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Procter & Gamble CEO Talks Leadership

Proctor and Gamble CEO
Cynthia Wu

Robert A. McDonald, CEO of Proctor and Gamble speaks at a lecture hosted by The Leadership Institute at Harvard College yesterday. Students filled the lecture hall for a discussion on value-based leadership.

Friendly smiles and businesslike handshakes were the name of the game in Sever Hall yesterday, as Procter & Gamble President and CEO Robert A. “Bob” McDonald spoke about values-based leadership.

McDonald spoke about his 10 values of successful leaders, often using stories from his life experience to illustrate them. Because of the personal nature of his values of leadership, McDonald emphasized the importance of creating your own beliefs as a synthesis of your own experiences, culture, and values.

Approximately 125 people turned out for the event, which was hosted by the Leadership Institute at Harvard College, which promotes collaboration and communication between student leaders at Harvard.

In his talk, McDonald described a lifelong pursuit of helping other people, from his experiences as a Boy Scout, to his enrollment in the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and subsequent army service, to his current job as leader of a multinational corporation.

“Eventually, we [Procter & Gamble] want to get to every person on the planet,” McDonald said. “It’s going to be difficult, it’s going to require a lot of innovation, but if your purpose is to touch and improve lives, why would you stop short of reaching everybody on the planet?”

McDonald added that, especially in this era of constant communication, everyone must decide their own personal goals to prevent others from controlling their lives.

McDonald drew from his experience in the military in his talk, saying that character is one of a leader’s most important features. McDonald said his definition of character rests on the leader putting the needs of the group ahead of their own, a belief that comes from the West Point cadet prayer, wherein they swear to “choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong.”

Audience members said they reacted positively to McDonald’s points.

“I thought it was really interesting how humble he is, how he showed greater interest in people who were asking questions,” Imane Karroumi ’14 said.

Ralphael A. Haro ’14, an organizer of the event who is also a Crimson sports comper, added, “I think the [core values he spoke about] hits people here at Harvard—when you’re so focused on working all the time and you sometimes don’t think about other things in life.”

McDonald said he saw in Harvard students some of the qualities he emphasized in the discussion.

“I think students were trying to do something meaningful with their lives, and I was trying to get in touch with that feeling,” McDonald said. “These students want to make a difference, they really do.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction.

CORRECTION: APRIL 3, 2011

The Mar. 31 article "Procter & Gamble CEO Talks Leadership" misspelled the name of the company. It is Procter & Gamble, not Proctor & Gamble.

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