May 31, 2015


In an essay I wrote last year on the subject of education, I invoked Thomas Jefferson’s immortal words, which introduce the Declaration of Independence – “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

I argued in this essay that this commitment compels us to provide to the limit of our practical ability, the support for health and education, which will enable every child to pursue his or her “Unalienable Rights.”

I recently found a profoundly meaningful articulation of this thinking in an essay written by Marilynne Robinson, “The Human Spirit and the Good Society.”  She observes that “without knowing the nature of Jefferson’s religious beliefs, or doubts, or disbeliefs we do know he had recourse to the language and assumptions of Judeo/Christianity to articulate the vision of human nature.  Each person is divinely created and given rights as a gift from God.  And since these rights are given to him by God, he can never be deprived of them without defying divine intent.”

Ms. Robinson goes on to make a point which I have become increasingly convinced of and that is “lacking the terms of religion” it is very difficult for us to assert this right of human equality.  “Every civilization, including this one,” Robinson writes, “has always been able to reason its way to ignoring or denying the most minimal claims to justice in any form that deserves the name.  The temptation is always present and powerful because the rationalizations are always ready to hand.  One group is congenitally inferior, another is alien or shiftless, or they are enemies of the people or of the state.  Yet others are carriers of intellectual or spiritual contagion.”

Robinson finally asserts, and I agree:  “Jefferson makes the human person sacred, once by creation and again by endowment, and thereby sets individual rights outside the reach of rationalization.”

To be sure, I will acknowledge that religion is not a cure all. Like every ideology, it poses the risk of fueling and giving dimension to the invidious and I believe inescapable human tendency to elevate ourselves and gain a sense of worth by comparing ourselves so some “other” that we consider inferior and unworthy.   All too often religious beliefs have become highly exclusive and not inclusive. They have morphed to a mind-set if you don’t believe in my religion you are not entitled to basic Rights, even sometimes the Right of Life.  We only need to recall the Crusades and, today, witness the deadly conflict between Shiite and Sunni to be confirmed in this saddest of realities. 

However, to acknowledge that religious beliefs can be misused to deny the essential human equality of all people in terms of the Rights Jefferson prescribes does not negate for me the belief that it is the essential teaching of all religions—“to love God and to treat our neighbor as ourselves” – which represents our best and perhaps only hope to live in peace and support one another in our imperfect world.

Looking back over the span of the almost 240 years since Jefferson wrote that brilliant introduction to the Declaration o independence, there has been a vital expansion in many if not all parts of the world of what we believe constitute the Rights of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”.  Examples include the outlawing of the institution of slavery, the conferral of the right to vote to women, and the increasing, though still far from universal, recognition of the right of people to marry another person of the same gender. Our minds must be open to how this list of Rights will properly expand in the future if the dignity and right to Freedom for all people are to be respected. 

All and all, it is clear that the precision of Jefferson’s words combined with their openness, is what has allowed us to progress -- albeit unevenly, incompletely, and especially in hindsight at all too often a haltingly and frustratingly slow pace.

I agree with Marilynne Robinson that “if Jefferson could see our world, he would surely feel confirmed in the intuition that led him to couch his anthropology in such open language.  Granting the evils of our time, we must also grant the evils of his and the cultural constraints that so notoriously limited his vision.  Yet, brilliantly, he factors the sense of historical and human limitation into a compressed, essential statement of human circumstance, making a strength and a principle of liberation of his and our radically imperfect understanding.”

We must carry on, living in truth as we best see that truth. 




May 27, 2015

The following interview was translated from Romanian. It reflects a conversation that I was fortunate to have with probably the most sensitive, thoughtful interviewer I ever experienced. Even though I had met her only that day, I felt that I had known her for years.

Once in a while you read an interview you have given and react feeling: this captures what I believe about as well as I can express it.

That is my reaction to this.


The success and the dilemmas of a global CEO

John Pepper
John E. Pepper Jr.’s visit in Romania brought me face to face with one of the most admired global CEOs, a model of business leader that is not afraid to unveil the man behind the function, in an opened conversation about values in service of the business success and dilemmas managers deal with every day in their activity.
John Pepper began his speech at Inspiro – the leadership event organized by Progresiv magazine in Romania – with a story about the way he convinced his wife to marry him, confessing that it was the first time to tell this story to an audience outside his family. Then he told us how much his family means for him: “What I am most certain of in my life is the fact that my wife and our four children are and have always been my main and constant source of joy, energy, emotional stability and confidence. The time spent with my children and afterwards with my grandchildren represent the oxygen that helped me go further”.
“The second thing I am most certain of in my life is the duty I have to the people that shaped me, without who I wouldn’t have become what I am now. Approximately ten years ago I made a list with these people, I wrote on paper 10-15 names – starting with my parents, my teachers, the persons that gave me their trust and that made me want more from myself. Why am I telling you all this? Because you are, at your turn, on someone else’s list. You have no idea how much influence you have on other people”, Pepper added.
His belief is that trust and love are the most valuable gifts we can offer to other people. “I remember an extremely important moment for me, which happened 15 years before becoming the global CEO of Procter&Gamble: on the hallway of our office building I randomly ran into the CEO at that time and he put his hand on my shoulder, saying «John, take good care of yourself because one day you might run this company». His words had an extraordinary effect on me because at that time I wasn’t even dreaming at a promotion beyond the middle management level”.
Through his speech, John Pepper communicates trust, but also empathy: you have the impression that he looks, one by one, at each and every person listening quietly in the conference room. His face reads the joy of sharing his experiences and feelings with us, although 90% of those present in the audience are people he has never seen before in his life. His stories are about the people he has come accross in the 40 years spent at P&G, about the way he built united and performant teams relying mainly on trust.
“The quality of relationships between people is vital for any company and these relationships have to be built in a corporate culture based on integrity, wish to innovate and win, mutual trust, respect and affection”, synthesizes John Pepper.
With an enviable memory, he argues all his affirmations with examples of real situations from his professional life, some of them having happened 30-40 years ago. He confesses that he kept a diary for 40 years, which probably helped very much in writing the book “What Really Matters”, which was recently published in Romania, translated in the local language.
From John Pepper’s stories, in which we can all find ourselves to some extent, the voice of wisdom seems to echo, which also makes me admire his modesty: he doesn’t speak about his achievements, but of those of the people he has shaped. He also answers questions from the audience by approaching the persons who enter a dialogue with him.
Although he spent only a few days in Bucharest (and during this period he gathered hundreds of managers at the meetings and conferences with the local business environment, organized with the support of Wave Division company), John Pepper insisted to meet with students as well, so he visited two of the largest Universities in Romania.
He also granted an exclusive meeting to the business journalists, in which he gathered all the delegates around him, creating a round table in order to facilitate interaction with each and every one of us. This is how I found out about the success, as well as the dilemmas of a global CEO. The most interesting fact is that every story is serving as an example, and each of them is mainly about people and relationships between them.
Community power. The most powerful and successful companies are those where the employees have the feeling of belonging to a community. This is an extremely powerful motivational factor. “A former colleague that left P&G despite my pleads to remain with the company confessed, years after the departure, the reason he made that decision: he did not feel like home at P&G. His words made me think”, Pepper remembers. In his case, the fact that he always felt he had found his place at P&G is probably the reason why he remained loyal to the company for 40 years. “With many of my colleagues I have tied, over the years, very beautiful friendships, even now we visit each other’s families”, said the former CEO.
John Pepper also spoke about a moment in this carer when he was very close to leave P&G because he had received a very attractive job offer from another company. His wife then asked him three simple questions that made him decide to stay with the company: Do you like what you do? Do you feel good within the company? Do you feel that you have the possibility to further advance in your career?
His advice for those who want to grow within the company they work for is to constantly come up with new ideas and propose new work procedures or approaches that haven’t been tested before, as well as to invest in things that can make them even more useful for the business. “For example, in the US, even if they work for large or small organizations, people usually invest constantly in leadership courses or in developing new abilities, with their own resources”. Pepper also confessed that, over the years, he learned a lot about leadership by reading biographies of great men, not only from the business environment, but from politics and world history as well, being also passionate about history.
Every person counts. “We all count! All of us! And we all want to feel that we are important for the company we work for”, underlined John Pepper. He said that the moment he entered the top management team of P&G he took on the mission to give his best and to help other do the same. It was basically a mission of putting himself in the service of others: family, consumers, the community within the company and those outside it.
Where does the good instinct come from. A reality of current times is the fact that many companies don’t hire good people anymore, specialists in various fields with ages of +45-50 years, out of the simple reason they can’t afford to pay them, preferring to recruit young people or even students who are just a smaller cost for the organization and can be easily formed. “The companies that follow this strategy to replace senior managers with valuable experience in their fields with young people without working experience are taking on a great risk: that of compromising their future by concentrating on a short term cost reduction strategy. It is a mistake to underestimate the value of senior employees because the success of a company is about excellence in execution and a good business instinct, and these two can only come with experience”, said John Pepper.
His advice for employees over 50 years that feel in danger of losing their job because of this phenomenon is not to let the technological factor to destroy their career. “You need to invest in developing new abilities and get up to date with the new technologies in order to make yourselves more useful to the company”.
Balance between work and personal life. During his first mandate as General Manager in P&G group, the relocation to Italy together with his family was one of the greatest challenges for the entire family because of his very busy schedule. “I managed to make time for the real important things in my personal life by better organizing my office activities. One of the main objectives of every day was to get home in time for dinner with my family. My children have always appreciated this very much. I even remember deciding to give up golf when my first child was born. In this way, at that time I’ve earned 4-5 extra hours with my family during weekends”, John Pepper recalls.
He emphasized that every company has to respect the personal life of its employees and not to test their stress resistance too much. “I think that the technological advance made possible a lot of improvements: a lot of companies no longer present the «syndrome» of counting the hours of physical presence at the office, they have become more flexible by introducing paternity leave and the option to work from home one day a week”.


May 22, 2015

I am posting an extraordinarily insightful and comprehensive review of Nelson Mandela's magnificent autobiography with one purpose in mind--to encourage all of you who read this to read this book in its entirety.

This review was written by a very good friend of mine, A P&G leader and native of South Africa, Lindsay Schmauss.

“The Long Road to Freedom”
gave me so much to think about – it really is a book to read and re-read.  It’s
more than a story or even a history - it’s a collection of fundamental lessons. 
Truly the breadth and depth of those 750 pages is awesome.  There are lessons on
leadership, on strategy, planning and flawless execution, on working together
with people, on resolving conflict, bridging differences, driving change,
mastering one’s self, practicing self-discipline and commitment to
self-improvement.  There are lessons on justice and injustice, on making a point
and arguing a point of view, on compromise, on forgiveness, on suffering and how
to alleviate the suffering of others.  There are lessons about family
commitment, love, loyalty, betrayal, the tension between “tradition” and
progress, the value of heritage, spirituality and independence.  Lessons on
courage, on mastering fear, on bluffing it, on seeking and giving support.  On
and on I could go.  Just to make this list takes me skipping back through those
pages, which come alive in my memory.  I know people learn in different ways,
and certainly I have always been someone who learns best from a story.  When I
can experience something even vicariously through telling, I find the lesson
takes root in my mind like a seed that proceeds to grow.  The “Long Walk”
planted a forest and the more I think about it and return to it, the forest
becomes a plantation!  It’s one of those moments where I think to myself, if I
can just internalize and apply a fraction of the knowledge I have been exposed
to here, what a difference it would make!  The cool thing about the way human
beings are created is that that process happens naturally. Of course we can seek
to be more INTENTIONAL about it, but the great thing about education is that it
changes you – once you know and understand, you do think and operate
differently.  Education can change the world, said Nelson



May 21, 2015


Earlier this month, I had the privilege of visiting South Africa with my daughter-in-law Maggie, my P&G associates, Lindsay and Steffen Schmauss, Lindsay’s dad Daryl (who lives in Durban) and Matthew Willman, a young man who served as Nelson Mandela’s professional and closest photographer for ten years starting about 2003.

It was the experience of a lifetime.  In a period of 72 hours, we visited a succession of sites and were informed by testimony from Matthew that brought to life the courage, the fortitude and the values of Nelson Mandela’s life as we could have never otherwise experienced.  Our visits took us to:

·      The Nelson Mandela Center of Memory, where we met its founder Vern Harris.
·      Robben Island.  Matthew had spent 18 months coming to and from the island as part of his work with Mandela.
·      The Victor Verster Prison, the final imprisonment site for Nelson Mandela.  It was here that the negotiations were conducted with DeKlerk after 27 years of imprisonment and Mandela’s release finalized.  We had the special privilege there of talking with one of his wardens, Jack Swart.
·      The Nelson Mandela Capture Site outside Durban.  It features a remarkable exhibit profiling Mandela’s life.

This experience was informing, inspiring and humbling.  The bravery and determination of Mandela and his associates were palpable.  It brought to life for me in a far deeper way what I had learned from his magnificent biography, “Long Road to Freedom.”

No words of mine will do justice to this experience.  I’d urge all who can to make this visit.  I only hope it can be in the company of someone who can convey close to the insight we gained from Matthew Willman, Vern Harris and Jack Swart.

I took a number of deep impressions from this visit; many uplifting, other presenting me with a personal challenge as I, together with so many others, work to pursue the mission of the Freedom Center.  Here I will present two of these impressions:

1.     The first is to say how glad I am that we were able to honor Nelson Mandela at our last International Freedom Conductor Award event and that his great-great-grandson, Luvuyo Mandela, joined us. 

I’m delighted that we have acquired Matthew Willman’s photographs as a foundation for sharing Nelson Mandela’s story at the Freedom Center, and beyond through a traveling exhibit.  I’m excited about other ideas that emerged from the trip which might enable us to become even more a repository for Nelson Mandela’s memory and values.

2.     I was deeply impressed by the similar progress that has been made in South Africa and the United States in overcoming some of the worst aspects of apartheid in South Africa and segregation in our country.  Yet, at the same time, I was impressed by the similar and enormous challenges our nations continue to face in overcoming the legacy of apartheid and slavery and on accepting each other as one.

While I am no expert on apartheid and how far it has been overcome, I was encouraged by some of what I saw.  To observe the inter-racial beaches at Durban, which not long ago were segregated into four separate blocks—White, Black, Colored and Indian—was encouraging.  I was moved by the congregation at Lindsay Schmauss’ father’s parish—The Anglican Parish of St. John the Baptist in Durban.  Its racially mixed congregation and group of ministers would be the envy of most churches in our nation.

Still, the history of apartheid rests heavily on South African today, just as the legacy of slavery rests on our country.  The history of South Africa is, in many regards, like our own.  I was reminded how the Whites legislated the Black Africans into “Homelands,” not surprisingly the most arid and least desirable lands in South Africa.  How alike in essence was this to what has happened in our country, as prejudice and the flawed execution of federal “fair housing” policy led to segregated neighborhoods and ghettos.

And within these shockingly disparate residential communities come the disparate schools, those for the poor, being dramatically inferior to those in the wealthiest suburbs, resulting in another cycle of increasing inequality.

On the positive side, I found it reinforcing to learn from Lindsay Schmauss’ sister-in-law, who is working in urban planning, that she is working with groups in major cities to bring together in a coordinated way government services in health, child development and education, recognizing that holistic improvement in neighborhood infrastructure is the only credible way to make significant and sustained progress.  How similar that is to the growing conviction in Cincinnati (and elsewhere) that we need integrated neighborhood-by-neighborhood support for individual families to break the back of poverty and the lack of opportunity which so many of our young people face.

My visit to South Africa and ever deepening awareness of the ravages of poverty in our own nation add great weight to my commitment to do all I can to overcome our failure to give every child the opportunity to develop his or her abilities.

We must garner our energy and determination to address this challenge.  The future of our nation depends on it.  There will be no total solution; we know that.  But the opportunity and need for major progress rests with us.

In closing, I share this challenge laid down by Nelson Mandela himself which I happened to read while I was on this visit: 

“Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice.  Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural.  It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings.  Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great.  YOU can be that generation.  Let your greatness blossom.”

“There is nothing I fear more than waking up without a program that will help me bring a little happiness to those with no resources; those who are poor, illiterate and ridden with terminal disease.”