'I'm Resilient, Tenacious and Fearless Because of Them'

Industry Power Players Reveal How Career Mentorships Helped Route Their Paths to Success

By Published on .

It seems to take a village to raise a CEO of Procter & Gamble Co.

Well, that may go a little far. And given that one of the villagers, in the case of P&G Chairman-CEO Bob McDonald, is Donald Rumsfeld, maybe a Hillary Clinton metaphor isn't so apt.

But when Mr. McDonald describes the mentors who've shaped his life and career, he comes up with a lengthy list. It includes each of the five living former CEOs of P&G, all of whom he worked with.

It also includes Mr. Rumsfeld, his former Congressman. When Mr. McDonald was 11 and growing up in Gary, Ind., he first wrote Mr. Rumsfeld to ask about applying for West Point. "He didn't say, 'Go away, kid, and come back when you're a junior in high school,'" Mr. McDonald recalls. "He said, 'You're enthusiastic. You keep applying. I will keep testing you and I will take your best test score.' And I'm forever grateful for that."

P&G Chairman-CEO Bob McDonald, with his parents.
P&G Chairman-CEO Bob McDonald, with his parents.
Mr. McDonald, who was an Eagle Scout, also had his mom for a Cub Scout leader and dad for a Little League coach and Boy Scout leader. When Mr. McDonald left the Army in 1980, he had an offer to become assistant brand manager at P&G or an assistant to the CEO at another company at much more pay. His parents were crucial to his decision to take the P&G job. "My dad and mom said, 'Focus on the purpose, focus on the values of the company and the people of the company,'" Mr. McDonald said. "The positions will take care of themselves over a period of time."

Since joining P&G, Mr. McDonald has drawn lessons from each of the living former P&G CEOs -- A.G. Lafley, Durk Jager, from whom he learned "the importance of changing the rules of the game" and John Pepper, who he called "the ultimate symphony conductor."

From former P&G CEO Ed Artzt, Mr. McDonald came away with one very clear message. "I could show you a letter Ed wrote to me the day I was appointed, and point No. 1 is you never lose market share," Mr. McDonald said. "When I see Ed [today] he asks me what the market share is doing."

Former CEO John Smale is known for many things, Mr. McDonald said, but his biggest takeaway has been the importance of innovation. On one flight in 2009, he recalled Mr. Smale pulled out notes "and we talked for seven hours about the company, and he had graphs that showed ... every major step change in the company's sales was because of innovation, and many of these innovations have lasted forever, like some of our paper technology."

These days, Mr. McDonald pays the mentoring back, working with P&G executives seen as having a shot at vice chairman or CEO, but also with some not-so-obvious protégés such as employees' children at times, which he likens to the help he got from Mr. Rumsfeld at age 11.

"My anxiety is that I have an opportunity like that and I lose it," Mr. McDonald said. "I just love it, because you never know when that one moment can change somebody's life."

Page Thompson
Page Thompson
Page Thompson, CEO, Omnicom Media Group North America
Mentorship for Page Thompson, CEO Omnicom Media Group North America, came in the form of two executives, Steve Fajen, former head of media research at JWT and Don Evanson, former senior VP-group media director at JWT. "I learned how to look beyond the numbers to find insights -- because without insight, numbers are just data -- and during the '70s this was a very forward-looking approach. That learning has been core to any success I have enjoyed in this industry and why I have been such an advocate for expanding that capability within OMG. "

Anne Bologna
Anne Bologna
Anne Bologna, exec VP-general manager, Cramer-Krasselt, New York
"I didn't realize it at the time, but my four older brothers were my first and most formidable mentors," said Anne Bologna, exec VP-general manager, Cramer-Krasselt, New York. "No matter what your gender, it helps to be able to think like the other one. I'm resilient, tenacious and fearless because of them."

Professionally, "Rob White (former head of planning and president of Fallon, now founding partner of Zeus Jones) taught me the power of the analytical side of planning, but he also showed me the value of getting out of the way of a great idea when you see one. He was one of the brightest and most humble planners in the business at that time.

Last and not least, I'm eternally grateful for having worked alongside extraordinary creative people who were my creative mentors: Ari Merkin, David Lubars and Bob Barrie -- from whom I learned the importance of creating the conditions in which smart creativity can thrive. It's easier said than done, but is the essence of what makes an agency great.

Running an office of an agency that's grounded in smarts and creativity, I draw on these lessons every single day.

It's no surprise that I'm still in touch with every single one of these people -- except for my second-oldest brother, Tom, who died two years ago. I dedicate this mentorship message to him."

Michael Wolf
Michael Wolf
Michael Wolf, founder and managing director, Activate
"I am most inspired by the tech entrepreneurs I know and work with every day," said Michael Wolf, founder and managing director, Activate. "Their unrelenting drive and passion for innovation, and building companies from scratch, have given me a new lens through which to view possibilities and opportunities in the media business.

A few in particular -- Jack Hidary, Max Levchin and Mark Zuckerberg -- combine their intuition, strong conviction and vision to construct entirely new experiences and businesses. They're not constrained by what others have done in the past, but are rather focused entirely on the future. They create their own rules and have re-thought the very concepts of media, entertainment and communications."

Paul Polman
Paul Polman
Unilever CEO Paul Polman
Unilever CEO Paul Polman has trouble naming just one mentor, but it shouldn't come as a surprise some came from rival Procter & Gamble Co., where Mr. Polman spent the first 26 years of his career. Frank Weise, who hired Mr. Polman into P&G, was one of the earliest. Mr. Weise, who would go on to become CEO of private-label manufacturer Cott by 1998, "immediately took an interest in my personal and professional well being," said Mr. Polman in an email, and provided "confidence and transparent, honest and sometimes tough feedback."

Then there was former P&G Chairman-CEO Durk Jager, whom Mr. Polman describes as "a man of vision and courage and architect of P&G's transformation in a system that had become complacent and to some extent distant from the marketplace." Despite the pressures of the job, Mr. Polman said Mr. Jager "always took time out to coach and provide needed feedback and perspective."

Mr. Polman acknowledged the "transformation pains," which included Mr. Jager leaving his CEO post unexpectedly early in 2000, but said, "many in P&G still see him as the main architect of cultural and innovation change that served the company well for a while."

Mr. Polman also counts as a mentor another former P&G Chairman-CEO, John Pepper, describing him as "a man who lived and breathed caring for others and showed by word and action how to get the best out of everybody."

Then there's Peter Brabeck, the former CEO of Nestlé, where Mr. Polman joined in 2005. Mr. Brabeck, he said, is "a great visionary and businessman" and "firm believer in linking long-term success of business to the long-term success of societies."

Among others on Mr. Polman's list: Lord David Simon, former CEO of BP, and Morris Tabaksblat, former chairman of Unilever, "who have always been ready to provide objective advice, background and perspective on Unilever from the day I arrived and made my landing from the outside and transformations to a successful, growing company so much easier."

Mr. Polman also credits his mother and father, who often worked long days, held two jobs and sacrificed to provide educations for their six children. And he credits his wife of 31 years and three children for "not only supporting a challenging lifestyle but helping me keep both feet on the ground and reminding me constantly of my weaknesses more than my strength and the need to maintain a balanced life to the benefit of all."

Lisa Cochrane, VP-integrated marketing communications, Allstate
"I started at Ogilvy & Mather in 1976, fresh out of school with a degree in journalism and thrilled to be hired by the agency founded by the "advertising man" I'd idolized from reading his classic "Confessions of an Advertising Man," said Lisa Cochrane, VP-integrated marketing communications at Allstate. "I worked at Ogilvy for 13 years -- that experience shaped the 'career me' more than any other in my life. David Ogilvy's promise of 'first-class business in a first-class way' applied to everything we did. I learned that what counts is knowing your client's business better than they do -- and that making the cash register ring is the only purpose. I learned the difference between good writing and great writing directly from the best in the business -- Joel Raphaelson, one of David's protégés, and David Ogilvy himself.

Allstate VP Lisa Cochrane says she employs onetime boss David Ogilvy's advice every day.
Allstate VP Lisa Cochrane says she employs onetime boss David Ogilvy's advice every day.
I had the good fortune of knowing David himself -- I was probably his last young mentee, and that was something really special. Here's how that started: It was 1980 and I was an account supervisor. A man walked into my office and asked, in his English accent, 'And what are you doing?' It was David Ogilvy, on his first visit to the Chicago office. I proceeded to tell him about the R.C. Cola project I was working on and then asked, 'Have you seen Chicago?' He hadn't, so I took him on a whirlwind tour, from the Art Institute, going for a chocolate soda at Marshall Field's and riding the El around the Loop. He hadn't told anyone where he was going, and when we returned, the whole agency was in a flurry wondering where he'd disappeared to.

I just treated him like a regular guy, and that encounter was the beginning of a friendship -- and mentorship, even though they didn't call it that in those days -- that lasted until David died in 1999. He gave me all kinds of advice, from the secret to winning new business (clients hire the agency people they want to spend time with -- who they want to invite to their house to dinner) to sticky business situations like how to fire someone (Do it in their office, so you can leave. Do it fast -- right away -- then sit down with them and plan their future. Call them the next day so you don't lose them as a personal friend.) A day doesn't go by where I don't think of David and employ his advice -- in fact, I think I use what I learned from him more now than in years past.

My favorites -- my touchstones for how and what I do today:

  • Always take the high road: 'First-class business in a first-class way.'
  • The consumer is not a moron, she is your wife,' which I change to 'husband' or 'mother.'
  • Stand firm on your convictions, but always be open to new ideas -- if they are based on research and sales.
  • Make rules -- and then be willing to change them for the facts of the situation.
  • 'Top men/women must not tolerate sloppy plans or mediocre work.'
  • Hire people who are better than you: 'If you hire people who are smaller than you are, you will become a company of dwarfs. Hire people who are bigger than you and you will become a company of giants.'
  • Stuff doesn't get done by committee. I quote this often: 'Search all the parks in all your cities; you'll find no statues of committees.'
  • Treat people like human beings. Help them when they're in trouble. Admire people who work hard -- the way up the ladder is open to everybody.
  • It's harder to write less than to write more. 'I believe in the dogmatism of brevity.'"

David Jones
David Jones
David Jones, global CEO of Euro RSCG Worldwide
"I've learned a huge amount from Vincent Bollore -- Havas chairman and my current boss -- in his capacity as a brilliant entrepreneur, in his ability to inspire and motivate the people who work for him, always giving them the impression that he has all the time in the world for them, in his ability to identify the right talent and put them into the right roles, from his shrewd financial brain and eye for a deal, from his humility despite his success, and probably most of all his focus on the long-term rather than worrying about this quarter or even this year," said David Jones, global CEO of Euro RSCG Worldwide.

"The second person who served as a mentor for me was Michael Baulk, the current chairman of The Mill and ex-CEO of BBDO Europe and AMVBBDO. He was an amazing example of a leader -- razor-sharp intellect, huge integrity, a great sense of humor and one of life's wonderful people."

Howard Draft
Howard Draft
Howard Draft, chairman of Draft FCB
"Jim Kobs taught me the fundamentals of direct marketing. Bob Stone taught me how to structure an ad and an offer, and I learned the nuances of art and design from Aaron Adler," said Howard Draft, chairman of DraftFCB.

"The biggest impact on my career was probably made by Don Zuckert when he ran Ted Bates. After Bates bought our company, Don was instrumental in teaching me how to manage all aspects of business -- both from a brand standpoint and operational standpoint -- and he showed me the importance of building and maintaining high-level relationships. Don also introduced me to some of my key clients early in my career, including HBO, U.S. Navy and Prudential Insurance.

Don was a great boss, as was Robert Louis Dreyfus back when he was running Saatchi; he taught me a lot about the general agency business. I also learned a lot from Phil Geier, who bought our agency when he was running IPG, and my current boss, Michael Roth."

Michael Zuna, CMO of Aflac
"A good marketer never stops evolving and learning. There's something to be gained from listening-- really listening. I'm fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with many talented people during my career, and as a result I've done a lot of listening over the years," said Michael Zuna, CMO of Aflac. "Early in my career, I had the good fortune to work with one of the largest groups of McDonald's franchisees in the nation -- a $1.5 billion operation at the time. Now, you might think that McDonald's, with all of its success and its position as the quick-serve restaurant leader, has an enormous marketing budget. Well, that's true ... in a way. In working with these franchisees, I learned that our substantial local marketing budget was coming out of their wallets. These entrepreneurs, who owned maybe one, two, three or more McDonald's restaurants, were kicking in their own money to supplement McDonald's national marketing campaigns with local advertising. In other words, these franchisees were entrusting me with their personal hard-earned cash, and my job was to do one thing: help them sell more food. I also learned the importance of sales and marketing alignment, understanding the business and the impact operations has on sales.

It was a great lesson to me, because it reminded me that at the end of the day, my job as a marketer is simple: it's to generate demand. Simply put, it's to sell something -- and every dollar invested is a precious resource. And, we invest that resource in efforts to provide the maximum return on investment. And that return on investment is revenue.

Throughout my career ... I've worked to pass the lessons I've learned -- and particularly the lesson I learned from those McDonald's franchisees -- on to my teams. Marketing is a tool for selling. It's that simple and, at the same time, that complex."

Bill Zinke, CMO of Tasti D-Lite
"I've been fortunate to have had several excellent mentors in my professional life. The one who stands out most and who had the biggest impact on my marketing career is Mark Greatrex, currently a senior executive with the Coca-Cola Co.," said Bill Zinke, CMO of Tasti D-Lite.

"Mark was the brand manager for whom I worked in my first job out of the Kellogg Business School as an assistant brand manager for Shedd's Country Crock at a division of Unilever U.S. Mark demonstrated, and helped me to develop, the critically important balance between strong strategic thinking/planning and exceptional tactical execution. He provided very clear direction and then delegated to his team, allowing each of us to take ownership of parts of the business and sharpen our marketing skills. He was an excellent communicator and presenter, and really helped me to hone my communication skills.

"Mark taught me how to do a proper analysis, including how to break down data, find the key insights and develop recommendations from those insights. He also cultivated a fantastic team environment and culture, fostering camaraderie and finding ways to have fun as a group in the office and outside. I count myself as lucky not just to have had Mark as a manager and a mentor, but to have worked with him at the very beginning and in the foundational years of my marketing career. He set a high bar for what I think a great marketer is and I strive still to hit those benchmarks, including in my current role. I'm happy to say that Mark and I are still friends and have continued to stay in touch as our careers have evolved."

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