Sunday, April 14, 2002

John Pepper

Not really a retiring kind of guy

        I am not worried about Procter & Gamble. This company will keep making money and soap and toothpaste forever. I trust it to manufacture the best toilet paper on the Planet Earth.

        Even if John Pepper is not there to see to it personally.

        The company announced that John — I will call him John because just about everybody does, including the young people he has mentored, including those who work for him — is retiring as chairman. My first thought was for his wife, Francie.

        Will she have to do her shopping now with John standing outside the dressing room tapping his foot while she tries on swimsuits? Will she have to vacuum around him as he watches re-runs of I Love Lucy? Will he start wearing goofy hats and clamoring to spend the winter in Florida?

        This calls for an investigation. So I asked Francie.

        Whoops of laughter.

        “Nothing will change,” she says. “Except that he won't do the day-to-day P&G stuff. He'll still leave the house early and come home late.” She has been to the dress rehearsal of John's retirement. In 1999 he retired, returning to P&G the following year.

        “John will always be very, very busy. He's committed to the Freedom Center, and he is really working hard on this jobs thing.”

        The “jobs thing” is Cincinnati's Youth Employment Initiative for people 14 to 22 years old. “Our goal,” John said earlier this year, “is to provide work experience and other experiences surrounding work, not just to develop productive workers but also good citizens.”

No excuses

        It is a continuing theme with John Pepper, one he has pushed convincingly his entire life here. A mainstay of the Cincinnati Youth Collaborative from its beginning, he personally has recruited hundreds of volunteer mentors for school children. It's kind of hard to say you don't have the time to devote to a child when the guy who is running P&G does.

        “John is just so believable,” says his sister-in-law, Anne Garber. “All you have to do is see him with kids — my kids, his kids, anybody's kids. I know that his interest in the youth of Cincinnati is genuine.”

        And people at his company will tell you simply that they like to work for him. They trust him. They like him. They were sad when he left the first time and rejoiced when he returned in his role as chairman.

        But I keep nudging Francie a little. How about some balance? Does he throw his underwear around? She won't tell. She's probably saving it for her book.

        “All I can tell you is that he cares more about this city and these kids who need help than anybody I ever saw,” Francie says. “And if something needs to be done, he'll do it.”

        So, on July 1, John Pepper will retire. Francie promises they're not leaving town. And she is very sure he will not be under foot. I'm glad this busy man, this productive worker, this good citizen will be leaving P&G this summer. The company is mended. Our city is not.

        Just like last time, there will be those at his company who wish he'd stay.

        But we need him more than they do.

        E-mail Laura at or call 768-8393. She can be heard at noon Fridays on WVXU radio (91.7 FM).


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