John Pepper ’60 is not your average businessman.
On Wednesday at 4 p.m., Pepper, the former president and CEO of Procter & Gamble and senior fellow of Yale Corporation, spoke to an audience of 35 students and adults as part of the Gordon Grand Fellows series. Pepper spoke about the connections among the three most influential institutions in his life — Yale University, Procter & Gamble and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. He also discussed the keys to success for these organizations.
Pepper began his lecture by describing three traits he believes the organizations share — service, leadership and growth. Pepper placed specific emphasis on inspired leadership.
“My whole life I have learned that personal leadership makes things go,” Pepper said.
Pepper said personal leadership involves vision, energizing those around you and enabling things to happen.
Preserving the core of an institution but being ready to affect change is also essential to success, Pepper said, pointing to Yale as an example of this.
“Yale has shown constancy of purpose but has had to change greatly since I have been here,” Pepper said.
At Procter & Gamble, Pepper said he worked through the mission to improve consumers’ lives throughout the world. He said this is what has allowed the company to remain successful even as it adapted to the changing market.
“You need to change but not lose the fabric of your mission,” said Pepper. “This makes it more than an institution, more of a community. You can do lots of good in business.”
With respect to the Freedom Center, Pepper said the mission is important because it is transcendental. Pepper said working for the group is like founding a new university because the center works to spread information about the Underground Railroad and slavery while attempting to improve current race relations.
Pepper said he has gleaned from his experiences the value in pursuing truth and encouraging contributions to society. He has also learned to appreciate the importance of learning and relationships, he said.
“Life is all about relationships,” Pepper said. “I’m here because someone believed in me. Someone at Procter & Gamble led me to believe that I could do more than I thought I could.”
Eugene Kummel ’43, who organized the lecture series, said he was glad to have Pepper share his story with the Yale community.
“It is great to see such a storybook career,” Kummel said. “Having a Yale graduate do this is marvelous.”
Members of the audience said they were excited about listening to Pepper.
Lina Lee ’07 said she was glad to hear a talk from a businessman since many of the events she has attended have featured artists or authors.
“I am interested in economics, so corporate leadership is very important to me,” Lee said.
Heather Ingram SOM ’04 said she especially valued the opportunity to hear Pepper because she studies marketing strategy and Procter & Gamble is the world leader in this area.
“It is good to listen to people who have been at the top and get their perspective,” Ingram said.
Branford College Master Steven Smith, who introduced Pepper, described the talk as “lovely, inspiring and humane.”
“[Pepper] is so unique because he bridges business culture with community service,” Smith said.
Pepper, who has four children and resides with his wife Francie in Ohio, is currently writing a book about his experiences.