people to expect a solution to have hit the ground already,” she says.

        Others agree. Reggie Boyd, who serves on CAN's economic inclusion committee, says, “Creating economic opportunity in a culturally diverse community hasn't been worked out in America since the inception of the republic, so to look for Ross Love to get it done in (10) months is crazy.”

        When CAN has success, Mr. Love doesn't seek the spotlight.

        “It's funny; he's in marketing, and I sometimes think he doesn't market himself very well,” Mr. Luken says. He credits Mr. Love with helping pass Issue 5, which makes it possible for the city to go outside Cincinnati to hire police chiefs, fire chiefs and other top officials.

        Working with council members to ensure broad support, Mr. Love and Cincinnati CAN helped draft Issue 5, the mayor says. Mr. Love then persuaded business leaders to fund last fall's campaign.

        In initiatives already in place and those yet to be announced, Mr. Love's imprint is everywhere, CAN members say. On CAN's justice subcommittee, he “has had a major impact on all of the discussions,” says Mr. Burke, a lawyer.

        Mr. Love and committee members met with judges and identified situations in which criminal defendants within the city were dealt with more harshly than those facing identical charges in Hamilton County. The city agreed to modify its policy to match the county's, Mr. Burke says.

        Mr. Love and CAN also successfully lobbied the city to allow city defendants access to a county-run adult diversion program for first-time offenders, Mr. Burke says.

        “I have been amazed by the time and energy he has devoted to this whole effort,” he says.

        But it's difficult to see Mr. Love in action. When a reporter asked to attend a meeting to observe how he operates, he agreed. But other participants turned the reporter away. Mr. Love apologized, saying he had “miscalculated.”

        In a career spanning 30-plus years, he hasn't miscalculated often, say business executives who know him.

        “He's a smart guy who can look at a complex issue and break it down into key parts and find a solution,” says Robert Wehling, P&G's retired global marketing officer. Mr. Love worked for him for several years.

        A key to Mr. Love's success, Mr. Wehling says, is his ability to motivate people to do their best while earning their respect.

        Early in his 28-year career at P&G, however, Mr. Love faced a crisis. As a young brand manager, he oversaw an ad campaign for Ivory Snow laundry detergent. He launched a new packaging featuring a modern-looking mother and child, and convinced higher-ups to skip the usual testing and rush it into distribution.

        A month later, the Ivory Snow mother, Marilyn Chambers, launched her porno queen career. “I spent the next six months of my life getting that package design changed,” Mr. Love says, smiling.

        He went on to recover nicely.

        “Think of the responsibility on this guy's shoulders,” Mr. Wehling says. “He was the first African-American vice president of advertising at the leading advertising company. If he had not succeeded, it would have set a lot of our efforts back for decades. But he did.”

        Mr. Wehling says Ross Love became an important mentor to young P&G managers. One was Vada Hill. “He garnered huge loyalty among the folks who worked for him,” says Mr. Hill, now senior vice president/chief marketing officer for Fannie Mae in Washington.

        “He's extraordinarily focused and hard-working. He does what it takes to win.”

Some blacks think success made Love an outsider

        But personal success is not all that drives him, Mr. Hill says, citing Mr. Love's decision to buy WIZF (100.9 FM) in 1995.

        The station's bankrupt owners had put “the Wiz” up for sale. Mr. Love says he didn't want the black community to lose its only FM station. So he headed a group of local investors who bought it for $4 million.

        He became president and CEO of the new company, which he named Blue Chip Broadcasting “because I wanted to convey quality.”

        Mr. Love soon saw how lucrative radio could be. He retired from P&G in 1996 to concentrate on Blue Chip, and within a few years it had grown to 19 stations.

        Most of them were sold last year to Radio One, the nation's largest African-American-owned broadcaster. (Radio One operates WDBZ, but Mr. Love still owns the talk station where his son, Jonathan, hosts an afternoon show.) Sale price: nearly $200 million.

        “Ross could have taken his marbles and gone off to a damn island,” says Lovie Ross, president and CEO of Penguin Painters and a Blue Chip investor. “People have to understand, he doesn't need this aggravation.”

        But Mr. Love felt obligated to step forward. “If nothing is done, or the wrong things are done, there's that slippery slope where the African-American community ends up in worse shape.”

        Some blacks, though, are wary of Mr. Love. “He's seen as a rich, aloof black person, and his family as well. They're not seen as being integral, caring members of the African-American community,” says Dwight Patton, vice president of the activist group Cincinnati Black United Front.

        “Most black folks didn't know Ross Love when he came out of P&G, and a lot don't know him now,” says Jim Clingman, another Black United Front member.

        Among some blacks, Mr. Clingman says, “there is suspicion that the guy is a millionaire and he's not concerned about us, he never suffered like we have; so what can he do for us?”

        Mr. Love acknowledges many people aren't aware of his behind-the-scenes contributions to the African-American community.

        He keeps handy a three-page “crib sheet.” While at P&G, it says, he doubled the percentage of blacks in the advertising department to 12 percent; quadrupled spending with black-owned companies to $10 million; and led a task force that developed anti-drug public service messages aimed at African-Americans.

        Mr. Love has contributed time and money to local black political candidates, including his good friend J. Kenneth Blackwell, a Blue Chip investor. Mr. Love ran City Council and congressional campaigns for Mr. Blackwell, who is now Ohio secretary of state.

        Through Blue Chip and his family foundation, Mr. Love has made charitable donations topping $1 million, including $250,000 to the Urban League.

Success did not insulate Love from racial issues

        Mr. Love's focus on success began early.

        “I grew up believing I could accomplish anything I wanted to,” he says.

        Home was Yeadon, Pa., a middle-class Philadelphia suburb that was one-third black, one-third Jewish and one-third white Christian.

        He was the oldest of five children. His father usually held two jobs, delivering newspapers in the morning, then working in the back shop of a drug company. His mother attended Temple University, but Ross Love was the first in the family to earn a college degree.

        Academic scholarships paid his way to Syracuse University, where he earned a political science degree in 1968. But his political awakening took place during late-night discussions with other blacks. He helped start the Student Afro-American Society, a campus activist group. He grew an Afro. He brought to campus Stokely Carmichael, the man whose “black power” movement pushed for political and economic power, and racial pride.

        And Mr. Love — the man who would seem to have little in common with young rioters in Over-the-Rhine — participated in street protests in support of black rights, even throwing a Molotov cocktail at a car.

        But not because he was angry, he says. “I've never been angry in my life. What the '60s were about for me was a philosophical change. Stokely convinced me that the game was not about equality of opportunity. It was about equality. There's a huge difference.”

        He planned to attend law school after graduation. Then came an offer to work for P&G. Just one year in the corporate world would be good experience, he reasoned. But he fell in love with the competitiveness of brand management and his law career was jettisoned.

        Like many African-Americans in corporate America, he says, he faced obstacles because of his skin color. “You are challenged more ... You need to have more data or evidence supporting your points of view. You have more situations where your work is either dismissed as not important, or not given the same kind of acknowledgment your peers might get.

        “I was able to deal with it successfully by staying focused on delivering. In the end, (if) you deliver results, you can't be ignored.”

        His success hasn't insulated him or his family from racial profiling. Early in his P&G career, Mr. Love says, he was stopped by police as he drove through white suburbs. He was told he was unwelcome.

        Eight years ago, when his daughter Ayanna was 20, she was arrested on a Corryville street when she and a black friend couldn't produce IDs. “It wasn't so much the arrest that bothered me,” she says, “it was the way (the officer) called us every name under the sun.”

        From her father, she says, she learned not to get angry but to press for positive change. She went to law school, passed the bar exam and works for Ken Lawson, one of the lawyers who filed the federal racial profiling lawsuit against the city.

        “Racial profiling” is a misnomer, Mr. Love says. “The issue is racial bias and prejudice, and it goes way beyond being stopped by police officers. It impacts the workplace and the courts. It impacts educational opportunity and educational results. This is just part of the life most African-Americans lead.”

"Failure has never been a thing I worry about'

        Mr. Love's success means he doesn't lead a life familiar to most people, African-American or otherwise. He and his wife live in a condominium created from the former Sacred Heart Academy in Clifton. The home, worthy of a House Beautiful spread, features rich woodwork, elegant furnishings and an elevator that stops at four levels.

        Some blacks felt they'd lost their grass-roots voice on Cincinnati CAN when the Rev. Mr. Lynch was removed in December for signing a letter calling police murderers and rapists.

        “I may not be viewed as an everyday person — and I'm not — but that's OK,” Mr. Love says. “But I have no doubt about my ability to learn and understand the needs of everyday African-Americans, then translate that into effective programs.”

        Others have doubts. “He's given to grandiose promises,” says Mr. Patton of Black United Front. Thus far, he says, CAN has produced only “public relations rhetoric.”

        Such criticism is legitimate, Mr. Love says, until CAN's major initiatives are implemented and show results. “When announcements are made over the next month or two or three, and people see what is being put in place, what CAN is doing will be clear to everyone. And people can rally around and contribute to it.”

        Success can't be taken for granted but as Mr. Love says, “Failure has never been a thing I worry about.”

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