"What Excuse Do We Have?"

April 28, 2012

"What excuse do we have for not working together today?”

Not too long ago, I came across An Italian War Diary, written during the years 1943-1944 by Iris Origo. Ms. Origo owned an estate not far from Florence in Tuscany. She was living there at the time of the Nazi occupation. She, along with other partisans were risking their lives rescuing escaped allied prisoners of war and other allied soldiers who had been detached from their units.

I loved the way she answered this question: "what was the motivation of those who were helping these soldiers at the risk of their own lives?".

Her answer reminded me of the motivations of the heroes of the Underground Railroad in the United States, a history which I’ve come to know as Co-chairman of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.

“What, it may be asked,” she wrote, “was the motive underlying the generous help given to the hunted Allied prisoners of war by the Italian countryfolk, often at the risk of their own lives? It would be a mistake, I think, to attribute it to any political – or even patriotic – motive. There was, it is true, a certain amount of anti-German and anti-Fascist feeling, especially among those peasants whose sons had been in the army against their will. But the true motive was a far simpler one: it has been described by an Italian partisan as ‘the simplest of all ties between one man and another; the tie that arises between the man who asks for what he needs, and the man who comes to his aid as best he can. No unnecessary emotion or pose.’
An English officer, himself an escaped prisoner of war, who owes his life to the help given him in this manner, expressed his views in almost identical words: ‘The peasants’ native sympathy with the under-dog and the outcast asserted itself. Simple Christianity impelled them to befriend those complete strangers, feed them, clothe them, and help them on their way…All over Italy this miracle was to be seen, the simple dignity of humble people who saw in the escaped prisoners not representatives of a power to be withstood or placated, but individuals in need of their help.’"

This story reminds me of one of the most memorable things that any historian has ever said to me. It was said by Professor Jim Horton. He was talking about the Underground Railroad:

“If people could help one another then, not even knowing each other and at the risk of their own lives, what excuse do we have for not working together today?”

What excuse, indeed!

What Kind Of Company Do We Choose to Be?

April 25, 2012

I wrote this in 1995, having recently been appointed CEO of Procter & Gamble.  I believe it still applies to any leader trying to build a company today.

As I think about the subjects which we so often discuss - innovation, cost effectiveness, system improvement,  people - I arrive at questions which I expect all of us have asked:

What type of company are we becoming?  What will change?  What will not?

The answer to those questions will lie ultimately in our actions and our behaviors.  But the character of what we aspire to become is very clear.  It grows directly out of our history and our purpose. 
  • We will be a company where, even more, innovation flourishes and quality and value are our guides.
  • A company in which individual initiative and respect for teamwork are honored together.
  • A company where our systems and processes are being constantly renewed to be the best in the world.
  • What will not change – and we must never let change – is what brought us to this company – and what makes us proud to say “I work for P&G.”
  • The bone-hard commitment to doing the right thing, no matter the sacrifice.  Saying what we mean…and living what we say, to the best of our ability.
  • The commitment to serving the consumer and supporting our communities.
  • The commitment to leading and improving in whatever we undertake.
  • The commitment to people in the broadest sense…their ideas:  their views; and particularly as it concerns those who work for us, their personal growth and satisfaction.
  • To me there are four summary testimonials that will tell us we have done our jobs very well.
  • The first from a consumer:  “I always use P&G products.  They’re the best value I can find and they never let me down.”
  • The second from an investor:  “Am I ever glad I own P&G stock.  I’m going to buy more.”
  • The third from a member of a community in which we work:  “Thank heavens we have P&G people here.”
  • And the fourth from hopefully all of us and certainly me:  “I am proud to be a member of this Company.  I can’t imagine a more rewarding career or working with a finer group of people.”

Reading for Meaning

April 23, 2012

I believe this column touches on a most important issue. There is no getting away from a certain amount of teaching and testing to achieve literacy and comprehension. You have to start there. But if we lose the thinking and feeling that comes  from reading and above all reflecting on great literature, non-fiction as well as fiction, we will have deprived young people of the thrill and understanding that comes from the love of learning. And that is what carries you beyond school through life.

From The New York Times
OPINION: Teach the Books, Touch the Heart