Nov. 02, 2001
By Marc Zawel
Sun Senior Writer
Under tight security at the PepsiCo Auditorium in Ives Hall yesterday afternoon, John E. Pepper, chair of Procter & Gamble’s board of directors and former chief executive, gave a talk titled “Leadership for a Changing World.”
Among the capacity audience were graduate students, undergraduate students and faculty who had come to hear Pepper speak on “leading in turbulent times,” as introduced by Robert J. Swieringa, dean of the Johnson Graduate School of Management.
Before Pepper could begin his talk, however, he was interrupted by Brian Pease ’00, a member of the student activist organization Cornell Coalition for Animal Defense (CCAD). Pease shouted, “John Pepper, you are an animal murderer!” and proceeded to read a statement denouncing Procter & Gamble’s use of animals in its product testing.
Pepper, who joined Procter & Gamble in 1963 and became its chief executive in 1995, responded publicly to the CCAD’s accusations by telling the audience that “we do not do any testing on any non-food, non-drug item.”
He also offered to sit down with the activists following his lecture because this was “not a subject we [Procter & Gamble] feel embarrassed about at all.”
Following this compromise, Pepper began his talk on Procter & Gamble’s “lessons relearned in this world of accelerating change.” He outlined seven important lessons that his company has learned in adapting its business strategy in today’s fast-paced global market.
First, Pepper stated that businesses must not forget that the ‘consumer is the boss.’
“Every consumer is local and needs to be served and respected as such,” he said. Pepper recommended that companies not over-standardize advertising or risk alienating consumers. “Cultural sensitivity is magnificent. There needs to be an important local understanding of consumers.”
Pepper continued by discussing the importance of companies in ‘getting the value equation right.’ He emphasized the need for corporations to set prices according to region and culture.
Additionally, corporations must make ‘tough portfolio choices.’ Sometimes businesses must scrap icon brands because of their inability for global potential, he said. Also, corporations need to set realistic external goals and then aim to beat them internally.
“You need reach goals to succeed, but don’t get ahead of yourself,” he said.
Pepper warned the audience not to ‘confuse the ends with the means.’ “When speed becomes the number one priority over quality,” Pepper said, “we get in trouble.”
Finally, Pepper argued that ‘times changes, but values don’t.’
“What matters most, and what will always matter most are people and the values, confidence, motivation and relationships of employees,” he said.
Following his talk, Pepper followed through with his promise to meet with CCAD protesters in a short meeting. In the meeting, Pepper reiterated what he had told the lecture audience earlier.
According to CCAD member Tim Slate ’02, Pepper told him and other members of the CCAD that Procter & Gamble was engaged in “significantly less animal testing.” However, Pepper refused to release any statistics that showed this decrease.
The CCAD is an independent organization composed of 35 active members and 200 supporters. It is best known for its annual protest during which four students sleep in cages on Ho Plaza for 72 hours on a hunger strike to protest primate experimentation at Cornell.
Slate said that his organization is opposed to all “unnecessary animal testing.” This includes all tests such as cosmetic and household product testing that are not mandated by law.
“We want to move in a direction towards a more compassionate approach of animals,” he added.
Many of Procter & Gamble competitors don’t test any of their products on animals, he said.
“John Pepper is part of the PR machine,” Slate said. “We can’t take anything he says at face value.”