Tuesday, July 22, 2003

New challenges met with traditional P&G clout

Years ago - back when there was a special entrance on the Broadway side of the Queen City Club to be used by "unescorted ladies" - powerful men would meet over breakfast to decide the fate of the city. Or at least to clean up a mess or two. Maybe nudge a deal, help a civic project along.

Procter & Gamble was always at the table.

New headquarters needed for the Community Chest? P&G chief Neil McElroy heard about a building on Reading Road one afternoon and by noon the next day, he'd raised $300,000, putting the arm on fellow corporate titans. McElroy ran the company from 1948 until 1957, when he was appointed U.S. secretary of defense. This brand of civic leadership continued with Howard Morgens, who served on various civic boards, meanwhile persuading America's dentists to endorse Crest toothpaste.

A judge told me once that she always knew if somebody from P&G was on a jury - they'd be elected foreperson because "they're smart, persuasive and pushy."

Oliver Gale laughed when I repeated this to him. Now in his 90s, he joined the company in 1937. "Well, I'd agree with the first two qualities. And if 'pushy' means ready to step up and take hold, I'd agree with that, too."

The company encouraged young executives to work in the community, he says.

"It helped them learn persuasion and discussion," says Gale, who left P&G to go to Washington with McElroy. "They had to work with other volunteers, people on committees." The company, he says, has "changed tremendously since I was there, but I think the tradition of service has remained."

Now, P&G has employees in 75 different countries. For a time - particularly during the tenures of Edwin Artzt and Durk Jager - there were those who wondered whether Cincinnati was no more important to the global giant than, say, Brussels or Singapore or Tokyo. Would anybody fight as hard for Cincinnati schools as John Pepper?

In June 2000, P&G had problems of its own. Employee morale was down. So was the company's stock price. Major brands were losing market share. Jager resigned. And after only a year in retirement, Pepper returned as board chairman. Alan George Lafley was named president and chief executive officer. Two years later, reported the Enquirer's Cliff Peale, "the turnaround has restored $40 billion in market value and reinvigorated the maker of Tide, Crest and Pampers in the Tristate and around the world."

In July 2002, Lafley took on the additional title of chairman of the company. Meanwhile, he signed on as campaign chair for the Fine Arts Fund. And just this month, he agreed to lead the new Cincinnati City Center Development Corp. This commission is expected to raise millions of dollars for city development projects, jumpstart downtown redevelopment and help retain local companies.

"This is the kind of role we must have," said P&G's global eternal affairs officer, Charlotte Otto, who not only walks through the front door at the Queen City Club but has served on its board.

Like Procter, the city has "changed tremendously."

And Procter & Gamble just pulled its chair up to the table again.


E-mail lpulfer@enquirer.com

Pulfer: New challenges met with traditional P&G clout
Korte: Inside City Hall
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